Commentary

Regional Reactions to Trump's Call to Ban Muslims

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

A week has passed since Donald Trump made his inflammatory call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. In the Middle East, regional observers and editorials continue to grapple with both the content of Mr. Trump’s statement as well as the political environment that enables such proposals to be considered seriously.  A Republican candidate for president of the United States, Trump has built a campaign on the basis of such seemingly outlandish remarks. But last week’s statement has really struck a nerve, especially coming in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting.

Many of the region’s editorials have been quick to declare Mr. Trump an Islamophobe and a bigot, with the Saudi Gazette characterizing his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. as “boorish, [and] oafish pronouncements. He has called for all Muslims to be stopped from traveling to the US.  This is a barely credible and deeply sinister idea....The San Bernardino gun rampage by a clearly demented couple is being used by this would-be president as clear proof that all Muslims constitute an enemy in the midst of the United States. Trump of course makes no mention of non-Muslim US killers who regularly rampage with high-powered assault weapons, slaughtering innocents, including children.  One of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush, has condemned Trump’s Islamophobia  and called him ‘unhinged.’  That is far too kind a description of this dangerous man.”

The Khaleej Times editorial argues that Mr. Trump’s remarks are so inflammatory that he should be called a “terrorist,” wondering whether Mr. Trump realizes “that he is laying the ground for more radicalisation among the community living peacefully in the country. His bigoted comments add fuel to the communal fire. Shooting his mouth off comes naturally to him and promotes his narrow political and social agenda....Playing on fears of Americans will only lead to more mistrust against Muslims, and more violence against the community. Trump's has drawn all-round flak for his statements, but even if the man doesn't believe in what he's saying, he saying it anyway.”

Connecting Mr. Trump’s vision for America with that of a bygone era characterized by a “wave of McCarthyism,” Hurriyet Daily News’ Mustafa Akyol  notes that Trump’s America is anathema to that of a liberal democracy: “Such poisonous voices coming from within the Republican Party makes me, like journalist Mehdi Hassan ironically put in a recent New York Times piece, long for the days of George W. Bush. Despite being the president hit by 9/11, and besides his hawkish bravado on Iraq, Bush was a sensible politician when it came to speaking about Islam....What Trump, whose motto reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ calls for is not a bolder policy of national security, or a more powerful vision of foreign policy. It is rather a new wave of McCarthyism....Radical jihadism is a real threat - not just to America, but to all of us, including Muslims. But a new form of McCarthyism is not going to help. It will lead to human rights violations on the one hand and make the threat only worse, for radical jihadism feeds best on nothing other than Muslim alienation.”

But Trump’s rhetoric is enabled by the U.S. political environment. According to last week’s The Peninsula editorial, “It’s easy to condemn Trump, and the outrage his outburst has created at home and abroad is understandable. It’s the American leaders who are most embarrassed at his statement....But beyond this condemnation and outrage, we need to look at the layers that lie underneath his statement, Those are the layers created by the Republican Party and its fanatic fringe with their virulently anti-Muslim bias, aided and abetted by a media that has been reveling in Islamophobia....If he is emboldened and shameless enough to sink into further depths, that’s because of the political dividends this bigotry will bring.”

Building on a similar theme, The National’s Taimur Khan sees Mr. Trump’s remarks as a natural extension of a particular political culture in the U.S. political system: “These attitudes did not occur in a vacuum. Anti-Muslim organisations since the 9/11 attacks have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and had an outsized influence on public and political debates around Islam and Muslims....Anti-Muslim rhetoric at a national level has risen sharply in particular during election cycles, even more than after terrorist attacks in the US committed by Muslims....American Muslims across the country have reported an increase in assaults, insults, vandalism and threats since the Paris attacks, a trend likely to grow after the shooting rampage by ISIL supporters in California....While Mr Trump’s policy ideas are unlikely to be implemented even if he is elected, in the medium term the popularity of his rhetoric is pulling the range of acceptable political speech sharply rightward.”

There is little doubt that, as Today’s Zaman’s Arzu Uranli points out, the Muslim community is experiencing a difficult moment at the time given the greater scrutiny following the San Bernardino shooting, with some U.S. Muslim communities finding ways to show a different side of their faith: “Now we have even more of a toxic climate with increasing suspicions of Muslims. Unfortunately, some Americans do not see the difference between radical Islamist militants and Muslims who have no ties to extremism....Recently, American Muslim leaders were debating whether they need to apologize each time there are Islamic extremists involved in an attack, because if they don't, the silence is interpreted as approval. Nevertheless, this time the best response to the San Bernardino attacks and its echoes came from a coalition of Muslim-led groups in Southern California who started a nationwide campaign that aimed to raise $100,000 for the families of the shooting's victims.”

Trump’s views on Muslims seem to have put Israeli officials in a difficult situation as well, with many of them, according to this recent Jerusalem Post editorial, expressing relief that Mr. Trump will not be visiting Israel in the near future as previously planned: “following Trump’s odious proposal earlier this week to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and the resultant overwhelming condemnation from across the political spectrum in the US and abroad, a meeting and the photo-op and smiles that go with it between the race-baiting Trump and Netanyahu would have been disastrous for Israel’s image....Trump’s cancellation has thankfully saved Netanyahu – and the rest of the country – the embarrassment of having to go through with the meeting and of hosting the showboating Trump. As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov exclusively reported Wednesday, Trump was planning to visit the Temple Mount. That excursion might easily have resulted in an explosive crisis that would have benefited no one but Trump and his sensationalist campaign.”

Given the bad publicity surrounding Trump’s most recent proposal, one would think that his business interests, especially in the Middle East, would be suffering as well. However, in business, as in politics, at least for the moment, Trump’s interests seem to be immune from any such general rules that apply elsewhere: “The saga of the ever-changing sign featuring Donald Trump at the Akoya site in Dubai continued this week when Damac appeared to have put the Trump branding back up....On Thursday, The National reported that the sign, along with the billboard, had been taken down, prompting speculation that Damac could be considering dumping its golf course tie-up with the Trump Organization following Mr Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks last week....Images of the removed sign came after Mr Trump controversially had called for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US.’ Their return has prompted speculation that the signs could have been restored under a contractual obligation.”


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