By Zeenat Khan
February 28, 2016
AT A time when Muslims who are living in
America are facing ongoing verbal attacks from Donald Trump, a Republican
frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination, American president Barack
Obama’s first visit to a US mosque in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 3 has
sparked new debates. The recent terrorist attacks have put the Muslims in a
tough spot and they have to defend their identity as Muslims and explain away
that there is a monumental difference between the terrorists and the good
In his speech, Obama talked about the
positive role Islam has played in the nation’s history. He denounced the
violence and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that is on the rise since the deadly
attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California in 2015. He also emphasised
that for the horrific acts of a few terrorists, an entire religious group
should not be targeted. To the gathering Muslims at the Islamic Society mosque,
Obama’s words reaffirmed the role of American Muslims. He reminded them of
America’s tradition of religious freedom. He asked the religious leaders to
speak out against extremism and to strengthen interfaith alliance. He again
reiterated that America needs a fresher course on religious tolerance.
Since then Donald Trump has made endless
condescending and repugnant remarks aimed at the Muslims. On February 20,
before ending his final campaign in South Carolina, to rile up the crowd, Trump
related an anecdote about a US four-star general. He told the crowd that
roughly about a hundred years ago when the general was battling the Muslim
insurgents in the Philippines, he made his troop dip bullets in pig’s blood
before shooting them. Trump believes that similar practices can be an American
strategy to teach the Muslims a lesson. The story, however, turned out to be a
hoax. Because of such outrageous and made up tales of Donald, the Muslims in
America are left with more questions about politics of fear than some
much-needed resolutions as Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to climb.
There is no doubt left in people’s mind that Trump is a product of racism and
Trump also called for a boycott of all
Apple products since CEO Tim Cook is resisting a court order to give access to
the FBI by providing them the security code of Farook and wife Tashfeen’s
iPhones (a Pakistani couple responsible for the December San Bernardino,
It is rather disheartening to see and read
that some are comparing Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals with the civil rights
movement because of his bold conservative statements. It is shameful to watch
that Muslim activists who attend any of Donald Trump rally and dare to talk
back to him with answers like ‘Islam is not the problem’ are bullied, given bad
looks and sometimes escorted out in handcuffs by the police. Such police
aggression is becoming a daily occurrence. Some fearless ones do continue with
their fights as did Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many other rights activists
who fought against racism.
To quote American essayist Marilynne
Robinson: ‘Since religion is central to most identities within the larger
national culture, religious tolerance has been the great guarantor of the
survival of the variety of cultures.’ This theory today does not apply to
Donald Trump’s America. Today, sentiment of intolerance towards the Muslims or
Islam is a glaring reality. With each passing day, such negative feelings are
manifesting on a massive scale, erupting and engulfing a lot of people’s way of
thinking. People are behaving emotionally as such anti-Muslim sentiments are
sweeping through America.
In some work places, the Muslim workers are
even being denied of their civil rights and religious freedom. This past
January, there was an enormous dispute over prayer breaks in a meatpacking
industry in Fort Morgan, Colorado. A huge number of workers there are refugees
of East African descent. Eleven Somalian women workers were fired from their
jobs over taking short breaks for prayer. The company’s supervisors were
hostile to prayer requests and in protest, those women did not show up for work
for a few days. Then they were let go.
Such workplace disputes are complex and
workers who hold very strong religious and cultural beliefs face undue
hardship. The company owners argued that in a slaughterhouse, making leeway for
the workers’ religious accommodation imposes a significant cost on the
employer, and, therefore, the company had a right to deny that request. It
sounds rather a lame argument that a worker missing 10 minutes of work can slow
down an entire shift.
Since the beginning of time, religious
aggression has led to horrific mass killings of the Muslims. The Serbian
aggression in Kosovo in the 1990s led by Slobodan Milosevic resulted in the
genocidal ‘ethnic cleansing’ by torturing, killing and executing thousands of
Donald Trump’s image may not immediately
spring in mind as Milosevic’s evil twin, but he is not far behind. Since he
launched his campaign, he has said things about punishing the Muslims in every
conceivable way. Donald has very superficial knowledge about the Muslim world,
who never took the time to understand the Islamic definitions of extremism and
faith-based solutions. In such trying times in America, the Islamic scholars
are holding seminars which focus on the reasons for the extremism, and what the
Muslims should be doing to build healthy communities by dispelling the negative
stereotypes about the Muslims. Trump has maligned and ridiculed the peaceful
and law abiding Muslim communities in the United States, Europe and worldwide.
