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Indian Press on Allahabad HC Judgement on Love Jihad, Nagrota Link and Trumpism : New Age Islam's Selection, 25 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

25 November 2020

• Freedom Of Choice: Allahabad HC Dismisses Case Alleging Love Jihad

Editorial, The Daily Pioneer

• Desperation Within Pakistan

By Harsha Kakar

• A Pervasive Darkness

By S. Binodkumar Singh

• The Nagrota Link

By Bhopinder Singh

• Trump, A Master Of Mass Disorientation, Is Gone. But Has Trumpism?

By Inderjeet Parmar


Freedom Of Choice: Allahabad HC Dismisses Case Alleging Love Jihad

Editorial, The Daily Pioneer

25 November 2020

Allahabad HC dismisses case alleging love jihad, upholds the right to personal liberty of mature adults but UP pushes ordinance

Unfortunately, it is left to the courts these days to defend personal liberties of citizens. For politics brazenly tramples them. And given the implications of proposed legislations by certain State Governments to criminalise inter-faith marriages, ostensibly to stop conversions in the guise of love, the Allahabad High Court did some tough talking.  Denouncing a previous single-judge bench decision that declared religious conversions only for the sake of marriage as unacceptable, it said such a ruling was “bad in law” because it overrides the right to life and personal liberty of mature adults.

Defending the marriage of a Hindu girl to marry a Muslim man, who converted to Islam voluntarily and whose parents filed the case, the Bench made it clear that two mature individuals were entitled to a freedom of choice under Article 21 of the Constitution. No doubt the court foresaw what attributing ulterior motives to every inter-faith relationship and subjecting each to societal perception could do. For example, even if the partners were to choose conversions on their own, could their disagreeing and vindictive families stop them with a new love jihad law? The court even warned how such obstructive norms on inter-religious marriages could affect “unity in diversity.”

And then came its most scathing observation that targeted the Islamophobia implicit in all such proposed legislations: “We fail to understand that if the law permits two persons even of the same sex to live together peacefully, then neither any individual nor a family, nor even the State can have an objection to the relationship of two major individuals who out of their own free will are living together.” And by consistently highlighting that adults were entitled to live free without being monitored by societal malice, the court sought to douse the fire around the growing love jihad campaign. Of course, the ruling did not deter the Yogi Adityanath Government from issuing a punishing ordinance the same day to check forced conversions and marriages based on them. 

The worst affected will be women, who continue to fight against and are killed by the devil called family or community honour, the terms of which are framed for the convenience of a patriarchal society. If as an adult, she loses the right to choose her kind of life, nothing could be more disempowering. And laws on love jihad anyway are built on the assumption of young women being impressionable than decisive. For example, both the UP ordinance and the Madhya Pradesh Government’s Dharma Swatantrya Bill 2020, make coercing an individual into marriage a punishable offence, non-bailable in nature, deserving of a five-year rigorous punishment.

Question is how would you prove coercion if the girl in question is already hostage to her dissenting family and cowering in fear? How would she give her independent opinion? This is why the Supreme Court in the Kerala love jihad case separated the 24-year-old girl from both her family and husband before respecting her choice. The Kerala High Court had handed over Hadiya’s guardianship to her parents, who locked her down for 11 months and discontinued her studies at a college in Salem, fearing her husband Shafin was indoctrinating her. The apex court appropriately prioritised individual freedom of an adult while separating the particularities of whether all of her choices were born of her freewill or were they imposed, given her supposed “conversion”, or indeed if she had the ecosystem to decide for herself, free of pressure and insinuation. That’s why it freed Hadiya from her parents, even kept her away from her husband. And in the end found that her relationship was genuine. It proved that the rights of two adult people to be together cannot be infringed upon on the ground of societal taboos, an alleged threat perception or external bogeyism. But even if the court respects the couple’s choice, where is the security guarantee? For example, the UP ordinance says that in case someone wishes to convert after marriage voluntarily, s/he will have to apply to the district magistrate two months in advance.

