By Chetan Bhagat
August 6, 2016
The Trump-Clinton battle is in full swing on television, far more intense than the Modi-Rahul fight India had two years ago. There is a lot more money involved, the importance of media is greater and the presidential system itself makes the campaign mostly about personalities.
One of the key issues here this time is safety of citizens from terrorist attacks. Donald Trump’s bold solution involves banning Muslims from entering the US. As expected, such an outrageous and blatantly communal statement in inclusive, politically correct America raised a huge controversy. To show how Trump’s broad-brush alienation of Muslims was wrong, and how Muslims had made tremendous sacrifices for America, Hillary Clinton invited Muslim parents of a slain American soldier to her convention.
Trump however, stuck to his stance. He tweeted that the problem of terrorism stems from what he calls ‘radical Islam’, a term Hillary ‘won’t even mention’.
Half of America seems to support Trump. Many Europeans feel the same way. A lot of Indians think the same too, even if they don’t express it.
The ‘radical Islam is cause of terrorism’ argument goes like this. Most high-profile terrorist attacks in the world have been in the name of Islam. Hence there is something wrong with certain followers of Islam, who are termed radical Islamists. If we have to fix this problem, we have to call a spade a spade, and point out that the broader religion of Islam itself is somehow breeding, or sanctioning, or at least spinning off as a byproduct radical Islam. Some say religious texts and their interpretation are causing it. Others say the religion is too inflexible and closed to feedback, therefore needs to reform and change.
The liberal counter-argument goes like this. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 99.9% of them go about their daily lives and do not kill people. To label Islam as bad, or ask the religion to change, or block people from the religion as a whole from coming to a country, is racist and somewhat ridiculous.
When people see a pattern of Islamic State (IS) terror attacks killing innocent people in cities around the world, it’s hard to find solace in this argument. The first human instinct in times of fear or danger is to protect oneself, and we often do so by shutting out anything remotely associated with that fear. America seems to be at that stage, which explains Trump’s appeal despite his communal statements.
To be inclusive when you are scared is difficult. It involves fighting your instincts of self-protection and reasoning with yourself. If, for instance, there are serial killers in your neighbourhood who are tall, you would feel scared every time you see a tall stranger. This, notwithstanding that not every tall person is a serial killer. The human mind and heart just works that way.
It is, however, important to understand that the reason for so much terrorism in the name of Islam is not just religion. It is the presence of several undemocratic, rich and resourceful dictatorships that operate in the name of Islam. These countries – Saudi Arabia and friends – have despotic rulers who use a draconian interpretation of the holy book to justify violence, lack of democracy and violation of human rights.
Make no mistake; every religion can be interpreted to justify violence. Lines from the Bible prescribe violence too. Several Hindu texts are against women’s rights in a modern sense. It’s just that there is no armed dictator with billions of petrodollars interpreting the book that way, to justify his repression of democracy.
Islam does have many such countries. In these countries, the only way to bring about change is through violence. You cannot go to Ramlila Maidan to demonstrate or tweet your point of view. There is no news debate on what the ruler did wrong. You want change, pick up a gun.
Hence what is happening in the Middle East, including IS, is a spillover of Middle Eastern power struggles. These countries are ruled by ganglords, and one gang lord is fighting to topple another. Since there is no legitimacy to their power otherwise, it is all done in the name of God.
The US, ironically, is friends with and even supports these rulers. To secure its oil it has befriended and legitimised these regimes, making them more powerful. The more we have dictatorships in the name of religion, the more global terrorism will persist.
To fix terrorism the US has to alter its Mideast policy, not just ban Muslims from entering it. Even if ‘radical Islam’ exists, it has to be made weaker. ‘Radical Christianity’ and ‘radical Hinduism’ exist too, but they are weak as there is no state and military power backing them.
For ordinary Muslims, especially those who live in democratic setups such as India, it is a tough situation. They face discrimination due to the human instinct of fear. The best they can do is to carve out a different identity, and lobby to free other Muslims in oppressive regimes. One cannot support any violent organisation, person or government that doesn’t believe in democracy or violates human rights; even if they do it in the name of the God you love.
Trump and Clinton, BJP and Congress, conservatives and liberals – all face the problem of terrorism in the modern world. Solving it will require working with each other, not just proving each other wrong.