International

American-Muslims Should Have a Multi-Pronged Approach to Trump

Kaleem Kawaja

A news report yesterday said that the American Jewish League (AJL) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) have formed a joint task force called " Muslim-Jewish Advisory Committee', that will hold talks with President- Elect Donald Trump about protecting the equal rights of Jews and Muslims, two of the largest religious minorities,  in America.  They have chosen a successful Jewish businessman and a successful Muslim businessman to lead this Task Force.  

The Muslim side will be represented by Farook Kathwari the CEO of Ethan Allen Inc, the quality furniture manufacturing company.  The Jewish side has chosen Stanley Bergman, the CEO of Henry Schein Inc, a distributor of health care products.  They plan to impress upon Trump that rank and file American- Muslims are hard working, creative and patriotic US citizens and want to bring prosperiety and strength to US. And the same for the Jewish-American community.

At the same time in US at large there is much disappointment and revulsion at the election of Trump who openly exhorted racists of the Ku Klux Klan variety, and the White Supremacists to isolate and downgrade religious and ethnic minorities, to prevent Muslims from coming to US,  to expel 12 million Hispanic citizens/residents, to suppress immigrants  from third world countries, and to prevent women from getting real equal rights in the country at large. This is his prescription to make "America Great Again", by retracting the many gains that Muslims, Hispanics and Blacks have made in the arena of equal rights since World war II . Yet the so called  "Trump Nation" is a very small minority in the American nation.

Not only Trump's long Presidential campaign was toxic, in the short time since his election the few people he has nominated for top positions harbor very toxic racial views.The nominated Attorney General - Sen Jeff Sessions; the nominated National Security Advisor - Lt  Gen Michael Flynn and the nominated Chief White House Strategist - Steve Bannon hold patently hostile and racist views about Muslims, Hispanics and Blacks.  Looking at their long public records they can only be expected to implement extreme right wing policies in US.    

Trump did this damage to the American polity consciously, the reason being that not having previously been in public policy or political arena, he had no political base.  But he knew well that among the non-Hispanic Whites who form two-third of the US citizenry about a third have racist tendencies.  Over the years except for the Tea Party type  Republicans, not even mainstream Republicans encouraged such extremist thinking as it is most harmful and divisive for the American  nation.

Of all the community groups, two demographic groups against whom Trump sprouted hatred   in his long Presidential campaign, and against whom he promised harsh action are the Muslims and the Hispanics. He also talked about reducing benefits for the African-Americans. Both minority communities are known to be politically weak, non-aggressive, low-income and lacking in leaders at the national level who can speak for them and blunt the wildly false charges of Trump and his cohorts, who brand them as killers, rapists and saboteurs.    Most of the recently arrived refugees are Muslims and most of the undocumented immigrants are Hispanics.  Both sub-communities are weak in socioeconomic terms and are afraid of the retaliation from the White Americans.  Therefore they have become a perfect target for exploitation at election time with attacks based on innuendo and falsehood.   

Despite the utterly false destructive propaganda, the American public especially the White people have swallowed the false charges and have started believing in it.  Case in point is the  city of Utica in the northern part of New York state.  In the last five to ten years quite a few refugees from Somalia, Ethopia, Afghanistan and Syria,  most of them being Muslim have migrated to this area.  Also in the same decade quite a few Hispanic  immigrants have settled in this area.  

In the recent  election campaign in northern New York state , the Trump campaign worked heavily in this area that has experienced loss of industrial jobs and flight of factories.  They spewed hatred and suspicion against these two minority communities who took up mostly low paying labor and menial jobs that the Whites did not want. Surely Muslims and Hispanics did not take away the jobs from Whites. The result was that even though Hillary Climton and Democrats won from many parts of New York state, in the city of Utica and adjoining counties Trump won.  

At the same time a recent analytical NPR (National Public Radio) report states that Robert Palmieri the mayor of Utica has stated that the newly arrived Muslim refugees and Hispanic immigrants revived downtown Utica that had become deserted as a result of industrial downturn in the region.  He also verified that both of these sub-communities are peaceful  and non-aggressive.  So obviously the Trump campaign circulated false rumours against minorities.  In rally after rally Trump exhorted his followers to exclude minorities even from attending his election rallies.  Scuffles and conflagration happened in many cities across the nation.

In the aftermath of Trump's election as President, Hispanics, Blacks and milleniul White youth have held large scale  "Trump Not My President" type protest rallies in various cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Nashville etal.  Trump is now elected President in a constitutional manner, But the concern of the minorities is that his team may implement a racist, anti-minority agenda in US in the next four years, a platform on which he campaigned for President for 18 months, polarizing the American nation and motivating the working class whites to reject the modern American culture of integration of people of color, immigrants and religious minorities.  However the one sub-community that has been absent from these public protests are the American-Muslims, even though the Trump campaign openly castigated them as undesirables and a threat to the nation.

The question arises why Muslims are not joining the Hispanics and Blacks in these public protests against Trump?  Is the sub-community afraid or are they simply inactive in political matters  The semi-political organizations of American Muslims are also in a silent mode since the November 8 election.  Most of the American Muslims arrived in US after the promulgation of the 1965 Civil Rights Act that gave many equal rights to the minorities. Up until that time it were the Black Americans that bore the brunt o the minorities long struggle for equal rights. Muslims benefited from the fruits of that struggle.  Now it behoves American Muslims of all persuasions to join these nationwide protests against the attempts of the extreme right wingers to roll back the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.  

American- Muslims have to understand that their welfare in America lies in making common cause with the Hispanics and Blacks in a common struggle for equal rights and justice for minorities, They must support the justice oriented movements of Blacks like "Black Lives Matter", and the movement of the undocumented Hispanics for " a path towards US citizenship.." Staying aloof from these movements is likely to cause significant harm to their sub-community.

Indeed it may make sense for American- Muslims to adopt a multi-prong policy.  Where one group of Muslims negotiates with the Trump  Administration as indicated above, another group of pacifist Muslims takes the interfaith movement approach with white extremists, and a third group joins in the public protests being held by the Hispanics, Blacks and milleniul youth.  We should remember that in the 1950s-1960s as Martin Luther King's campaign was fighting for equal rights for Blacks through nationwide  massive civil disobedience protests, the campaigns of Malcolm X and Black panthers were angry and  aggressive and tinged with violent riots in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC. Together, the different movement streams  persuaded the American society to accommodate Blacks in society and emancipate them for a better future for America.  Indeed that initiative went a long way in restoring peace in the US society after the racial and law & Order turmoil of the 1960s, that harmed the nation in several important areas.

American-Muslims must necessarily remain peaceful and conciliatory with their adverseries, the right wing extremists. Their prime goals should be hard work, integrity , educational achievement and patriotism towards the American nation.   

The writer is a community activist in Washington DC.  and can be reached at Kaleemkawaja@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2016 on page no. 16

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