The Force is with You…Trump’s America 2017 and its implications for Muslims

 

By Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law

University of Pretoria

…but the work of man is only just beginning and it remains to man to conquer all the violence entrenched in the recesses of his passion

And no race possesses the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of force, and there is a place for all at the rendez-vous of victory

                                                                Aimé Césaire

 

At a time of heightened insecurity, fear and bigotry[1], Muslim citizens in the aggressive state, a perpetrator of violence and state sponsored terrorism are challenged by sporadic moments and episodes of hatred that are now openly being manifested. Hidden under layers of double-speak, hypocrisy and white supremacist ideology[2], Pandora’s Box has been opened, intentionally and knowingly. Trump and the millions who supported his white supremacist agenda and narrative are not ignorant. They are highly skilled and intelligent in their focus on the self-preservation of whiteness at any price. Their actions embody the prioritisation of whiteness, the safe guarding of white privilege, and the promotion of white superiority. It is about a commitment to white supremacy and legitimation or naturalisation of war against the Other. They use ignorance to spread fear, nurture hatred and justify their racism. The curtains have lifted, the smoke has dissipated, the screen is full HD colour. If you could not see before because of your obsession with the ‘image’ of America, you must surely see now.

Yes, #IslamophobiaIsRacism. Muslims in America, the force is with you.

In the opening scenes of the new act, it is becoming increasingly evident that although the theatre and cast changes every four to eight years, the script is almost always the same. Depending on the voracity and vigour of the actors, certain scenes are intonated, others are muffled and yet others are completely twisted. The director influences the outcome and experience by shifting the lighting, alternating the props and backdrop and escalating the frequency with which the background music enters the scene. And included in every scene is the ‘vulnerable’ character, the self-acclaimed victim seeking sympathy and deceiving the audience into allegiances so much so that they shake their heads and affirm the lie. For it is all a lie. A theatre of lies. Presidents who lie. A country that kills based on lies. Lies upon lies, scene after scene, yet the actors flock to partake and the audience fills every seat. At the end of the play, the result is almost always the same, West good, Islam evil. This take home message is embedded deep in a dominant western narrative that views Islam as an existential threat. The focus is on victims (West) vs. perpetrators (Islam/Muslims) which lacks a structural emphasis on beneficiaries. Who benefits from these theatrics? In this regard, the theatre, the cast, the props, the edits and the way in which the language is used, manipulated and projected functions to affirm this claim. The theatre is a speaking of westerners on behalf of Muslims. It is not likely that you will find many Muslim actors contributing to the narrative unfolding, but the narrative is overwhelmingly about Muslims. Muslims are invited to enter the theatre as paying guests, encouraged to pay with their dignity, their values, their humanity – but the highest price expected is that you pay with your faith. For to participate in the theatre, as actor or audience, you have to be invited in, and to be invited in means you are dependent on their acknowledging of you. In these theatres, in these bull-pits, Muslims are fundamentally subjects of study and scrutiny for western outsiders and their audiences. The Muslim voice, inflection or rhyme is not welcome; the ‘study’ is systematically excluded from the enterprise of contributing and commenting on their very existence. This is the ‘speaking of westerners’ on behalf of Muslims and Muslim related issues. In this theatre, the scripted play and all the ‘sound and fury’ that accompanies it is a means of disciplining the Muslim political subjectivity. It is here; on this soapbox that Islamophobia is staged as a global phenomenon and to understand the pernicious impacts of Islamophobia as a political system, the audience needs a politicised lens. 3D goggles and surround sound simply will not do.

