The reality and absurdity of Trump’s Muslim ban
Less than a week into his presidency, Donald Trump made good one of his electoral promises (at least in the meantime) by issuing an Executive Order banning many Muslims from entering America.
The timing of the order itself coincided almost with the anniversary of the World Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 26) set aside to remember the victims of Adolf Hitler’s World War II misadventure. Whether like Hitler, Trump intends to hand to Muslims their own holocaust episode is a matter for conjecture. However, something is strikingly similar in Trumps’ posture. The zeitgeist or the dominant spirit in some parts of Euro-America is the belief that their ‘lands of dream’ have been taken over by ‘strangers’; strangers who even though may have contributed more than ‘indigenes’ but nevertheless remain ‘outsiders.’ As it happened in Hitler’s Germany, an ‘enemy’ figure, nay a scapegoat has to be ‘manufactured’ and looking at how post-Cold War conflicts have been predicted (and worked towards), the ‘enemy’ has to wear not an ideological ‘garb’ this time around, but a ‘religious’ one.
Reading the Executive Order, Trump did not name the countries by himself. From other spokes organs of the U.S. government, however, the names were learnt to include Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria, all Muslim majority countries. To be sure that his target was Islam, he emphasized his willingness to accommodate Syrian refugees of the Christian faith.
The real factors which compelled (and condemned) Trump and his entourage of Islamophobes to a nativist, nationalist and protectionist mode is not found much in ‘religious’ factors to rationalise a ban of individuals based on their religious beliefs. But like previous episodes typical of certain individuals who became nervous about the dwindling prominence and fortunes of their nations and races in international sphere and desired a total shift to redress such situations, recourse had always been taken to scapegoating. Just as Pope Urban II found in the Saracens (as Muslims were known at the time) an ‘enemy’and initiated the Crusades; Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain found in Jews in 1492 and in Muslims seven years later and initiated the Inquisition and the Expulsion; and just as Hitler found in the Jews in World War II, Trump may have found in ‘Muslims’ his own scapegoats. Besides, Huntington’s (pseudo) intellectual legacy of a world saturated with ‘wars’ of religion tends to conceal much of the undercurrents of conflicts especially where the antagonists share different faiths!
To be precise, the real ‘difficulty’ encountered by the middle class in America the bulk of which constitutes the support base for Trump is basically economic. These difficulties were the outcomes or contradictions of two principal agenda forced upon the world by none other than America and its European allies. These principal agenda were neoliberalism (which was the wheel upon which globalisation rode and is still riding), and capitalist democracy (which rode on the back of gun boat diplomacy). Since Thatcher and Reagan conspired to push neoliberalism as the dominant ideology on the international scene in the late 70s, virtually every sphere of life and everything on earth became ‘commodified’; profits became the yardstick of everything; the sphere of social services and support hitherto provided by governments became hijacked and condemned to ‘private’ sphere for further profits; the rich get tax holidays while the poor are ‘sliced’out of employment as inefficient burdens; and the warmth of communality which hitherto kept societies together became frozen by the cold calculations of gold and coins. If Third World Countries (TWCs) were the immediate sufferers of these agenda, the middle class citizens of the industrialised nations were soon to follow.
The much hallowed, fast-paced interdependence of nations and individuals for which globalisation was praised came with increasing mobility of virtually every factor of production. Resources, especially capital (or finance) from the advanced nations were moved to the TWCs where cheap labour would add to the amount of profits to be made as there are no talks about medicals, pensions or holidays, in addition to closeness to markets and raw materials sources. In fact, this was the context within which many starkly backward TWCs had little breath of life; this however resulted into job flight/loss from the citizens of the metropoles.
In order to enhance the global ‘resource-conquest’ agenda of ‘global-neoliberalism’ or globalisation, subtle violence through the IMF and the World Bank were deployed which conditioned assistance to nations in dire economic strait upon their adoption of neoliberal policies. To complement the subtle violence of the Bretton Woods institutions was the unleashing of the second agenda of capitalist democracy in waves, as a mantra which all nations must embrace. If democracy, (the American capitalist brand) provided the moral end for belligerency, gunboat diplomacy provided the means. Through gunboat diplomacy, wars of regime change have been orchestrated and fought ostensibly in support of democracy but to remove unfriendly governments with the devastation of the countries involved as it happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya recently. This does not however confer any sanctity on democracy as it can also be ditched and truncated if the outcome(s) would constitute a threat and a hindrance to the penetration of private capital into such nations. This was the experience in Chile (with the deposition of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet through American support on September 11of 1973); Algeria (with the truncation of the victory of FIS and the subsequent criminalisation of the party); Palestine (with the economic suffocation of HAMAS by the EU and the U.S. following its electoral victory as well as the encouragement of Israel to continue its genocidal ambition on the people); Somalia (as in the termination of the Union of Islamic Courts which was overwhelmingly supported by the people) and recently in Egypt where puppet Abdul Fatah El Sisi was armed to the teeth to destroy the people.
The long term effects and contradictions of neoliberalism in the advanced nations came in the form of ‘opportunities’ ferried away, since profit is not ‘skin-sensitive’ as to have shielded the whites. Major and traditional industrial centres like Detroit became ghosts of themselves; locally produced goods have to struggle against imports from Japan, Europe, the Asian Tigers, and now China, even with all manners of protectionist policies; this is beside the influx of refugees uprooted from their home by ‘wars for democracy’ in search of survival with America as the place of choice as encouraged by another mantra, that of ‘open society.’ All these and many more effectively put the middle class in America in jeopardy and the American dream which guaranteed a life of economic security became severely threatened.
The contradictions produced by gunboat diplomacy came in the form of smoldering theatres of war around the globe both by insurgents and against them as in the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) campaign. Social security suffered with about $3 trillion spent on the invasion of Iraq the second time. In fact, this could be said to be the genesis of the ‘Global Financial Meltdown’ of 2008 and onward, the effects from which America has not and may not fully recover.
Parts of the absurdities are in seeing Muslims as threat to American security and in seeing Latinos, Blacks and other coloured people as nuisance. Much of the perception of Muslims as threat came from the events of September 11 2001. Even though official American investigation is largely discredited for refusing to admit the complicity of those in power then and that the events were self-inflicted in order to set America in a ‘war-mode’, it is surprising that Saudi Arabia’s name was not included in the list since most of the alleged (but unproven) hijackers were its nationals!
Trump is clear enough in his head not to trouble the Saudis as this may have many implications for his government, part of which will include a cold shoulder from multibillion dollars arms and construction deals; an end to the continuous availability of ‘soft’ funds taken away from Saudi and other Gulf Countries’ soils and stashed in un-official American vaults.
In reality, Trump and his followers have a ‘grudge’ against a system that is mortgaging their dream; however, doing a wrong diagnosis presupposes a wrong prescription. No one prefers the other man’s land to his home if he could have his peace. But when out of greed the world is rendered a blazing bunch, everyone including those who started the fire must feel the heat. Let America, nay the West stop destroying others so that its citizens can at least have their peace.
Yekinni is the executive director, Center for Global Peace Initiative (CGPI).