 In MP, that sanction has to be taken from a collector. In a society that is yet to come out of the revenge code of honour killings, would not a public declaration of love and conversion invite a hitback? We just saw the backlash following an advertisement campaign by a jewellery brand of an inter-faith marriage, where none of the partners were shown as changing their religion. If that had to be taken down, imagine what could happen to two people making independent choices. It is not that there aren’t laws against forced conversions. Section 366 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises any act of kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to marry by force and punishes such an act with imprisonment for up to ten years.

Besides, according to the Government’s own admission in Parliament, the term “love jihad” had not been defined under any law and no case had been reported or registered by any Central agency. Where then is the need for a law in the first place? Also, doesn’t a love jihad law go against the grain of the BJP’s pet agenda of the Uniform Civil Code, which would bring all inter-faith marriages under a common set of rules? Of course, nobody wants to see reason when the  politics of polarisation has completely taken over the collective mindspace. Even now, inter-faith marriages are few and far between. 

According to the India Human Development Survey, only about five per cent of all marriages are inter-caste and inter-faith relations are even fewer. A 2016 survey by Social Attitudes Research for India (SARI) found that the majority of respondents opposed inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. In Delhi, about 60 per cent of both Hindus and Muslims were against them. Then there are legal challenges for ordinary couples trying to get a marriage registered under the Special Marriage Act, with courts insisting on all sorts of conditions. Love is never under discussion.


Desperation within Pakistan

By Harsha Kakar

November 24, 2020

The encounter last week where four Pakistani terrorists were eliminated at Nagrota while attempting to infiltrate into the valley from Samba with large quantities of arms and ammunition is an indicator of increasing desperation within Pakistan. Surge in ceasefire violations, targeting Indian civilian population in Uri and Tangdar, increased attempts at infiltration, all of them failing, has added to their desperation. They see their Kashmir strategy going up in smoke.

As per reports only 20-25 Pakistantrained terrorists have managed to infiltrate into the valley this year. Most of them have been killed, leaving most terrorist groups leaderless. Total terrorists eliminated this year has crossed the 200 mark, most being locals. With no funds being transferred through hawala, overground workers have failed to provoke violence or incite fresh recruits needed to keep terrorism alive. Violence in support of terrorists trapped in encounters has receded. Even areas which were pro-Pakistan are now witnessing a change.

Pakistan released a dossier blaming India for supporting terrorism within their country. This was aimed at enhancing pressure on India but has failed. In the dossier, it blames India for ceasefire violations and targeting of civilians. It was hoping that Chinese actions in Ladakh would push India on the defensive, but that too failed adding to their woes. India has not only held the Chinese at bay but gained advantage by securing the Kailash Ridge. To display its confidence, India is not rushing for talks nor accepting limited withdrawal with China and is prepared to continue with the standoff through the winter.

There is no doubt that Pakistan is aware that time for infiltration in the valley is fast running out as the winter is setting in. With snow falling, tracking terrorists becomes easier. Hard Indian retaliation targeting terrorist camps and supporting Pakistan posts, with attendant collateral damage has pushed Pakistan to the brink. They are unwilling to risk any major operation which could lead to an Indian counterstrike.

Any counterstrike on Pakistan would adversely impact the power and control of the Pakistan army, which is already facing intense internal pressure from the People’s Democratic Movement and other rising protests across the country. There are demands from every quarter for the army to return to the barracks, which it has so far managed to stall. In case it is embarrassed by an Indian strike, it would either be compelled to counter or face internal political humiliation. Comments by Ayaz Sadiq, in the national assembly, projecting panic within the Pakistani military and political leadership after the Balakote strike continue to haunt the Pakistani leadership.

Aware that it can no longer play the nuclear card, the deep state is being careful in its approach. It has realised that its global support base has reduced with even close allies including Saudi Arabia and UAE singing the Indian song. China is already stalled in Ladakh and would be unwilling to enhance pressure to support Pakistan. Economically, Pakistan is in dire states. Its oil reserves cannot even sustain a few days of operations. The same is the state with its ammunition stocks.