He even went after the few thousand Syrian
refugees who were granted asylum in the United States. When the Obama
administration is trying to reinforce the US refugee programme, he kept up his
anti-Muslim slurs. With his billions of dollars and worldly comforts, Trump is
simply unable to understand that these refugee families have escaped violence,
civil war in countries like Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We cannot pretend that the Muslims have not
done anything to attract criticism. For the last decade, acts of violence in
the name of Islam have raised fear and confusion about this religion that has
over 1.6 billion followers in the world. The ones who are responsible for so
much mayhem and devastation are not peace-loving everyday Muslims. They are
selected groups of terrorists who follow extreme idealism in the name of Islam.
In recent history, it started with 9/11. Some of the victims’ families still
continue to say explosive things like ‘Islam=Terror.’
Following the terrorist attack, the plan to
build an Islamic Community Centre near Ground Zero in New York City had sparked
huge controversy. The aim of that centre was to promote multi-religious and
cross-cultural exchanges. Many Americans did not embrace the construction of
the building as a symbolic attempt to reject bigotry and hatred.
The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made
the military families in the United States very impatient. Front-page stories
showing US flag draped caskets carrying the remains of the dead soldiers
reaching the American soil devastated many. American people know that it is the
American president who had sent troops to those places and yet mainstream
America vented its anger on the Muslims and Islam.
There were thousands of casualties on both
sides, but the numbers of Muslims killed far exceed the coalition forces. The
dead Muslims were termed as collateral damage.
During the Iraq war, a heartbreaking image
of a Marine Corporal named Todd Nicely, a quadruple amputee in a wheel chair
leaving his daily physical therapy session dismayed the Americans. In the
photo, he had his wife Crystal by his side holding his prosthetic leg in one
hand and a bouquet of flowers with another. Readers empathised with the
couple’s anxiety ridden faces laced with uncertainty, and whatever challenges
that lie ahead. Such an image of unbroken spirit only evoked sympathy for the
couple, and many people once again blamed Islam.
The January 7, 2015 brutal terrorist attack
on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo for publishing controversial
Muhammad cartoons left 12 people dead. Al Qaeda’s offshoot in the Arabian
Peninsula claimed responsibility for that attack. The November 13, 2015 attacks
in the heart of Paris left 129 people dead and 352 wounded. ISIS claimed
responsibility for that attack. The December 2 San Bernardino mass shooting
attacks left 14 dead and 22 injured. It is alleged that the perpetrators, the
married couple was supported by ISIS.
All of the above attacks were condemned
from the Vatican to the White House. However, post-9/11 sentiment and the
recent San Bernardino killings have left deep scar in the American psyche.
Intolerance continues to grow because a person like Donald Trump with his anti-Islamic
comments is adding fuel to the fire when public emotion is very raw against the
In the multicultural and multi-faith
America, immigrant Muslims must find a way to grow a new national sentiment
against religious intolerance by emphasising that our commitment to religious
freedom must be unshakeable. The goal should be to reconcile differences by
igniting positive debates about acceptance of other religions and their
America is a home to one of the most
diverse groups of Muslims in the world. American leaders have always preached
their love for liberty, equality and freedom of religion. In the face of
current tragedies, attitude and sympathy towards the Muslims are plummeting. It
is essential for both party leaders to put themselves in the shoes of the
American Muslims and focus on the current reality. Every day Americans by no
means should give Donald Trump a free ride in bashing a minority group because
of their religion. The pastoral leaders and religious scholars have a great
role to play here. They can stand up and preach that the War on Terror only
involves a small subset of Muslims.
If we are inept to be tolerant of different
religious beliefs, we only give power to the likes of Donald Trump to tarnish
the name of the good Muslims. This tolerance is much needed in America now.
Otherwise, like a boogieman Donald will continue to keep us up at night!
Zeenat Khan is a US-based freelance writer.