March issue 2017

By | Editor's Note | Published 4 months ago

Is the country that professes to be the champion of democracy and the leader of the free world under threat from its own leader?

First, there was the overt misogyny – with television footage to prove it. Now, just a few weeks into the job, US President Donald Trump has sent alarm bells ringing with his shocking pronouncements and policies on Muslims, refugees, undocumented immigrants and racial minorities. The immediate fallout: the coming out of the closet of the lunatic right-wing fringe.

Since Trump’s swearing-in, there has been a surge in hate crimes. The latest: an Indian engineer was shot dead and his friend critically injured in a downtown bar in Kansas, by a white supremacist shouting racial slurs and demanding that they leave the country.

Citizens of seven Muslim countries have been barred from entering the US and even those in possession of valid visas – among them students from Pakistan and elsewhere – have complained of undue harassment and humiliation at airports.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, chose to stay away from the Oscars to protest the travel ban on Muslim countries, and a Syrian cinematographer, who worked on a nominated film, was barred from entering the US.

Trump’s slogan of ‘America for the Americans’ (one wonders if that includes the Native Americans) is being realised by white supremacists.

Meanwhile, right-wing leaders across the globe are drawing sustenance from Trump’s victory: If he can do it, so can I. France’s National Front Leader Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands are waiting in the wings, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader who steadfastly stood her ground vis-à-vis taking in refugees, is in danger of losing the next election.

Welcome to the New World (dis)order, where autocrats are king and human rights have fallen by the wayside.

One of the stalwarts of this order is the leader of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi, whose Hindutva brigade poses a serious threat to secular India.

Turkey’s democratically elected leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Philippines’ President, Duterte, do not lag far behind. Erdogan’s brutal crackdown on all those who participated or supported the army coup, including his abrupt dismissal of 4,400 government employees, which included hundreds of academics, and Duterte’s decision to put 7,000 plus drug-users and pushers to death, sans trial, are a blot on the face of humanity.

The other autocrat, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, is determined to scuttle any move towards a Palestinian homeland. Buoyed by his “best friend” Trump’s success, he has sanctioned the building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, in contravention of all international principles.

And the UN looks on. Little more than a toothless tiger, it has failed to resolve some of the world’s long-standing disputes, among them Palestine and Kashmir. Following the passage of a UN Security Council resolution in December 2016, describing the building of Israeli settlements in Jerusalem as a ‘flagrant violation’ under international law and demanding an end to it – predictably, the US abstained – Trump is threatening to cut funding to the UN if it fails to toe the US line on Palestine, in fact, the world.

The Trump administration’s gag order does not end there. Its latest target: the US media, one of the most important pillars of democracy.

The US and Britain have always been held as shining examples of press freedom in our part of the world. So the Trump administration’s attempts to silence critical sections of the media, is a serious body blow to free speech.

But the war has just begun. The media he sees as his ‘enemy,’ will not be silenced. Nor will Americans across the continent – huge swathes of them. Clearly, the people’s movement is alive and kicking in the US. It is heartening to see hundreds of Americans continuing to demonstrate against the travel ban on Muslims in Washington Square, at US airports, on the streets.

Not all is lost in Trump’s America.

 

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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