What is hurting Pakistan even more is the announcement of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Kashmir. The announcement of elections displays the confidence within the Indian government that the situation is near normal and terrorism is on the wane. To add to Pakistan’s woes is that their favourite proxy, the Hurriyat, is currently in a state of near collapse, with no ability to either enforce violence, protests or bandhs. Its silence since the abrogation of article 370 indicates this.

Increased surrenders of local terrorists, their reduced lifespan after joining terrorist groups and shortage of arms and ammunition available to them in the valley displays Pakistan’s failing strategy. Its attempts to employ drones to drop weapons in the region have met with limited success. Narcoterrorism is equally ineffective as monitoring is effective.

To add to Pakistan’s misery are the conditions created by the central government leading to the participation of all major political parties in the forthcoming DDC elections. The PAGD (Political Alliance for Gupkar Declaration), a grouping of 11 valley based political parties have realised that if they do not participate, they would lose control of the state to the BJP ending their political future.

While the PAGD continues to rant about restoration of article 370, this election would determine their fate. The elections, if conducted smoothly and without terrorist strikes, would be a battle between the BJP and all other political parties. For the globe, it would display return of democratic process in the valley and still Pakistan’s cries of resistance and forced incarceration of the region.

Victory by the BJP would indicate that the population has rejected Pakistan and accepted abrogation of Article 370. It would end Pakistan’s claim to the region as also prove that the valley is peaceful, and the population unwilling to support terrorism. This scenario is a nightmare for Pakistan. Hence, it would make every attempt to stall the elections. The latest encounter is a desperate attempt by Pakistan to push in terrorists to disrupt the peaceful election process currently underway.

The Indian government needs to act and ensure failure of Pakistan’s designs. Security to candidates, an action already being implemented, greater vigilance along the LOC and the IB, detailed checking of vehicles moving into the region, accompanied by strong retaliation to Pakistan ceasefire violations must be adopted. The fact that the terrorists eliminated last week had infiltrated through the IB in the Samba sector is indicative of Pakistan exploiting weak spots, which need to be strengthened.

The next few weeks are testing times. If India is to change the global narrative on Kashmir, then these elections must be conducted smoothly and without violence. Pakistan would make every attempt to disrupt the same as their Kashmir strategy depends on violence, intimidation and terrorism, all of which are waning. The game is on and India cannot afford to lose. It has gained the upper hand and it must ensure it does not lose it.


Harsha Kakar is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.


A Pervasive Darkness

By S. Binodkumar Singh

November 23, 2020

On November 21, 2020, eight civilians were killed and another 31 were injured in a series of rocket attacks in Kabul city. The Interior Affairs Ministry said 23 rockets were fired on different parts of Kabul.

On November 18, 2020, seven civilians were killed and six were injured in a Taliban mortar attack in the Taloka area in Kunduz city (Kunduz Province).

On November 10, 2020 the Taliban shot and killed three civilians while they were praying in a mosque in the Faizabad District of Jowzjan Province. On the same day, a mortar fired by the Taliban landed in a house in Zari District, Kandahar Province, killing four women.

On November 8, 2020, eight civilians were killed and seven were injured after three mortars fired by Taliban hit residential houses in the Naw Abad area in Ghazni city.

Data released by the Ministries of Defense and Interior Affairs on November 20, 2020, revealed that, over the preceding six months, the Taliban has carried attacks, including 50 suicide attacks, across the country, in which 1,210 civilians have been killed. Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs, disclosed, “1,210 civilians were martyred and 2,500 more were wounded in Taliban attacks”.

According to 49th Quarterly Report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), released on October 30, 2020, at least 2,561 civilian casualties were reported between July 1 and September 30, 2020, which included 876 deaths and 1,685 injuries. The report noted that, in line with the continued rise in violence, this quarter’s (July 1–September 30) casualties increased by 43 per cent, compared to preceding quarter (April 1–June 30, 2020) which had recorded 2,085 civilian casualties, including 1,374 deaths and 711 injuries. The report further observed that 83 per cent of latest quarter’s civilian casualties were attributed to anti-Government forces (40 per cent to unknown insurgents, 38 per cent to the Taliban, three per cent to the Islamic State and two per cent to the Haqqani Network), roughly the same proportions as preceding quarter’s breakdown. The remaining eight per cent were attributed to pro-Government forces.

