Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A war of cultures has begun

US President-elect Donald Trump is launching a war of culture in the United States, writes Yassin El-Ayouty

Al-Ahram Weekly

One would have to be blind not to see in the utterances of US President-elect Donald Trump and his coterie the launching of a war of cultures. A war against Islam, Blacks, Jews and all non-whites. Words have consequences, and appointments by Trump underline the gravity of those consequences.

Trump began his campaign for the US presidency by calling for “a Muslim ban on entering the US,” thus converting Islamophobia into one of the fronts in his war of cultures. He went from a fear of Islam to declared aggression in the form of singling out Muslims as enemies of America.

The Trump movement did not stop there. His appointee to the post of national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has publicly declared that “Islam is not a religion, but an ideology.” Elaborating on his Nazi-like pronouncements against the faith of 1.7 billion Muslims, Flynn called Islam “a malignant cancer.”

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell has described Flynn as a “right-wing nut.” Flynn has circulated a video declaring that “fearing Islam, which wants 80 per cent of humanity enslaved or exterminated, is totally rational and hence cannot possibly be called phobia.”

As national security adviser, Flynn is charged with guiding the president on all foreign policy matters. Furthermore, this extreme anti-Islam propagandist is the coordinator of all US foreign policy across all agencies.

Soon the cavalry of hate, spearheaded by cultural warriors, was given formal recognition through another appointment, that of Steven Bannon to the White House post of chief strategist for the president. Bannon has worked for 11 years as the editor of Breitbart News, a medium for the alt-right, a fascist entity advocating that “America is for whites only.” In addition, Bannon is well known for his unalterable anti-Islamic views and prejudices.

So now you have two of the most senior staff positions in the Trump White House qualifying for top aides in the new war of cultures. Logically, behind the forward leadership of the shock troops come the foot soldiers in people like Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute. To his audience who raised their arms in the Nazi salute on 20 November, Spencer declared that “white identity is at the core of both the alt-right movement and the Trump movement, even if most voters for Mr Trump aren’t willing to articulate it as such.”

Spencer’s audience full-throatedly screamed, “Heil the people! Heil victory!” It was the perfect environment for hysteria befitting the harangues of Goebbels. In a cultural war, you need first to attack the credibility of the media outlets of your opponent. Thus, Spencer pivoted to attacking the American mainstream media which Trump has systematically attacked by saying that “the media is crooked.”

The response of the Spencer rally was not disappointing. With the swagger of a winning boxer, he demanded an unequivocal endorsement of his racism. “Perhaps we should refer to them [the media] in the original German,” he said, as “Luegenpresse.” To this stimulation, they roared back mimicking the Nazi-era term for “lying press.”

Of course, in Trump’s newly-launched cultural war fact-checking is a poisonous tool, as the big lie technique should stand unchallenged. How enraging it must have been for Trump and his cohorts to be challenged by both Fact Check and Buzz Feed.

These two organisations have determined that more than 50 per cent of Trump’s pronouncements have been blatant lies, including his assertion that he saw “thousands upon thousands of Muslims dancing in New Jersey at the collapse of the World Trade Centre.” It never happened.

No exit from the scrutiny of a free investigative press of the stream of lies is overlooked. There are the Trump surrogates to explain that Trump was misquoted or misinterpreted. Or “It was never said.” Or, frequently in the case of Trump himself, “I don’t recall,” or “I was told,” or “why are we focussed on this issue” (as in the case of 12 women complaining of Trump groping them).

And if all else fails, “I shall sue,” and “I shall never settle.”

Well, Trump has been forced to settle the Trump University scandal for $25 million. Refunds have been arranged for the thousands who were fraudulently enticed to pay tuition in return for the illusory quest for getting rich quickly through learning Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”

Note that for Trump the law is a construct of loopholes to be exploited in order to evade paying taxes. For that tax evasion, Trump was described by one of his hired guns, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as “a genius.”

If Trump, who claims to be a billionaire, is applauded by a former mayor of New York City, what do you think will be the impact of that spin on the average citizen who is obliged by law to pay taxes in accordance with his/her level of income? Undoubtedly, non-observance of the law will soon become national practice.

Speaking of the law, as Trump thrusts his great country into a war of cultures, let us examine his appointment for the post of US attorney general.

This is none other than Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an avid anti-black racist who, as attorney general of Alabama, had this to say about a defence attorney. “He is a shame to his race,” he said. That attorney was white, and his clients were black.

Later, Sessions, who later sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called a black attorney “boy,” a term reserved in the US South for black men.

In no way can Sessions, if confirmed by the Senate in his capacity as head of the department of justice, divest himself from his anti-black past. Sessions in 1986 had the dubious distinction of being rejected by that committee as a nominee for a federal judgeship “due to his racist comments and behaviour”.

The would-be chief enforcer of the law in America has associated with FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), which is hostile to immigration and is committed to racial selectivity. Its founder, John Tanton, has repeatedly expressed the wish that America remain a majority-white population.

