The below is a transcript of a talk I gave taking a critical look at Muslim responses to Trump.
Tonight’s talk is not so much about Trump as it is about all the talk about Trump. It is about how we, Muslims, talk about Trump. Why we talk about Trump? And what does it say about our politics? Hence the title – The “Trump talk”!
The topic could have been approached in a number of different ways but I have specifically chosen to discuss this from the angle of what we observe of Muslim political activism in the West.
From the outset I would like to let you know that I will be critical of the public protests and condemnation that we have seen coming from Muslims around the world, especially in the US. But my criticism does not mean that there are no benefits to these protests. Perhaps there are. But I am not interested in them right now. There is something about these protests that I find quite disturbing and that is what I would like to share with you tonight.
So it’s more of my own personal reading of these events that I’m sharing with you. It is not an expert analysis of Trump’s policies. Rather it is an invitation to reflect on some issues that I believe to be of importance.
Trump’s “Muslim ban” has caused much protesting and outpouring of emotions from the Muslim community especially in the US. We have seen Muslims come out on the streets in great numbers. We have seen Muslims praying publicly in large congregations at JFK airport and on the streets. We have heard emotional speeches by Muslim activists and Imams. Facebook and Twitter abound with criticisms of Trump’s policies and how his rhetoric has given rise to heightened Islamophobia.
Last Friday, the khateeb at the jumu’ah was talking about how to view these events in a positive light. He said it was through these events that our friends became known. He was referring to the overwhelming support from non-Muslims for Muslims that we have seen recently, which is indeed quite heartening.
Yasir Qadhi compared those Muslims defending Trump’s policies to hypocrites in Madinah. And he compared non-Muslims who came out in defense of Muslims to Abu Talib.
It seems like Trump has given Muslims a political voice. Even people who would otherwise have avoided discussing politics publicly are now coming out in the open protesting against Trump. Everyone’s talking about Trump. Even khutbahs are about Trump or something related to him.
But what is so bad about him?
Let’s look at some contrasts that have been made between Trump and Obama on social media:
- Obama is quite charismatic. While Trump is a bully and a bit uncouth.
- Obama is eloquent, an excellent orator. While Trump is blunt, abrupt and a loudmouth.
- Obama even seems to be a bit romantic and chivalric. While Trump, despite having a pretty wife, is a misogynist and does not know how to treat women.
But these comparisons are somewhat superficial. Let’s look at something more substantive, and especially relevant for Muslims.
In his early days as president, Obama gave a speech at al-Azhar university in Egypt addressing the Muslim world. He wanted to build bridges. He said:
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”
He seemed to have wanted to build genuine friendship with the Muslim world. From the speech, it even sounded like he wanted to fight Islamophobia. He said:
“…I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
Now compare that to Trump. He seems to have been fuelling Islamophobia, let alone fight it.
He seems to want to ban Muslims from America, let alone build bridges with the Muslim world.
So what is one of the first things he does since taking office? He bans people born in certain Muslim countries from entering the US, a ban which has now come to be known as the “Muslim ban”.
A Somali sister who works with me was telling me about her aunt, who is a British citizen but born in Somalia. She was meant to board a plane to the US from Dubai airport the week that this Executive Order was issued. She had no clue about this ban and was very shocked to have been denied permission to board her flight to the US. She lost 3000 pounds in airfare.
The ban initially even affected green-card holders in the US. This obviously outraged the Muslims. Muslims in the US came out in great numbers joining many others who’ve also been protesting against Trump’s policies.
Muslims flocked the airports and the streets holding placards, chanting slogans. The air was filled with emotions, both of angst and disgust at Trump, but also of cooperation and camaraderie with those of other faiths who stood with us.
We’ve seen inspiring scenes of Muslims praying in congregation at JFK airport and other public places. An imam delivered a powerful jumu’ah khutbah at JFK, which got some media coverage. He said in the khutbah:
“We are now in a time in which we must defend the immigrants to our nation, all immigrants, not just Muslim immigrants. We have to stand against injustice for all immigrants. There will be great court battles coming, demonstrations in the street coming. There is going to be more activism in the halls of government coming.”
Wow! It felt so good. Finally, a jumu’ah khutbah! Finally – for a change – a political jumu’ah khutbah! Given publicly! Speaking truth to power! Drawing support from people of other faiths! And getting positive media attention!
But despite all the clamour and noise of protests, demonstrations, and threats of “great court battles coming”, all I could hear was a deafening silence.
You may be wondering what I mean by silence? Muslims have finally spoken out. En masse. So where is the silence?
I’ll come to that. But before I do that, let me mention an important remark made by the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. He said that Obama and his administration were like a “wolf in sheepskin” but Trump and his administration were like a “wolf in wolf’s skin,” and that “It is easier to deal with a wolf that is not disguised.”
Let’s understand this point.
If you recall the speech by Obama that I quoted earlier, he said he wanted a new beginning in relations between America and the Muslim world. And that’s very true. He did, in fact, begin a new relationship with the Muslim world. He cut down the presence of US troops in warzones from 150,000 to only 14,000.