The United Nations Assistance Mission’s (UNAMA’s) Third Quarter Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2020 (Afghanistan), stated that a total of 29,626 civilians had been killed between January 1, 2009, and September 30, 2020, mostly by Islamist militants with linkages to Al Qaeda.

Highlighting the increased attacks on civilians by the Taliban, Amrullah Saleh, the First Vice President, noted, on November 11, 2020, “The Taliban have decided to target civil society, its members and organizations in Afghanistan’s major cities, who are among the soft targets.”

The Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP), which is continuously suffering major battlefield losses, also continues to target civilians. UNAMA’s Third Quarter Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: 2020 (Afghanistan) noted that IS-KP was responsible for 392 casualties (132 killed and 260 injured) between January 1 and September 30. UNAMA’s Annual Report 2020, released in February 2020, attributed 1,223 civilian casualties to IS-KP in 2019; 1,871 in 2018; and 843 in 2017. Some of the prominent attacks by the IS-KP in 2020 included:

November 2: 22 people were killed and another 40 were injured when IS-KP militants stormed Kabul University during a book fair.

October 24: 30 civilians, mostly students, were killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself in the Pul-e-Khoshk area of Dasht-e-Barchi, a Shia dominated neighbourhood in Kabul city. The IS-KP claimed the attack.

March 25, 2020: 25 civilians belonging to the minority Sikh community were killed in an attack on Shor Bazar Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) in Kabul. IS-KP claimed responsibility for the attack.

Civilians have also been the victims of collateral damage in the 'war'. According to UNAMA's latest report covering the period between January 1 and September 30, the Afghan National Security Forces were responsible for 1,376 casualties (466 killed and 910 injured) during this period, almost 23 per cent of the total casualties (5,939). International Forces assisting the Afghan Forces were responsible for 113 civilian casualties (83 killed and 30 injured), i.e. two per cent. Crossfire between the terrorists and the Security Forces resulted in 849 civilian casualties (237 killed and 612 injured).

Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, noted,

The peace talks will need some time to help deliver peace. But all parties can immediately prioritize discussions and take urgent, and frankly overdue, additional steps to stem the terrible harm to civilians. New thinking and concrete action towards safeguarding civilian life will not only save thousands of families from suffering and grief but it can also help lessen recriminations and, instead, bolster confidence and trust among negotiators.

Notably, the Taliban has not reduced violence even after the signing of the US-Taliban agreement on February 28, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, and initiating direct talks with the Afghanistan Government on September 12. Security Forces also continue to face violence. According to partial data collected by the Institute for Conflict Management, at least 7,000 Afghan National Defence Security Force (ANDSF) personnel have been killed across the country since the signing of the ceasefire (data till November 22, 2020).

Highlighting the increased violence, President Ashraf Ghani while addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit through a video conference on November 10, 2020, observed, “the violence by the Taliban has increased substantially.” Similarly, Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, on November 10, 2020, stated that “the scale of war and violence has expanded… At the same time, the two sides are in talks. You might ask what these negotiations mean in the view of the current situation in the country.”

Violence remains high in Afghanistan despite purported peace process ongoing in Doha between negotiating teams of the Afghan Government and the Taliban. As violence surges in Afghanistan, the international community needs to recommit its support for the Afghan people to end the war and building a better future with stability, sound governance and greater economic opportunities, objectives that the Taliban has demonstrated visible contempt for.


S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

South Asia Intelligence Review


The Nagrota Link

By Bhopinder Singh

25 November 2020

Connecting the dots between Pakistan and the Nagrota encounter is crucial to deny Islamabad a convenient plank of dismissing it as a local expression of animus

The lacklustre township of Nagrota, just outside the unplanned concrete of Jammu city, was once best-known for housing the largest military corps in the world, White Knights Corps or the XVI Corps, as also for rehabilitating fleeing Kashmiri Pandit migrants from the Valley. The small garrison town snakes around the lifeline of the Jammu-Kashmir highway, which connects the Jammu plains to the Kashmir valley, bisected by the Pir Panjal ranges and the minor Trikuta mountains, which harbour the Vaishno Devi shrine in one of its heights, along with the Nagrota dwelling, in its foothills. Another 54 km down the same road is the Indian Army’s Northern Command headquarters at Udhampur.

