In the few days since Trump took office, the new administration has re-deployed Islam at the center of its anti-terrorism campaign. Trump expressed this shift in his inauguration speech, which had the following line to frame the new administration’s relations with Islam and the Muslim world: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.” In this short line, Trump ushered his new policy where terrorism is identified with a religious identity. The administration will translate this shift into a set of policies that will target Muslims as a group both domestically and internationally. What does this shift mean and, more importantly, what are the ramifications for American Muslims and Muslims across the globe?
Words are important and the use of the label “Islamic” is not incidental and is intended to establish a causal link between Islam and terrorism. Here, the emphasis is on the “Islamic” part rather than “radical” or “terrorism” itself for this matter since the latter are terms that include a host of actors and is not confined to Muslims. For the Islamophobia industry, Islam itself — not only terrorism — is the main target and the emphasis all along has been to draw a wider net that can give credence to the clash of civilization thesis. Islam, as a focal point of attack and problematization, has been a key ideological thread connecting the clash of civilization advocates and the political, social, economic and religious concentric circles they operate within.
Indeed, civilization clash advocates all along have called for a militant and confrontational strategy toward the Muslim world. Writing and theorizing about the hoped-for confrontation was not enough to produce the needed results, thus the Islamophobes worked earnestly over a 15-year period to create the source materials to push it into the centers of policy making circles. The “Islamic” in the framing is the critical piece that is utilized to refocus the anti-terrorism effort at Islam itself as the source ideology for everything gone wrong in the world today. Certainly, the Islamophobes assert an immediate causality between Islam, as a tradition, and on the current terrorism, which also goes a long way to explain the hyper attention given to classical Islamic text and history. By positing Islam as the problem, the Islamophobes can mobilize the needed arguments for constant military intervention, strengthening partnership with Israel and frame it as the model to emulate on security issues, express support for autocratic dictators in the Arab world, rationalization of torture, restrictions on movements of Muslims and others, impose limits on fundamental freedoms and push for securitization of the Western society itself. Trump is the foreman of the clash of civilization wrecking crew intent on pushing for a confrontation with Islam.
Trump on several occasions during the campaign and on TV called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering into the United States.” In one interview, Trump stated that “Islam hates us” and “we are at war with Islam.” At times when pressed by journalists on banning Muslims, Trump included radical Islam in the response and then pivoted to demand extreme vetting for immigrants and refugees from the Muslim world, as if none existed at the time. Trump continued, “It’s radical, but it’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” Thus, the inclusion and the constant references to Islam are not incidental and reflect deep-seated antagonism and open hostility that are shared by Trump’s inner circle of advisors and operatives, who collectively share a clash of civilization world view and are intent on acting upon it. It’s critical to remind everyone that the supposed clash of civilization is a highly contested thesis and Trump’s wrecking crew are proposing to test it in the lab, the Muslim world. Sane voices are in short supply in the White House and within the current administration.
Stephen K. Bannon, Michael T. Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Frank Gaffney, John Bolton and other Trump advisors and appointees are ideological advocates of clash of civilization and are delighted at the opportunity to bring their thesis to the testing ground. Bannon describes the conflict as one of a “long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam,” while Flynn, the incoming national security advisor, framed it as “a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by a totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam. But we are not permitted to speak or write those two words, which is potentially fatal to our culture.” For Flynn, Islam is a cancer, “a political movement masquerading as a religion and the product of an inferior culture.” In a recently released book, Flynn argued, “I don’t believe that all cultures are morally equivalent, and I think the West, and especially America, is far more civilized, far more ethical and moral.” We can see Flynn’s line of thinking in a Mahdi Hasan interview:
“Flynn: We are at war with a radical component of Islam. … Islam is a political ideology based on a religion.
Hasan: Islam is?
Flynn: That’s what I believe and that’s how I like to—
Hasan: Sorry, do you mean Islamism? Or Islam? Sorry, I’m confused here.
Flynn: Islamism. Islamism, probably better—
Hasan: OK, you’re not saying the religion of Islam is a political ideology?
Flynn: A political ideology based on a religion.”
The key framing for Trump’s war on Islam was expressed most clearly by Stephen K. Bannon back in 2014, who situated the on-going wars in the Arab World through a historical lens and as part of a long struggle between Islam and Judeo-Christian world: “If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours or other places. … We’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.”
Here, it is important to point out the dubious trans-historical claim of a Judeo-Christian world, a recent construct that emerges only after WWII. In reality, European Christian history is but a long series of pogroms, death and destruction visited upon the Jews and other minorities ; events like the Inquisition and the Holocaust are the norm, rather than an exception when the history is examined. I would maintain that a Judeo-Muslim world is a far more accurate description of history than Bannon’s obfuscation and attempt at reading back into history the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict while absolving Christian Europe of its never-ending anti-Semitism that provided the ideological and theological railroad that led to the camps and the Holocaust.
Islam becomes the new foil through which Trump, Bannon, Flynn and other clash of civilization advocates make it possible to cleanse the blood that fills the pages of European and Western history. Islam becomes the all-encompassing problem that threatens and undermines Western civilization rather than the rich and powerful 1% that have pursued a scorch earth social, economic and political policy that left the 99% behind. Trump and his clash of civilization wrecking crew are working to mobilize, mine and manipulate historical memories so as to foment a global war, which if it happened would prove their thesis. Destroying the world to prove an ignorant thesis is a very high price for humanity to pay!