Some months ago, I wrote an article warning that if Donald Trump wins the United States elections, it would be the end of the world as we know it. Sadly, as Trump prepares to take office, we now stand at the cusp of a momentous unfolding.
President-elect Trump has already tapped the likes of Sarah Palin, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Walid Phares and Frank Gaffney to guide his policies towards the world - and especially the Muslim world.
The thing uniting those mentioned and many others surrounding, informing, insulating and sanitizing Trump’s world view is that they all see the world in terms of the West and then the rest, and that they also see Islam as a problem. Islam must be vilified, maligned, and condemned so that it can be neutered and contained.
And, in their view, the only good Muslims are those who are docile, obedient and ashamed of their Islamic affliction and, hence, also apologetic. Muslims who are proud of their religion and tradition and who fervently believe that there is nothing embarrassing about their Islamicity, or who even dare to think that Islam has many good and decent things to offer the world, are considered natural enemies.
The curious thing is that all the ugliness that is about to be flung at the world by this group of right-wing extremists will have little to do with religion. Religious bigotry is but a facade for a much more systemic and deeply rooted problem in the very consciousness of those who brought Trump to power.
The problem in one word is racism, and it is an endemic and persistent problem, not just in the United States but the entire Western world.
Muslims in the United States are about to become the sacrifice to feed the ravenous appetite of racism, but with each feeding, this voracious beast will only hanker for more victims until everything that is moral and beautiful about this civilization will be thoroughly extinguished. Muslims are simply the low hanging fruit, easy to pick and easy to consume, but it will not stop there.
With this article, I bear witness before God that after years of dedicated service to human rights and religiously - dare I say, Islamically - anchored belief in humanity, I see all that I have labored for threatened by the coming of White nationalists to power in the White House. If you think that White nationalists will rule the United States for four years and then leave the world as they found it, then you are sadly mistaken. Even more, if you think that the only cost to White nationalism in the White House will be the persecution of Muslims in America and the death of a few thousand Muslims around the world then you are delusional.
Racism is an infectious social disease that terrorizes and subjugates without distinction. The worse thing about racism is that it creates a morally diseased and ugly populace that is complacent before injustice and that is accepting of oppression.
With all the marvelous and sometimes truly miraculous advancements Western civilization has offered the world - advancements such as human rights and democracy - there remains a malignancy in the very soul of the Western civilization that it has at times struggled to rid itself of, but it is a lethal malignancy that now threatens to undo and extinguish the soul of this civilization. This malignancy was and remains racism.
One hardly needs to document the racialization and eventual extermination of the Muslims (Moors) and Jews (Marranos) of Andalusia or the extermination of native cultures during colonialism in numerous parts of the world. Whether in Asia, Africa, South America or elsewhere, colonialism vanquished native cultures of difference and forced subaltern societies to perform “whiteness” or to become as close to “white” as possible to gain respectability or acceptance. This was what the famous Gandhi resistance movement in India was about. Whether the blatant apartheid regime in South Africa or less extreme forms of apartheid regimes in countries of the Commonwealth and the United States, these all express of the same logic of White supremacy and discomfort with cultures that are not part of the so-called “civilized” world.
Importantly, this racist malignancy has not gone unopposed. The American Civil War and indeed the struggle in World War II against the vulgar racism of Nazism were cathartic moments in Western history. The civil and human rights movements in the Western world were achievements that promised to guide humanity to more enlightened and liberating heights than the world had been able to achieve in recorded history. So what went wrong?
What went wrong is captured perfectly by the old oft-repeated but rarely heeded axiom: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, power shifted absolutely to the West as the West, led by the United States, became the organizer of the New World Order, and shortly thereafter, the center of gravity for the phenomenon of globalization.