It is in movie scripts like The Islamic States of America (author: Steve Bannon) that the Islamophobic story continues; of suppressing Islam and banning Muslims. It tells the tale of the borders between Europeaness and non-Europeaness. It mocks the ability of whiteness to deny Muslim political agency depicting the Muslim as a symbolic category denoting suspicion, violence, and hate. The story of the world becomes the story of those who fund, control and manage the theatre. The costumes are as ugly as they are elaborate. Funding is not an issue. The concept of Islamophobia is central to the way in which Islam and Muslims are considered, discussed and responded to. And what better way to sell this? Entertainment and theatre is today the opiate of the masses. In these theatres, explanations about Muslims, about their lives, belief systems, cultures and communities are offered and presented without questioning or hesitation. Just like the academy awards, there is a boasted arrogance that claims that Islam itself is an area of intellectual or professional expertise where non-Muslim white men are more capable of speaking about ‘them/it’ then Muslims themselves. This is the framing of that scene which introduces the Muslim as the subaltern. In this way, there is a perpetuation of the dominance of white and Anglo-Saxon narratives. In order to understand how this theatre functions, one must understand what it does and how it does it. In essence, one must examine how the language ‘performs.’ For years and under different directors (presidents), there has been a pervasive and continuous referencing of Islam and Muslims disparagingly in the public domain, to the extent that it has in many instances become the common sense understanding of gullible and uncritical persons. But it is also the agenda of the white supremacists, an agenda cultivated from a historical entanglement with Islam and one that is used to justify state intervention, invasion and state sponsored terrorism in Muslim Majority Countries (MMC). The Muslim is the enemy, an irrational, fanatical, violent Other, because he refuses to separate religion from politics, legitimating violent coercion against himself and his homeland. This is the theatre of the United States of America. Welcome to the horror movie 2017. A remake of the remakes from as early as 1492. The political play is personal trauma for the Muslim subject and citizen. The actors bow. Applause! “More give us more.” A standing ovation by a predominantly white, racist, fascist and right-wing audience. The liberals clap gleefully. The idea has been sold. The theatre will always have an audience. Is the Trump remake any different? A deviation from the original? No it is not! It is a continuation of the same play, a remake. Perhaps the scenes have changed, the camera angle has slanted and the lighting is technologically sophisticated. But the script is more crass, the sound bites spitting with bigotry and Islamophobia and significantly reflective of the mentality of the actors and the audience. Not the well-crafted articulations of poison covered in flowery words and sugary rhetoric of Obama and his predecessors. In their theatres the screen shot was a ‘zooming out’ so that many details could be obscured. Now there is a zooming in. There are no gaudy packagings here. Just the plain truth of what white supremacist belief is. Ironically, the only truth in the sea of lies that surrounds this theatre is the unashamed and unapologetic expression of their hatred for black people and Muslims. Essentially, this camera shot is a zooming in, so that every detail of the hypocrisy, the hatred and the ideology can be seen and felt. Nothing is hidden. Would it have been any different under a Clinton administration? Of course not! Only the naïve would think that it would. Same theatre, different techniques. In this instance it would have been a masked ball and the killing, bigotry and hatred would have continued. With Trump, the snake has shed its skin.

Yes, #IslamophobiaIsRacism. Muslims in America, the force is with you.

The above is a common language approach that I have used to explain the status and condition of those American people who have supported and endorsed Trump. But it is also an attempt to show that supporting and endorsing Hilary Clinton would yield exactly the same results. It should not be forgotten that in six years since his election to the presidency Obama had approved military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya and Syria. This “Peace President” bombed seven MMC in six years and approved 390 drone strikes in a space of five years in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. In 2016 alone, the Americans under Obama “dropped at least 26,171 bombs” – thus every day last year, the US blasted combatants or civilians in MMC with 72 bombs; “that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day…in Syria and Iraq, [and] Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.”[3] According to Nafeez Ahmed, an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author the total deaths from western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan which includes “direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation” is estimated at approximately 4 million.[4] Considering that these figures are only for Iraq and Afghanistan, if one is to total the death counts with those in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Mauritania and other MMC, it is plausible to conclude that western incursions and wars on MMC have killed in excess of 4 million people since 1990. Furthermore, Obama and the American government by extension have engaged in extra-judicial killings of Muslim American citizens. In 2011, Obama sanctioned and authorised the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was never charged for any crimes. He was simply murdered and there has been no accountability, no media outrage, and no collaborated street protests. Why? But more significant is the almost complicit media blackout when two weeks later Obama’s gangsters murdered Abdulrahman, Awlaki’s 16 year old son and his 17year old cousin. A significant number of innocent Yemenis, were also murdered. The American response – they were not the targets; they were “collateral damage.” Obama’s administration also used cluster bombs which killed Yemeni women and children.[5] What is of particular interest is the manner in which these murders were justified and obscured from accountability. Accordingly, Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs “offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have ‘had a more responsible father.’”[6] Welcome to the masked ball. In January 2017, Trump authorised a drone strike on a compound in Yemen reportedly housing Al-Qaeda fighters. Reports from the mainstream media, including CNN and a statement issued by Trump “lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths.”[7] This is because, from the eyes of white supremacists, these are not human deaths; these civilians are “collateral damage.” In telling the other narrative, the counter to the obscurantism of the Americans was the news report from Yemen which stated that “[a]mong the dead: [was] the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar … the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.”[8] For these Muslims and yet others, they are expected to live or die, the drama that has been chosen for them. Welcome to #HungerGames:Trump’sAmerica2017onwards.