The conspicuous presence of the Indian military in this township, barely 40 km from the nearest Pakistan border, as also its service mandate of overseeing operations along the “live”, strategic and frequently contested Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, has drawn unwarranted attention of those who seek to create terror and violence, as per the direction of their handlers across the LoC. Four years ago, terror had struck Nagrota as heavily-armed terrorists had sneaked across the border and fired indiscriminately at the sentries guarding the resident 116 Medium Regiment. A hostage-like drama had ensued and by the time the situation was neutralised, seven Indian soldiers and three terrorists were killed. All indications at the Nagrota site had pointed to the role of the terror organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammed, as notes recovered from the slain terrorists pointed to the involvement of the so-called “Afzal Guru Squad.” The said group had earlier carried out similar terror attacks at Pathankot, Baramulla, Uri and so on. Last year this group was responsible for a deadly strike, involving at least 350 kg of explosives at Pulwama, which had killed 40 Indian security personnel – this provocation had led to the reciprocal Balakote airstrike by the Indian Air Force. Last week, Jaish-e-Mohammed resurfaced again when four of its terrorists were killed in a fierce encounter on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, at Nagrota again.

What is significant is the irrefutable Pakistan hand in the latest encounter, as the Bhawalpur-based jihadist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, owes its genesis and sustenance to the Pakistani establishment or the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

At an oversimplified level, there is also a turf war among the competing insurgent groups in the Kashmir Valley, where the once predominantly local “pro-independence” groups have been marginalised and it is only those with State support from across the LoC for being “pro-Pakistan” (or at an even more extremist level, the pan Islamic Caliphate-seeking groups), who have managed to hold sway. Jaish-e-Mohammed has the notoriety of having Masood Azhar as its ideologue and leader, who has been declared an international terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. He also infamously and incredulously got support from China, which vetoed moves to put him on the UNSC sanctions committee on “technical grounds” and even posited the flimsier excuse of “lack of evidence.” The realpolitik of Pakistan and China in supporting Jaish-e-Mohammed aside, which brooks no morality or consistency in international affairs (hence the perennial struggle for Pakistan in avoiding getting “blacklisted” by the international watchdog agency, FATF, for sponsoring terror), the outfit is banned by UN and almost all Western and even Islamic countries like UAE. Owing to global pressure, Pakistan was forced into the sham of banning the same though the group kept renaming itself as Tehrik-ul-Furqan, then Khuddam ul-Islam, then Al-Rehmat Trust and, so on and so forth. Amid all pressures, Masood Azhar remained loyal to the Pakistan “Deep State” and it paid him back by allowing a free run to his group’s operations and machinations in Kashmir. Temporary “protective custody” enforced on Azhar from time-to-time has impressed no one, and his ability to sustain his operational capabilities in Jammu & Kashmir points to the continued handiwork of the Pakistani establishment, solely and wholly.

The latest Nagrota incident reeks of the scale, sophistication and brazenness of Pakistani complicity. The sheer cache of arms from the terrorists (11 AK-47, three pistols, 29 grenades, six UBGLs, mobile devices and so on) and the subsequent unearthing of a 150-metre long tunnel in the nearby Samba area for the facilitation of the cross-border movement, is impossible without State support. The construction of this tunnel has all the hallmarks of engineering complexities (at least 25-30 metres deep and almost 2.5 metress wide) and facilitation, which could not have been arranged without the acquiescence and material support from the nearby Pakistani posts of Rajab Sahid and Asif Sahib. The presence of the protective Sarkanada (elephant grass) on the Pakistani side of the tunnel to hide the literal spade work is self-explanatory. To suggest ignorance or naivete in overlooking the efforts and time to construct such a sized tunnel and arrange for the disposal of the dug-out soil without its discovery by the Pakistani patrol and posts, is unthinkable. Rightfully, an indignant New Delhi summoned the Pakistan charge d’affaires with incriminating evidence towards a “major attack to destabilise the peace and security.” This was expectedly denied by the Pakistani Foreign Office, as it has done for decades even though it has earned international ignominy as the “nursery” for global terror.