Although Western governments - especially the United States, Britain and France - led the world economically and culturally, the West could not forego its traditional bastion of privilege of ruling its former colonies by proxy and at times by direct intervention. Globalization confronted the Western world with new demographic challenges - the subalterns or have-nots despaired of ever achieving the lofty principles of civil and human rights in their own nation states and flocked to the lands of their former colonial lords. With that we started hearing the alarms go off about “Eurabia” and the need to preserve and safeguard the so-called Judeo-Christian identity of the West.
But it was the watershed moment of 11 September 2001 that gave the United States the excuse to police and intervene in the world to an unprecedented and indeed unparalleled degree. Since 9/11, in virtually every Muslim country in which the United States and other Western powers have intervened, they have followed what can be described as the microcosmic approach, or what we might also call the Israeli approach. In the same way that Israel does not deal with the Palestinian people as a unit but rather divides Palestinians into Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bedouins and so on, the United States did the same in Afghanistan and Iraq with disastrous consequences. The United States and its allies never had a unified policy towards the Afghani people or the Iraqi people. But, as if following the old colonial mandate of “divide and conquer,” the United States and its allies had various policies depending on ethnic, sectarian, tribal and regional affiliation.
In short, the result is the bloodletting that we are witnessing in the region and the rise of movements such as ISIS that were bred by brutality, that persevered through brutality and that now live in brutality.
The election of Barack Obama was truly a historical moment in the moral legacy of the United States. It was a singular opportunity to immunize the American social body from the disease of racism, but it was also an unprecedented challenge. If the American social body could not handle the dosage, the election of Obama threatened to inflict the U.S. with a xenophobia and racism of the most feverish kind. If we are to be entirely honest, Obama went out of this way to perform “whiteness” in every possible way - he did not challenge traditional bastions of power and privilege, and he continued to indulge in the temptations of absolute power as if the entire world had been sanctified and ordained for the exclusive pleasure of the almighty dollar and those who own as much of it as possible.
Obama’s fatal mistake was that he sympathized with Arab or Muslim Syrian refugees, and wanted to welcome around a thousand of them into the United States. U.S. weapons, allies and military sub-contractors contribute to displacing millions of people around the world, but we do not feel any particular moral obligation to clean up the messes that we help to create. The story of the Syrian refugees became the little prick that unleashed the rage of the beast of racism, and it increasingly looked like Obama’s fairly inane act of rebellion had backfired by unleashing a rabid fervor to reclaim the country - and, indeed, the entire Western civilization - by saving it from the dark-skinned heathens who threatened to hijack it.
“Make America Great Again” is nothing more than an invocation of an archetype in which Christian White Americans feel secure in their ownership of the country and supreme in defining the culture of their perceived manifest destiny. What White nationalists want is not necessarily a purely white America; they want an America where White nationalists feel at home, and everyone else feels as if a tolerated guest. In other words, they want to infect all those who do not agree with them with an unrelenting muffled anxiety and diffident complacence about the natural order of things - one in which Whites feel entitlement and non-Whites feel gratitude. This is precisely why racism needs victims for its lynching, so that all bystanders will either feel terror or shame and guilt through the collusion of their own silence.
How does Islamophobia feature in all of this? Islamophobia is but the gateway drug for the malignancy of bigotry and hate; it is the virus that seeds the cancer of racism that will overtake the body of the nation; it is the dissolution of conscience and the rise of haughtiness that precedes the crime of mass murder committed by an indiscriminate killer. For political reasons, Islamophobia is easy because Muslims in the West are disorganized, and powerless. They are the perfect guinea pigs to sacrifice on the way to targeting more formidable foes and taking down greater game.
Carried on the tracks of Islamophobia, the malignancy of racism and bigotry that will follow will be virulent and uncontrollable. Perhaps I can put it this way: When Egyptians visit gravesites, they apologetically whisper to the dead, “You were the forerunners and we will be the successors.” After Trump and his goons gorge on the blood of Muslim misery, they will turn their attention to Latinos and Hispanics, South Asians and the Chinese, the LGBT community and anyone else who does not make America great!
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. His most recent book is Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari’ah in the Modern Age. Republished from the ABC Religion and Ethics Website.