Dismissing Donald Trump’s statement “I think Islam hates us” as mere bigotry is not constructive in understanding what is going on.
He made the comments to CNN when asked if he thought Islam is at war with the West. He said there’s some “tremendous hatred there and we have to get to the bottom of it.”
There are important points to tease out of this.
- Islamist extremism has to be shown to be separate from the religion of Islam.
- Trump’s view will be shared by millions of people who are scared.
- People won’t stop saying things like this until Islamist extremism is defeated.
Let’s take them one by one.
When Anderson Cooper asked whether Trump meant radical Islam or all Muslims, Trump responded, “It’s radical, but it’s very hard to define; it’s very hard to separate because you don’t know who’s who.”
So we have to make it clear who’s who and separate Islamism from the religion of Islam.
Islamism is defined as the political ideology of attempting to impose a given interpretation of Islam over others and to enforce sharia as state law. This includes a wide range of policies including implementing the hudud punishments of sharia, imposing modesty dress codes on women, persecuting minorities and gay people, and introducing blasphemy laws.
In opposing these ideologies we separate them from the religion of Islam, which is a diverse religious community with many different theological trends.
There are those who will take Trump’s words seriously, if they do not already believe “Islam hates us.” As with Trump, dismissing them as bigots is not going to help.
We have to demonstrate that not all Muslims hate America by showing them examples, rather than repeating platitudes that “Islam is a religion of peace.”
For this reason Clarion promotes the work of Muslim (and non-Muslim) human-rights activists and supports various Muslim organizations that stand up for human-rights values while practicing their faith.
We must also remain resolute in tackling anti-Muslim bigotry that sees ordinary Muslims targeted in hate crimes.
Ultimately, comments like Trump’s will not stop until the American people are reassured that the problem of Islamist extremism has been categorically defeated. This means that the ideology has to be identified, deconstructed and marginalized.
The world has defeated radical ideologies before and there every reason to be confident that we can do it again. The first step to doing so is to accurately name the problem, something many policians and world leaders are failing to do.
But the world has also descended into hatred and persecution before, and we must ensure that does not happen in America.
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.