Importantly, India has dialled up the charges against Pakistan, with the Prime Minister himself tweeting about the incident. This escalation is timely as neighbouring Afghanistan is imploding with terror unleashed by the Pakistan-supported Taliban and the situation is expected to worsen. Pakistan should be disallowed the window of transition between the changing US administrations to further its nefarious designs, especially as Donald Trump has given it the long rope in order to fulfil his personal commitment of troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nailing Pakistan and “naming and shaming” is the key to ensure that the global pressure does not wane. Connecting the dots between Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Nagrota encounter is crucial to deny Islamabad the convenient postulation of Nagrota as a local expression of animus. Pakistan has been and continues to be the singular source of armed terror in Kashmir – Nagrota has proved this yet again.


Bhopinder Singh, a military veter-an, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands)


Trump, a Master of Mass Disorientation, Is Gone. But Has Trumpism?

By Inderjeet Parmar

25 November 2020

Just over a week ago, there was dancing in the streets of Washington, D.C., as tens of thousands of angry Donald Trump supporters called multiple rallies in support of their wronged Great Leader who continues baselessly to claim the election was ‘stolen’ due to a massive national conspiracy.

This movement has wind in its sails as the ‘stab-in-the-back’ lie is believed by 70% of Republican voters. Trump, a modern master of mass disorientation, has no plans to depart the national scene anytime soon. He is deconstructing the state and American society. Joe Biden’s victory has dented and slowed that programme, but Trumpism threatens to roil on for some time to come. The return to normalcy which so many long for will require the patience of saints, and the political mobilisation of millions.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Photo: Reuters

America’s Trump trauma/love affair continues without end; the defeated president refuses to concede to president-elect Joseph Biden, even as his own General Services Administration belatedly accepted an “apparent” Biden-Harris win due to “the law” and “facts”. Stubborn things, facts.

Kunal Kamra and the Elasticity of Justice

Yet, Trump’s legal cases in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia continue despite lack of evidence. The courts have thrown out dozens of baseless complaints of conspiracies and election fraud; law firms that Trump hired are jumping ship; Republican judges, among others, disloyal in Trump’s eyes, but loyal to their basic commitment to the rule of law and empirical evidence, are demonstrating their independence.

The judge in Michigan virtually accused Trump of trying to disenfranchise the entire state’s electorate and steal the election. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who knows how to avoid charges of perjury, did not dare claim in a Pennsylvania court that the GOP case was based on hard evidence of election fraud.

Meanwhile, the head of federal election security was fired for declaring the 2020 poll as the most secure in US history. Chris Krebs’s evidence-based declaration has no place in Trump’s fact-free assumption of total victory.

The GOP leadership is still backing Trump’s rhetorical-legal challenges even in Georgia where the Republican secretary of state has defended the robustness of the count, and the result certified. The appeasement of the far-right President Trump by mainstream conservative GOP has allowed him free rein to sow confusion, disorientation and chaos, and threatens to not only continue to disrupt the transition to a Biden presidency but to so further divide and polarise America as to make it ungovernable.

Some serious analysts suggest that Trump is still engaging in a coup attempt, however incompetently, and must be stopped. Trump’s failing state programme – or deconstruction of the administrative state – continues apace.

What is Trump doing?

Either he is planning to remain in the office via a possible, but increasingly unlikely successful legal challenge including at the Supreme Court, or he is planning to remain a GOP candidate in 2024 by riling up his loyal voters, or he wishes to become a GOP kingmaker. Either way, the GOP leadership is enabling him for now probably to ease him from office and hope that he will campaign hard till the January 2021 elections for the two open US Senate seats in Georgia.

