Why is Trump Islamophobic

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

Those who tell us that Islam - and not just revolutionary Islamism - is a deadly threat to Western civilization can feel gratified: the President of the United States and his key advisors agree with them.

Or as Donald Trump's National Security Advisor, General Mike Flynn, put it: "Fear of Muslims is rational." Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of the far right Breitbart News and now Trump's chief political strategist and member of the National Security Council has declared that the "Judeo-Christian" West is at a global war with Islam.

Trump has promised to put America first, borrowing the slogan "America first" from the American isolationists of the 1930s, whose most famous spokesman was pilot Charles Lindbergh - a notorious anti-Semite who accused Jews and leftists of the To have drawn USA into a war against Hitler (whom he admired). Lindbergh believes that "[we] can only have peace and security as long as we protect ourselves against attack by foreign armies and interbreeding with foreign races."

Racism is in the DNA of "America first"

So racism is in the DNA of "America first". Do the views on Islam that have now taken hold in the White House resemble in any way the anti-Semitism of the 1930s? Did Bannon, Flynn and Trump simply rehash old prejudices and replace one group of Semites with another?

Maybe not even that. Trump's failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in his statement in response to Holocaust Remembrance Day seemed clearly strange. And the warnings from his campaign team about prominent Jews such as George Soros, who are allegedly part of a global conspiracy to weaken America, did not go unnoticed.

Even so, there are some obvious differences between the 1930s and our time. At that time there was no revolutionary movement on the part of the Jews who committed atrocities in the name of their faith. There were also no states with a Jewish majority that were hostile to the West.

But the similarities between then and now anti-Semitism are glaring. One terrifying clue is the use of biological language in the enemy's perception. Hitler called the Jews a poisonous racial germ.

Defamation and Elimination

The title of a widespread Nazi pamphlet was "The Jew as a World Parasite". Frank Gaffney, an influential figure in Trump's ethnic-nationalist circles, described Muslims as "termites" that "undermine the structure of civil society and other institutions".

Once people are referred to as parasites, pathogens or harmful termites, the conclusion that they have to be destroyed to protect the health of society is not far.

However, there may be another difference between the persecution of the Jews and the current hostility towards the Muslims. Pre-war anti-Semitism was directed not only against religious Jews but also - and perhaps especially - assimilated Jews who no longer stood out in any way. The prejudice against Muslims appears to be less racial and more cultural and religious.

But even this difference is possibly more appearance than reality. The anti-Semites of the 19th and 20th centuries assumed that a Jew was always a Jew, no matter what he or she pretended to believe. Jews would always be loyal to their own kind. Judaism was viewed not as a spiritual belief, but as a political culture that, by definition, was incompatible with Western civilization and its institutions. This culture runs in the blood of the Jews. In order to defend them, Jews would always lie to non-Jews.

These views existed long before the Nazis. In fact, they were the reason why the learned writers of the first constitution of independent Norway, drafted in 1814, excluded Jews from Norwegian citizenship. The argument for this exclusion was based on the defense of the principles of the Enlightenment: the culture and beliefs of the Jews would inevitably undermine Norway's liberal democracy.

Legends of the "subversive nature of jihad"

Today's enemies of Islam often use this very argument: Muslims lie to unbelievers. Your religion is not spiritual, but political. You might look moderate, but that was a lie. What we must fear, according to Gaffney, is "this stealthy, subversive type of jihad".

But even if the basic fears and prejudices against Muslim and Jewish conspiracies are similar, the consequences are likely to be significantly different. The Jews, who according to the Nazis represented an existential threat to Germany, could be persecuted with complete impunity and later massacred. Except for a few small, desperate rebellions, they had no way of resisting Nazi power.

On the other hand, the brutal violence of revolutionary Islamism cannot be dismissed out of hand. Islamist terrorist attacks in Western countries can only be prevented through good intelligence and police work, especially in the Muslim communities. But if you offend and humiliate all Muslims, terrorism will get much worse. And it is easy to guess what a "global war against Islam" can bring about in the highly explosive politics of the Middle East and Africa.

In this case, the "clash of civilizations" that resides in the minds of the Islamist terrorists and some of their bitterest enemies would no longer be a fantasy; it could actually occur.

It is still unclear whether Trump's crusaders are playing with fire without really knowing what they are doing, or whether they actually want a conflagration. One should not underestimate the gross ignorance in these circles. But maybe it's not too cynical to imagine that Trump's ideologues actually want to see blood. Islamist violence would then be countered with emergency laws, state-sanctioned torture and restrictions on civil rights - in a word: with authoritarianism.

Maybe that's what Trump wants. But it is certainly not what most Americans, including some Trump voters, would want.

Ian Buruma

© Project Syndicate 2017

Translated from the English by Jan Doolan

Anti-Semitism, Christianity, Clash of Civilizations, Donald Trump, Islam in the United States, Islamism | Political Islam, Islamophobia | Islamophobia, Jihadism / Jihadists, Judaism | Jews, Muslims in the west
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