Still impressed with the American dream? Dying to visit America? Be like the Americans? Consider for instance the claim that civilian victims of bombings are ‘collateral damage’ or ‘unintended consequences’ from ‘precision bombings’ that are aimed at ‘precision targets.’ These are hard, sterile words disseminating a visual imagery of objects, not humans. But the reality lies hidden in a construction of the Muslim Other which capitalises on the building of anti-Muslim sentiment. In America 2017, and the rest of the western world, the Muslim subject of today has no social relations, no shared meaning or ‘symbolic forms of humanity.’ When Trump and the mainstream western media intentionally neglected to mention the death of Awlaki’s eight year old daughter and the 30 other civilians as a result of the drone strike, what effectively materialised was the plunging of the Muslim subject into a categorisation of nonbeing where the only assertion of their humanity occurs in a space of violence. It conjures images and collective memories of the body that is denied a presence and when exterminated or brutally harmed, is codified as ‘collateral damage,’ ‘disposable life’ or that which is ‘dispensable.’ It is a life denied, where the status of victim is not even imagined.[9]

Acknowledging that the body is a victim would mean that the perpetrator must be held accountable. But how can there be any accountability if there is ‘no victim;’ only collateral damage. Within this discourse of humanity, nonbeing and the Other lies another, very well hidden discourse that seldom emerges. This is concerned with the question of race and racism in the international world system and the hierarchical structures of power. Within international relations the nonbeing is usually not considered – this ‘category’ falls within the discourse on race and racism. However, there is a growing consensus that in order to give meaning to territorially anchored struggles, “culturally specific social constructions of race” must be considered in order to understand the impact of ideological and structural forces that frame international responses. Accordingly, “international relations are driven by a longstanding unspoken ‘norm against noticing’ race.”[10] Thus, the norm of not noticing race projects the absent humanity of those that live in the peripheries of social inclusion and acceptance. It constitutes a  ‘humanity which can be rectified’, granted meaning and position, a presence and recognition, if the Anglo-Saxon construct of Muslim/Islam is willing to assimilate and surrender its identity to conform to Anglo-Saxon dictates. Inclusion, acceptance, recognition and opportunity are all conditional. The overwhelming narrative has been of the narrative of ‘evil Islam’ vs. ‘good West’ and the need for a distinction between the ‘good Muslim’ and the ‘bad Muslim.’ What can be inferred from the language is the expectation of the white supremacist- an expectation that is unveiled after you attend the masked ball and step into their binaries. You are told to make the choice not to live like Muslims so that humanity can be conferred upon you. Consider the comment by Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a French government representative who said that Muslims should be “discreet” after the controversy that was sparked by the Burkini ban.[11] This refers to the European interdiction on Muslim life first through colonial violence and now through the control of socio-cultural and political norms in which the image of the modern state is premised on the negation of black/Muslim existence. Significantly these attitudes and actions by Anglo-Saxons towards black people challenge the liberal notions of human rights and equality and highlight the double-standards and hypocrisy in instances where the value of white lives are measured against Arab/Muslim/African lives. It questions the reality of liberalism to tolerate difference and accommodate plurality; this is demonstrated by Professor Tariq Ramadan’s comment – “normalise our presence without trivialising it.”[12] This is also precluded to in Fanon’s writings. For Fanon, the “goal of colonialism [and coloniality], enslavement, and racism is…the production of happy slaves, people who celebrate their degradation.”[13] In other words, (you Muslims/ Arabs/Africans) should be happy that you are amongst us, but know that being here can only be under the conditions we dictate; to the extent that all efforts are made to continue the division between ‘them’ (Muslims/ Arabs/Africans) and ‘us’ (the Anglo-Saxons) so that ‘we will live side by side, but never together.’ And yes, you or I may not be singled out, but when you carry the love of Muhammad Mustafa (SAW) in your heart, we must ask, “if that was me, how would I respond and how would I want other Muslims to respond?” Simply say, “inna lillahi were inna ilayhi rajiun” and then book a trip to Disneyworld or a tour of Manhattan? Certainly it would be expected. Entertainment and theatre have also become the opiate of a certain category of Muslims.

