If the Trump Administration attempts to materialize some of the campaign rhetoric, it would fiercely polarize the society and make it volatile. The 240-year struggle to create the most pluralistic democratic society – the underlying cause of its phenomenal success to become the most influential country in the world and the superpower in our time — now, as it is tending to backtrack is angering many Americans and bewildering others worldwide. The recent comments by prominent people like Trevor Noah, Kurt Eichenwald, Michael Moore, and others that they would enlist themselves as ‘Muslims’ if a Muslim registry becomes operative are reflections of the American spirit I know.
Instead of healing the nation, Donald Trump and his company are trying to utilize the anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States of America for a political gain. This very process is reminiscent of the vicious McCarthyism in the 1950s. However, Senator McCarthy’s ruthless drive in hate and fear mongering against the Communists for political purposes was brought to an end by the discourse with the American public initiated by courageous people like Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist. His words were simple and straight forward: he said “We will not walk in fear, one of another…. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine….” He reminded people that assign guilt by association and fear and prejudice mongering rob the nation of its founding spirit.
People like Murrow could make such an impact in America because, deep down, the people are tuned to this ‘voice of reason’.
Muslims should remain optimistic in this land. This nation would overcome Islamophobia the same way it overcame prejudices against Jews, Chinese, blacks, and others in the past. Those victims in the past, by remaining constructive players in this society, not only gained their rights and dignity, but also strengthened America along the way, notch by notch. These struggles — such as the Civil Rights movement, and others– and their successes influenced the world and caused paradigm shifts in our time.
Facing such a dark era of prejudice and phobia Muslims need to engage with the society constructively, face difficulties graciously and not let the bigots and hate mongers win. American Muslims should remain calm and feel confident that time is on their side. Their fight is on a higher plane and their weapons are the moral law and the due process of law. If the past is any reference, these are the tools that are effective in changing America.
Even though Muslims are a meager 1% of America (according to the PEW survey estimate), they are also part of the Muslim world: 23% of humanity controlling 76% of the oil reserves of the planet. American Muslims are, therefore, the common denominators of the two interdependent segments of the world that still remain confrontational and engage with each other counterproductive ways. American Muslims have a historic responsibility.
American Muslims should unite and launch an aggressive agenda of dialogue and constructive engagement with the mainstream Americans. The former should go an extra mile to demonstrate their determination to make America safer and better. According to the 2011 PEW survey report, 48% of American Muslims feel that their Imams and leaders are not forceful enough in condemning extremism. This definitely needs to change. Muslims should leave no stone unturned to make their mosques and centers free from radicalism and hate mongering. They should diligently work with the society and the government to help achieve these goals.
A heavy dose of empathy on the part of the American Muslims towards the American people is imperative. Empathy is a powerful moral force, it replaces antagonism and prejudices with understanding and respect. It is counterproductive to complain always about Islamophobia, downplaying the insecurity, uncertainty, and anguish of the American public. The sectarian conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East, the levels of bloodshed and the destruction, the violent events in many places in the world perpetrated ‘in the name of Islam’ by people who claim to be ‘Muslims’, the intolerance and fanaticism consistently demonstrated, all are deeply shocking and overwhelming for many people. If Muslims fail to understand the impact of all these disturbing events they would do an enormous disservice to their own cause. A proper realization and recognition, on the other hand, would help them find the right agenda and modus operandi to become the vanguards of peace and justice. It is crucial to engage constructively with others to bring about a positive paradigm shift both in America as well as in the Muslim world.
At the same time, a forceful discourse with the American people is also long overdue to bring to light the detrimental effects of a long trail of unethical, unjust and counterproductive Western policies towards many Muslim-majority societies. Powerful transnational alliances of vested interests and their lobbies manipulate the American decision-making process to help produce policies that serve their own interests but violate fundamental American values and sometimes even violate the American Constitution. These policies have done the tremendous disservice to the long-term interest of America and its credibility in the world. If America could have retained the trust and confidence it earned right after the two World Wars and especially after the Marshall Plan in the 1950s, this superpower would have achieved most of its objectives at the fraction of the price it paid. The long-term effects of these counterproductive policies have been enormously costly to the American taxpayers and extremely detrimental and painful in the Muslim world. A greater awareness among the American public of these counterproductive engagements with the Muslim world could be a potent force in bringing about a change.
The young generation of the Muslim world – 70% is 35 years or younger – are frustrated about the way their rulers and elites collude with that of the Western powers to dominate, oppress and exploit their societies. Their dismay over their bleak future and the disenfranchisement of their people is creating an inferno of anger that is nourishing the breeding grounds of radicalism.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic in America. The society through its long struggles has demonstrated resiliency, capacity, and collective will to come back on track. The agents of change understanding the underlying force of this great society remained tenaciously engaged with the people to remind them of the founding values of justice, fairness and the right of self-determination of all human beings irrespective of their differences. The American people always want to see themselves as a liberating force in the world. The costly failures due to the misuse of this American goodwill by the ambitious leaders and vested interest groups to promote their own agenda abroad have tarnished this American spirit, especially towards the Muslim world. A paradigm shift in the Western policies towards the Muslim world can take place if the American public becomes informed and motivated.
Therefore, American Muslims are at the right place to be a catalyst of change in this difficult time if they play their role effectively as the BRIDGE-BUILDERS.