The anti-Islamic Mike Pompeo of Kansas is now Trump’s nominee for director of the CIA. He believes that “most Islamic leaders across America were complicit in terrorism.”

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency had the effect of baring the racial and religious divides in America. Racism, in particular, has now bubbled into the open, pointing to the sad fact that the South, at least at the local level, is still fighting the American Civil War by other means.

And Trump, sensing that tilt at the local and state levels, has found a wave he can surf to the top. The Democrats failed, as they focussed on the elite, the urban and the college-degree holders. The blue-collar workers, left behind by globalism, and hungry for change, any change, were lured by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN: This is a catch-all phrase for a battle cry in the rush towards a war of cultures, a war in which the perceived enemies are local, from Jews to Muslims and from Blacks to Latinos.

The early skirmishes incidental to the larger battle include a 31 per cent increase in hate crimes, in which 701 incidents have already been recorded. Swastikas have been scrawled on synagogues. “You can kiss your visas good-bye” is now frequently hurled at Muslim taxi-drivers. There have been false claims by Flynn and others that Sharia Law is spreading in America. It is not. In fact, 38 states have either legislated, or are on their way to legislating, that the word “Sharia” cannot be mentioned in their courts. They ignorantly regard it as antithetical to American values and the constitution.

 There have been Trumpian conversations about registering Muslims in America, and even applying the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Korematsu case to Muslims. This was the Supreme Court’s infamous 1944 Japanese internment decision approving the herding of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans into detention camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour.

That decision has not been repealed, thus potentially allowing it to apply to Muslim Americans. Such threats are legally considered an assault, especially when accompanied by “the apparent present ability to give effect to that attempt if not prevented.” Those fears brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy and lay leaders to gather in front of a mosque in Washington on 18 November in a demonstration of mutual support. Sensing the dangers of the threatened measures, they formed an inter-faith group called “Shoulder to Shoulder.”

Their call on Trump is clear and simple: “Keep your promise that you will serve as the president of all Americans.” The question here should be centred on the cultural war. Analysing Trump from this perspective is challenging, but not because his racial and ethnic preferences are not already clear. Instead, Trump is showing the face of a normalised Trump in contact with some foreign powers.

The Trump who manifests friendship for Egypt, the Emirates and Japan is a different face of Trump. The appeasement of the Republican Party, the protection of his 110 businesses in 22 countries, including the far-flung Muslim world, and the need to give priority to jobs in America, all combine to give diplomacy a seat at Trump’s table.

As a deal-maker, Trump by his core beliefs, practices, appointments to his administration and to his populist base is possessed of two personas: The one inside America, where divisiveness on the basis of ethnicity and religion is to become the norm, and the one for the outside, provided it does not project weakness.

The issue here is beyond diplomacy where negotiations or force may be employed. The issue is that a war of cultures inside America will undoubtedly have grave repercussions, especially on the world of Islam. His top lieutenants have already withdrawn their recognition of Islam as a religion, thus enabling the Islamic State (IS) group which is splintering into poisonous units all over the world. Trumpian hallucinations have provided fresh oxygen for recruiting, funding and operating.

In this connection, Trump and his team are reading Islamic State backwards. To them, it is the “State of Islam.” The Trumpists, being hostages to social media, the very tool of IS franchises, have become brainwashed by the narrative of terrorism.

The Trumpian narrative about Islam, nurtured by the IS narrative, is blind to the present religious revolution waged, primarily, by Al-Azhar in Cairo and its rector Ahmed Al-Tayeb. The tenets of this counter-jihadism include the ideas that Islamic law is supplemented by legislation, that equality among all faiths is built on Islamic jurisprudence, that “Allahu Akbar” means that all humans are equal in the eyes of the Creator, that justice and knowledge are essential to Islamic practices, that regardless of the variety of practices in the geographic expanse of Islam, gender equality is guaranteed, and that there is no “holy war” in Islam, only self-defence within certain boundaries.

The religious revolution says that removing a dictator is a religious duty, providing that such action would not result in fitna (self-help without the benefit of law). It says that cooperation within a community and inter-communally must be premised on the public good and that respect for local laws is incumbent upon a Muslim residing in non-Muslim countries.

Read about this religious revolution in statements made by the grand imam of Al-Azhar in Nigeria, Germany, France and Russia (Chechnya). How very alien are these tenets from the false advocacy of the likes of Osama Bin Laden or Al-Baghdadi of IS. And how ignorant is Trump’s war of cultures of these principles.

It is no wonder that a writer for the Op Ed page of the New York Times, Charles Blow, commented in the issue of 21 November on the orange colour of Trump’s face. “That orange glow emanating from the man is the sun setting on America’s progress, however slow and halting, on race and gender inclusion and equity,” he said.

