In an ostentatious conference hall in Riyadh, President Trump lectured a group of bizarrely deferential leaders from 50 Muslim-majority nations, while actually telling them he was “not here to lecture”. Magically changing the campaign rhetoric of “I think Islam hates us” and hence his subsequent demand for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration, he audaciously declared Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths”. He even refrained from using his favourite term, “radical Islamic terrorism” – a term for which he chided his predecessor, President Obama, when he refused to use it.
Landing in Saudi Arabia, he seemed to have suddenly realized that it was not Islam, but a violent ideology that we have all been fighting. Duly he impressed on his dotting audience (minus Melania), “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations … This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people all in the name of religion… This is a battle between good and evil.”
His expectant audience may well have waited in vain for a word of apology for his racist, anti-Muslim speeches of last year. But when none came, not one of them had the spine to stand up to him for his bigotry. Instead, they applauded when he condemned Iran – rather than ISIS – for “fueling sectarian violence” while totally ignoring the the Salafi-Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia, which is the root cause of Wahhabi Radical Terrorism. He blustered that “We are adopting a principled realism, rooted in common values and shared interests”. Interests that may be of “a lot of beautiful military equipment” (for an even more beautiful $110bn). But what values do we, the American people, share with the dictatorial Saudis?
What does the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave have in common with the land of repressive Royals and home of misogynistic men? Saudi Arabia does not allow public worship by believers of religions except Islam and discriminates with impunity against Muslim religious minorities, notably the Shia and the Ismailis. These minorities are disparaged by the Saudi Government and are victimized in public education, the justice system, and employment.
Yet when he went on to declare Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths”, some of our myopic media hailed this as a “reset”. There can be no reset until President Trump acknowledges the valuable contribution of Muslims in his own back yard. Apart from scant negative references to San Bernardino and Orlando, our President totally ignored American Muslims in his lecture (that was not supposed to be a lecture).
Conspicuous by its absence was any acknowledgement of American Muslims and their contribution to American society. The millions of Muslims who live in the United States and are integral parts of American society did not merit a mention by the 45th President of the United States. His predecessors were very different – in 2009, President Obama declared that “Islam is a part of America”, and even revisited history stating that Islam was not merely a part of the American present, but also its past. “Since our founding American Muslims have enriched the United States”, he said.
This omission reveals the paucity of President Trump’s understanding of Islam and Muslims. It seems that in his world-view, Muslims only live in his imaginary “Muslim World”. For this administration, as long as Islam remains in the so-called “Muslim World”, rather than a faith which is very much part of the fabric of American society, it cannot be considered a ‘reset’. Ironically, President Trump discovered in, of all places, the gilded halls of the Saudi palaces, that Islam is a great faith. He should instead cast his eyes into the humble homes of the millions of American Muslim doctors, engineers, nurses, social workers, teachers, industrialists, tech geniuses, bus drivers, farm workers and pilots, who are an integral part of America, and he must publicly recognize the contributions American Muslims have made for generations. The ‘reset’ can only come if this administration categorically condemns Islamophobia, withdraws the Muslim ban, stops ethnic and religious profiling at our airports and, above all, stops viewing American Muslims through the prism of Islam as a foreign ideology, which is only good outside our border.
Regardless however of what the Trump Administration does, as patriotic Americans members, we will continue to fight violent extremism, as much as we did before Mr. Trump and will continue to do so after Mr. Trump.