February issue 2016

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

At a recent rally, Republican frontrunner *shudder* Donald Trump and his blackshirts spotted a Sikh man in a turban. He was escorted out, to the cheers of his pale-skinned supporters, as Trump rambled on about hats. Headgear, it seems, will be verboten in Trump’s America. At an earlier rally, a Muslim woman was ejected for protesting a Trump claim that most refugees from the Middle East were “probably ISIS.”

The Donald’s opponents in the Republican primaries are not willing to be out-Trumped. Ted Cruz also opposes a ban on allowing Muslim refugees into the US, although he was graciously willing to concede that there are some good Muslims in India. Jeb Bush only wants to allow Christians in from Syria, though he did not elaborate how he would apply this religious test. Ben Carson does not believe it would be wise to ever elect a Muslim president.

It is safe to say that the Republican party is a Muslim-free zone.

Donald Trump, as always, has gone further than anyone else. It can be hard to traverse the contours of the word salad he spews out, but, as best one can tell, he wants to call for a complete halt to immigration by Muslims and would even kick out those who are here on valid visas. Trump didn’t elaborate on what he would do with Muslim citizens. Perhaps he is hoping to make the country so inhospitable to them that they ‘voluntarily’ leave.

The Republicans weren’t always as inhospitable to Muslims. As recently as 2000, a majority of Muslim voters opted for George W. Bush, as his message of personal responsibility and a humble foreign policy resonated with the minority community. The rise of Islamophobia after 9/11, stoked by the Christian-dominated Republicans, changed all of that and now the party’s support among the Muslim population stands in single digits.

The question on every US Muslim’s lips then is: How much worse will things get if a Republican is elected to the White House?

That may be the wrong thing to ask, essentially taking the Democrats off the hook for their complicity in the repression of Muslims.

President Obama, it should be remembered, talks a good game but his actions have been far less kind to Muslims. On his very first day in office, he signed an executive order shutting down Guantanamo Bay. He has since blamed the Republicans in Congress for blocking his initiative. The problem, however, was that Obama didn’t mean to change anything. He simply wanted to shift the prisoners from Guantanamo to the US. The problem with Guantanamo wasn’t its location; rather the objection was that the US was ignoring the Geneva Conventions and holding prisoners indefinitely without charge. Obama wanted to keep the system going, just in a different place. That still makes him better than Republicans who want to increase the population of Guantanamo and bring back torture techniques banned by Obama.

It was also Obama who, whether through drones, special forces or allied troops, waged war in more Muslim countries than any other US President. He expanded the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, bombed the living daylights out of Libya, withdrew troops from Iraq and then decided to bomb it again, and withdrew fewer troops from Afghanistan than promised while continuing to, you guessed it, bomb it.

Obama has also been responsible for the mass surveillance of Muslims that we only know about thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden. He also massively expanded the no-fly list, which primarily hurts Muslims, and, in fact, it is the Republicans who are now agitating against the arbitrary nature of the list since it is being used to deny Americans the right to purchase guns. Obama has also gone further in eroding the rights of American Muslims by giving himself, and by extension a hypothetical President Trump, the right to kill any citizen without due process. He established this ‘right’ by specifically targeting US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone attack without providing any proof of his involvement in terrorism or seeking permission from a court. Obama’s latest gambit is to force people to seek visas, even if they are from countries that are part of the visa-waiver programme, if they have visited any of a handful of Muslim countries in the last five years. Guess who will be disproportionately affected by that measure?

Where Obama is far preferable to Trump and his ilk has been in his preaching of tolerance. And his rhetoric has often been soaring. From his speech in Cairo early in his presidency to his responses to terrorist attacks in Paris and California, Obama has always said the right things about respect and coexistence. Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state under Obama and is known to be even more hawkish, is also sounding positive notes but will likely be more of the same. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is sparking the usual quadrennial speculation about running as an independent but as New York City mayor he initiated the mass surveillance of mosques.

The Republicans, especially the odious Trump, however, are so bad that any other option will be welcome in comparison.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.