But he drastically expanded the US’s drone wars and the role of elite commando units. He changed the entire concept of how to wage war against the Muslim world.
He ordered airstrikes or military raids in at least 7 Muslim countries:
In total the US carried out 26,172 airstrikes on these countries in 2016 alone, which amounts to 3 strikes per hour. And these figures are conservative because reliable data is not available for airstrikes in all of these countries. And, also, a single “strike”, as per the Pentagon’s definition, can actually involve multiple airstrikes.
A media release by the US government last month explains a “strike” in these words:
“…having a single aircraft deliver a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of buildings and vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making that facility (or facilities) harder or impossible to use.”
So the US did not drop 26,172 bombs on Muslim countries in 2016. It carried out 26,172 “strikes” each of which can involve multiple aircrafts dropping dozens of bombs targeting multiple sites.
And that’s not Trump. That’s the previous administration led by the charismatic, the chivalric, the eloquent Barack Hussein Obama.
And it doesn’t end there.
Despite ordering such extensive bombings, the Obama administration claimed it only killed between 64 and 116 civilians during the entire 8-year period it’s been in power.
They dropped 3 bombs an hour just last year alone and there has only been 116 civilian casualties max in 8 years?!
How can that be?
Well firstly the civilian death toll they provided does not include casualties in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, where most of the bombs fell.
Secondly, the way the Obama administration defined a “combatant” was very broad. A New York Times report stated that the US “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
So, if you are a victim of US airstrikes, you are guilty unless posthumously proven innocent i.e. after they have already killed you.
These are the acts of what Assange calls “a wolf in sheepskin”.
Where were the protests from Muslims in the West, especially in the US?
Where were the condemnations?
Where were the fiery khutbahs of Imams threatening “great court battles coming”, “demonstrations in the street coming”, and “activism in the halls of government coming?”
We may have failed to condemn these acts of brutality but our brothers and sisters who have been victims of these attacks did not. They know the reality of the US government regardless of which clown sits in office.
Faheem Qureshi survived Obama’s first drone strike in Pakistan in January 2009. But he lost his eye and was severely injured. At the time, he was only 14 years old. He said:
“If there is a list of tyrants in the world, to me, Obama will be put on that list by his drone program.”
The victims who were lucky enough to survive did speak out. But the unfortunate reality is that their voices barely get heard because they don’t have access to JFK airport or the public squares of great American cities. And those of us who do, we hardly speak for them.
So why all the outrage against Trump? Because he is banning Muslim immigration? Is that worse than the bloodshed, death and destruction that the wars carried out by previous administrations have caused?
When we compare the public outcry over Trump’s policies to the relative silence over Obama’s drone wars, it should really make us question the politics behind these protests.
Is the politics really about standing up for the oppressed as it’s been made to sound like in the emotionally charged speeches we’ve heard from Muslim activists and Imams?
Or is it merely a politics of convenience, such that we only raise our voice against power when it is convenient to do so, when it is socially acceptable to do so?
Or is it merely a politics of seeking acceptance and recognition by the mainstream?
“Oh hey, we’re just as American as you are. We just want to be treated equally like everyone else.”
So is that all we’re trying to say through these massive demonstrations?
Sadly, I think, that is more or less all we are trying to say through such mass mobilisation.
Then what happens if Trump pulls back on his “Muslim ban”? Are we just going to go home and enjoy our civil liberties and our citizenship?
I’m afraid that’s all that is going to happen, because it seems all we want is to “make America great again”. Ironically, then, Muslim politics and Trump’s politics are similar in some ways. Both want to “make America great again”, just in different ways!
On 27th January, Trump issued the Executive Order barring travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The world went mad over it. It drew international condemnation.
Just two days later, another incident of a far more devastating nature took place on Trump’s orders but it went relatively unnoticed. Around Fajr time on Sunday 29th of January, US forces carried out a commando raid in Yemen, the first one ordered by Trump. They killed several civilians including an 8-year old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki.
Obama killed her father and her 16-year old brother in 2011 in drone attacks. They were all US citizens, yet there was hardly any outrage, at least not from Muslims.
Now that Trump bans Muslim immigration, everyone is up in arms. Yet, the fact that he continues in the footsteps of his predecessors in spilling Muslim blood overseas is met with the all-too-familiar silence.
The Jumu’ah khutbah at JFK that I mentioned earlier was given on the following Friday, 3rd February, after the attack that killed Nawar. There was no mention of her. But the Imam had this to say:
“Now we have to come together, and band together and unite together and support one another in the common cause of establishing America as a beloved community.”
The 8-year old Nawar was killed by US forces – may Allah unite her with her family in Jannatul Firdaus – and all that the Imam could care about was his self-righteous struggle to “make America great again”.
That’s why, as I said before, despite all the fiery rhetoric and hoo-hah about Trump, all I can hear is a deafening silence.
Lastly, and very briefly, as Muslims in the West, we have a very unique opportunity to be the voice of our brothers and sisters who are oppressed overseas and to break the silence that masks their suffering. Any political practice that is oblivious to their conditions and does nothing to at least hold the Western governments to account for their violence is not a politics worth our time.