The election of Donald Trump might be a consequence of the tragic dichotomy between denying that Islamic extremism is an issue, and xenophobia.
About a month ago, I had a Skype conversation with a friend, where I expressed my worries about the false political dichotomy in the UK. I was beginning to worry about its spread to the United States.
I say “beginning to” because, at the time of this conversation, the idea that Trump would become president was a joke. He won as the Republican candidate. However, many Republicans published letters and statements saying they would vote for Clinton because of how inappropriate Trump was as a candidate. The polls showed that he would lose.
Nonetheless, on November 9th, I learned that the toxic dichotomy in Europe already had hit America, and hard. The difference is it snuck up on us, unlike the gradual buildup in Europe.
The dichotomy is between the Regressive Left, who claim every criticism of Islam and practices in certain Muslim communities is bigotry, and the truly xenophobic Far Right. Similarly, in Europe, they have been building off each other.
Since the election, there have been horrible hate crimes and robberies in the US against women in Hijab. This terrifies me.
At the same time, I’m frustrated at some of the Left’s response. Already, people are throwing around reactionary statements about how this election proves how racist and xenophobic America is. Racism and xenophobia certainly played a part in Trump’s campaign, perhaps even a large part, but not every person who voted for Trump is a bigot. Furthermore, Clinton did a poor job at acknowledging the very legitimate fears of many Americans about terrorism – particularly Islamic terrorism. She refused to even say the phrase “radical Islam.”
This summer, the US was hit by three terror attacks within the span of a few months. In June, Omar Mateen shot and killed fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando in the name of Islam. In September, nine people at a Minnesota mall were stabbed in the name of Islam. The next day, New York City was bombed in the name of Islam. These attacks, in addition to ignorance and lack of education, are likely a part of why 67 percent of Trump voters dislike American Muslims.
Clinton could have offered a better alternative to the toxic political dichotomy between denial and anti-Muslim bigotry. Furthermore, Clinton could have taken more measures to tackle the roots of extremism. In a speech about the Orlando nightclub shooting, Clinton stated that Saudi Arabia must stop funding extremist mosques around the world. Yet, she accepted $10 million from the country for her campaign.
Not only the above dichotomy, but Clinton could have offered a better alternative to the toxic political dichotomy between denial and xenophobia. In Clinton’s statement on immigration reform, she noted the importance of integration. She did not, however, emphasise the salient point that, despite what many may claim, immigrants, especially those from cultures radically different from our own, will not assimilate into our country uncomplicatedly. In particular, she did not emphasise the need for refugees to understand the sexual and social norms of the US. She did not acknowledge that several countries in Europe have had issues with refugees sexually assaulting women. Clinton could have promised to mandate that refugees take cultural assimilation classes that specifically focused on sexual norms.
Thanks to Hillary Clinton not doing this, Donald Trump was able to take advantage of the racist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments that many Americans already had. What is more, on the particular issue of Islamic terrorism, he was willing to proffer bigotry and discriminatory policies as a solution to the problem of Islamic terror. We shouldn’t forget that a lot of the grievances that people have towards the atrocities committed on our shores in the name of Islam have led to considerable obfuscation in the minds of many Americans – that is, many people have adopted a mixture of racial, xenophobic and anti-Muslim attitudes because of the actions of a minority of islamists. Trump’s attitude towards immigration is surely a way of capitalising on this obfuscation.
Now, I cannot say with certainty that had Clinton addressed Islamic extremism more assertively, she would have been elected. Many of Trump’s supporters voted for him due to economic concerns, and many are indeed genuine bigots. But considering that 66 percent of Trump supporters viewed immigration as their top concern, and 67 percent dislike American Muslims, there will likely be a large amount of them who would have voted for Clinton had her stance on these issues been different.
But all is not lost. There is a way out of this dangerous, bleak dichotomy: universal human rights.
Trump may have won the election, but if US citizens are willing to organise and work together despite political differences, we can promote equal rights for American Muslims while fighting Islamic extremism.
We can protest and sign petitions against Trump’s call to ban all Muslim immigration. Teachers can promote religious tolerance beginning in elementary school. Police forces can punish hate crimes.
At the same time, American society must combat Islamic extremism. City governments must take measures to ensure that imams do not incite violence towards LGBT people and non-Muslims. Teachers must learn to spot signs of radicalisation in youth. Refugees must be required to take cultural assimilation courses.
If American society fails to take these steps, the dichotomy between denial and anti-Muslim bigotry will continue – as well as the dichotomy between denial and xenophobia. Moreover, if American society fails to take these steps the consequences will be tragic. Both Far Right terror attacks and Islamic terror attacks will, I fear, increase, many occurring in retaliation of one another. American Muslims and non-Muslims alike will continue to die.
Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US