People react as they watch a speech by Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden in Times Square after news media announced he has won the 2020 U.S. presidential election in Manhattan, New York, US November 7, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Caitlin Ochs

Defeat in Georgia would mean a 50-50 split in the Senate, with vice president-elect Kamala Harris with the casting vote. But the GOP leadership – especially those who have their own eyes on a 2024 run for the White House – like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, among others – do not want to provoke a Trumpian backlash. Trump’s 74 million votes in the election provides him with a powerful voice in intra- and inter-party politics. And it is not likely that Trump will disappear from the political scene after Biden’s inauguration: it is widely believed that Trump aims to take to the airwaves via a TV network affiliation, minister to his cult-like followers, and continue to be the glue that binds together the far and fascistic Right.

I say cult-like but that might be a tad lazy.

His voters are undoubtedly devoted to their candidate. One cannot really argue with the 74 million votes he won, an increase of around 11 million over his 2016 tally. Biden had to beat all presidential election records – almost 80 million votes – to win the election, including a higher proportion of the vote than president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 record.  But in the end, it was a relatively small number of votes in a handful of states that swung the election to the Democrat veteran.

Yet an interesting report by the Brookings Institution after the election gives credence to the ‘cult-like’ following claim. Brookings tallied the number of counties across America that each candidate won, and calculated the proportion of US economic activity those counties represented. They found that Trump won around 2500 counties, while Biden won 477. This is not especially surprising as Democratic voters are packed into densely populated big towns and cities, metropolitan areas. Trump’s voters are overwhelmingly white, live in sparsely populated rural America and smaller, especially de-industrialised towns. According to the Brookings study, Trump’s swathe of counties represents a mere 30% of US economic activity while Biden’s 477 counties account for the remaining 70%.

Despite the popular imagery of MAGA-hat wearing, flag-waving aggressive Trumpsters, large numbers of the counties Trump won can only be described as communities of despair – rife with high rates of depression, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and police violence. The report says:

“2020’s map continues to reflect a striking split between the large, dense, metropolitan counties that voted Democratic and the mostly exurban, small-town, or rural counties that voted Republican.  Blue and red America reflect two very different economies: one oriented to diverse, often college-educated workers in professional and digital services occupations, and the other whiter, less-educated, and more dependent on “traditional” industries”.

A demonstrator waves an American flag during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, US June 9, 2020. Picture taken June 9, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Of course, it’s more complex than that (there’s plenty of depression, suicide and police violence in America’s cities –  but the bigger point is made: there are economic, geographical, and racial divisions in the American electorate that demonstrate a deep schism, rupture, in the social fabric.

Add to that the rival sources of news, Fox for Republicans and CNN, MSNBC, ABC, etc., for Democrats, and there appear near-unbridgeable rifts in the American society. The mental maps occupied by American voters amplify the other divisions. Mentally, they appear to live in different countries, in different realities, believing different truths.

Which all means that Trump is likely to remain a viable political candidacy, strategy and style: plutocratic, authoritarian, populist, racist, post-truth, aggressive, and hostile to democracy.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are busy preparing for power, appointing their transition teams and landing teams for January 20, 2021, even as the Trump administration does its level best to sabotage the transition. Yet, the Democratic party’s own factionalism is growing between the Right and Left in the apparent absence of a common enemy, and as Biden courts ‘moderate’ Republicans. It also remains an open question whether the Democrats can satisfy demands from millennials, anti-racists, and workers impacted by the pandemic, let alone control the politics of street protests.

The US domestic landscape remains explosive and volatile, reflecting a fundamentally divided society. The resurgent extreme Right remains galvanised by opposition to what they perceive as an illegitimate Biden presidency. And they will likely form even stronger international links and programmes, promoting conspiracy theories and supporting political intimidation and violence. Their violence at home intensified this year with encouragement from the White House.

America’s allies remain deeply concerned: the unpredictability, unreliability and disruptions of Trumpism were extreme, but there’s little chance of a return to a mythical golden age of ‘normalcy’. Nevertheless, due to the courts, state and county-level election officials, and the sheer weight of popular opinion, the US political system appears to have squeaked through a major stress test.


Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London, and visiting professor at LSE IDEAS (the LSE’s foreign policy think tank).



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