Trump Asks Us to Choose: The Boot or the Feather

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“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”

So reads a news release put out by the campaign managing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump’s campaign manager clarified the ban would include Muslims simply travelling for tourism.

Trump was immediately and vociferously lambasted for his statement, but his response to criticism was a laconic “I don’t care.”

He should.

This plan would not only bar millions of ordinary Muslims from entering the U.S. based on nothing they had done, which the Anti-Defamation League described as “unacceptable and antithetical to American values.”   

It would also be a major setback for those struggling against extremism and a major coup for ISIS and related groups who seek to portray their war as one of "Muslims vs the world."

Were the plan implemented, members of Clarion Project’s advisory board, Dr. Elham Manea (interviewed here) and Raheel Raza, who are based in Switzerland and Canada respectively, would be unable to enter the United States. Both women are tireless campaigners against Islamist extremism having spent years pushing alternative narratives within their communities.

So would figures like Maulana Wahiddudin Khan, the Indian Sufi mystic and religious leader who runs the Center for Peace and Spirituality, an international network that preaches non-violence.

Also to be banned would be the attendees of the Muslim Reform conference, which was held in Washington D.C. on December 4.

That initiative was started by another member of Clarion Project’s advisory board, Dr. Zudhi Jasser, a former U.S. naval officer who brought together Muslim thinkers and activists to sign a joint declaration in favor of “a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam.”

Among the signatories was the British counter-extremism scholar Sheikh Usama Hasan, previously interviewed by Clarion Project. He is a recognized expert in Islamic theology and texts and staunchly opposes the supremacist political ideology of Islamism from a place of knowledge and understanding and from within the Islamic tradition.

Read the complete Muslim Reform Movement declaration and the list of signatories.

Yet all of these figures, who are foremost in the struggle against Islamism, the ideology which this measure is aimed to combat, would be denied entry by Trump.

The Islamic State and other Islamists have long told Muslims there is a war against Islam, waged by anti-Muslim bigots who seek to destroy Islam. Statements like those made by Trump play directly into this narrative and will almost certainly be used as propaganda by recruiters all over the world for "soft" Islamist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Combating this narrative requires counter-extremists to engage with Muslims and refuse to fall into the trap set by Islamists of treating Islam monolithically. It is only in the separation of the political ideology of Islamism from the religion of Islam and countering that ideology with universal human rights values that victory over Islamism will be achieved and jihadist terrorism halted. That process requires the active participation of Muslims, not their alienation.

It is for this reason Clarion conducts interviews and outreach with Muslim (and non-Muslim) human rights activists from a wide range of backgrounds.

Many mainstream politicians and media figures have failed to address issues of Islamist extremism in this way. Their approach can be described as a "feather" – steering away from identifying any Islamic component in the ideology.

By slandering as “Islamophobic” criticism of the ideological roots of jihadist terrorism, they inadvertently push people to view the problem as Islam. The Democratic Party recently came out with a campaign advert calling on supporters to avoid using the term “radical Islam.” This helped create the space for Trump’s approach – which can be termed "boot." He told Fox News Obama “won’t even mention the term, the term the name of what’s going on.”

British counter-extremism activist and ex-Islamist Maajid Nawaz calls this the #VoldemortEffect after the Harry Potter book series.

“You’re sending out the message to the vast majority of Americans: There’s an ideology you must challenge, but you don’t tell them what it’s called.” Nawaz queried, “What are they going to assume? The average American is going to think, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to challenge an ideology — it’s called Islam.'”

This is a very dangerous place to be. Given the rising tide of terrorism committed in the name of Islam people stripped of the ability to name and tackle the ideology will simply tell themselves, “I’d rather be a racist than a corpse.”

This can be seen in the reactions of Trump supporters to his comments:

The Front Nationale (FN) just won the regional elections in France, bringing the far-right anti-immigration party into the mainstream for the first time. Fears about terrorism and Islamic integration played a large part in that victory.

“As predicted, liberals' failure to take on Islamism morally & responsibly has left Trump's bigotry & fear-mongering to fill the void.” Ali A. Rizvi, a Pakistani-Canadian activist against Islamist extremism posted on Facebook.

The choice is not between the boot and the feather. There is another way.


Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org