Responding to such assessments, Trump, the king of tweeting, responded angrily by saying that “the New York Times is a failing newspaper.” He even chided the TV channel CNN for only showing bad angles of his face. How pitiful and silly for an American president-elect to be enamoured of his facial looks more than with his threatening substance.

The foregoing is not a hateful analysis. It is the analysis of hate. Mr Trump, your enmity towards “the other” can be seen with the naked eye. Your first salvo in your war of cultures was the declaration of a Muslim ban.

Former US president George W Bush, even in the heat of 9/11, declared that “we are not at war with Islam.” But Trump declared, 15 years after 9/11, that the problem with US security was Islam. Flynn declared that “Islam is not a religion. It is an ideology.”

MUSLIM REACTIONS: Here is a mini-lesson for those who wish to read about the history of the global Muslim reaction to terrorism, from which the Muslim World has suffered the most.

In 1997, the first head of state to call for a global effort against terrorism was Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak. That call came from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly.

Before that 1997 global call from Egypt, which now, under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, is in the throes of combating terrorism on its own territory, there was a Mubarak presidential decree of 1996 to the effect that all terror incidents should be brought, not before civil law courts, but before military courts. This was Egypt’s response to the Saber Farahat terrorist attacks on the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo in 1993, and later on visitors to the Egyptian Museum in 1996.

Farahat was apprehended, brought before a military tribunal, and executed. I was one of the attorneys claiming compensation from Egypt for the foreign victims at the Semiramis. The Egyptian Court of Cassation offered the maximum under Egyptian law, and I counselled acceptance. The US attorneys on the case demurred, and a US federal court in New York City gave them nothing, saying that “the case has already been decided by the Egyptian judiciary.”

In 1998, the League of Arab States adopted the first international regional convention on terrorism, followed in 1999 by a similar convention adopted by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

All the while, US governmental and non-governmental entities were howling “foul” at these timely anti-jihadi efforts. They were placing due process for the individual ahead of due process for the community.

When 9/11 happened, a major crime against humanity in which hundreds of Muslims perished among the 3,000 victims, Saudi prince Walid Bin Talal offered mayor Rudolph Giuliani $10 million to aid first responders. Giuliani rejected that humanitarian offer for a flimsy reason. Prince Walid had been asked, “do you think that 9/11 happened because of US policies favouring Israel?” Bin Talal replied, “I can’t exclude it.”

A few years later, Giuliani, now chosen by Trump for a top security post in his administration, went to the Muslim region to make millions of dollars through consultancies and speeches. Flynn was not too far behind in making money through counselling Turkey, a Muslim-majority country.

Thousands of Muslims are now serving in various American police departments and in the US armed forces. Millions of US Muslim civilians are daily contributing to US advancement. Steve Jobs, the father of the digital age, is Syrian.

Mr Trump, before you open your mouth with assaults on Muslims and other American minorities, know that you yourself seem to have little regard for US laws. This is the case not only on tax laws, but also on contract law, on due process law, on entitlements law, on anti-discrimination law and on religious liberty laws.

Even in regard to conflict of interest laws, you are refusing to separate your personal wealth and America’s commonwealth. Your family, your primary source of counselling, cannot run your business when you take the oath of office in January 2017.

Mr Trump, your ignorance of the law is documented by your lack of knowledge of your own presidential powers. Were you to stop for a couple of hours in order to read the US Constitution, you would find that you have only one power – the power of pardon.

The Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution does not mean you. It means the states, since powers not allocated to the federal government become automatically state powers.

Cities and mayors are rising up to defy your plans for the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. The United States is fast becoming the United States of the City States. The states have exclusive powers over their own police forces.

If you can spare the time to study international trade law, you will find that your bluster against international trade agreements is nothing but ignorant Trumpese. Rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a hollow threat. China has already cordoned off America through its proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Both Peru and Chile are anxious to join it.

Your empty rhetorical nonsense about China whose steel built your gambling casinos has been ridiculed by experts who dismiss your bombast. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, for example, has concluded that “a full-blown trade war with China and Mexico would push unemployment in the United States to nearly nine per cent in 2020 from 4.9 per cent today.” What would the millions of working-class Americans who voted for you say to that?

Mexico has now devalued its currency, making its products more competitive and its territory more inviting to American manufacture. The Ford Motor Company is planning to have its small cars assembled, not in America, but in Mexico. Labour in Mexico is paid only 15 per cent of pay in the US. It is Mexico that has already built its wall, an economic wall, not the Trump wall, on the southern border.

In the New Yorker magazine of 25 November, journalist Ali Fitzgerald posted the headline “Post-Election Nihilist Horoscope.” He predicted that “the new orange-tinted moon of November 8th will usher in an age of extreme darkness, lighting only the houses of racism, misogyny and gross red hats.”

Regardless of any Trumpist spin you and your team might employ, wars will not “Make America Great Again.”


The writer is a professor of law at New York University.

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