It is in these spaces of fiction, of myths and drama that the goals of power are advanced and the lie about the Muslim barbarian/terrorist is made into a daily mantra – a tasbeeh of fabrications. These lies, when repeated often enough become a truth and have been, and still are being used in American domestic and foreign policy to marginalise and dehumanise specific peoples and to portray the violence of the secular state as a justified intervention in order to protect ‘western civilisation and the secular subject.’ It also underwrites “the nation-state’s monopoly on its citizens’ willingness to sacrifice and kill. In foreign policy, the myth of religious violence serves to cast non-secular social orders, especially Muslim societies, in the role of villain.”[14] In the American theatre, the white supremacist is always the hero – the good guy! Thus, Muslim societies are portrayed as medieval, barbaric and uncivilised. Why? Because they dare to include religious organisation in their ordinary and political lives. As a result, Muslims are portrayed as being “…irrational and fanatical. Our [American] violence, being secular, is rational, peace-making, and sometimes regrettably necessary to contain their violence. We find ourselves obliged to bomb them into liberal democracy.”[15] The change in the discourse after the illegal invasion of Iraq from WMDs to promote democracy is a case in point. But let me now expand on the notion of racism in international relations and its relevance when considering Trump’s America 2017 and onwards. Though I might pause to include a cautionary note – there is no 2017 and onwards without remembering the road already traversed. Fanon’s explanation of racism is crucial to this understanding. In his paper entitled, What is racism? Zone of Being and Zone of Non-Being in the work of Frantz Fanon and Boaventura De SousaSantos, Grosfoguel extrapolates on the markers and definition of racism as identified by both Fanon and De SousaSantos,[16] because without defining racism, the question of the Muslim nonbeing or subaltern easily gets lost in the obscurity of language.  Fanon conceptualises racism as a “global power hierarchy of superiority and inferiority along the line of the human.”[17]Accordingly therefore, within this global hierarchy, which is politically reinvigorated and regenerated by a western-centric world system, humans are organised as those who are above the line and thus have a socially recognised humanity, whilst those below the line are considered as sub-human or non-human. In this regard, those below the line have a negated or ‘questionable’ humanity.[18] Grosfoguel maintains that this definition highlights the diversity of conceptualising racism in different forms that safeguard against reductionist explanations; and when examining the different colonial histories it is possible to identify the power hierarchies that categorise the notion of the superior/inferior along the line of the human using various racial markers. Essentially, racism can be marked by colour, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious identity; thus colour is not the only marker and it must be recognised that different regions of the world have different markers of racism.[19] For Grosfoguel the “Muslim religious identity constitutes today one of the most prominent markers of inferiority below the line of the human.” He acknowledges the interaction and complexity of colour and religious racism in this region, but highlights the fact that the Muslim body exists in the inferior side of the line, thus in the zone of nonbeing. Those bodies which are racialised in superior terms exist in the superior side of the line, in the zone of being and thus live a life of racial privilege.[20] Thus it is not surprising, and it should not have surprised that Trump’s comments mirror the anti-Islam, Islamophobic and Orientalist narratives and the rising fascist and white supremacist views that many Anglo-Saxons have always held about Black/Arab/Muslim people and now brazenly articulate. #RealityTvTrump’sAmerica2017onwards.Thus, in finger pointing at Muslims and essentially Islam for everything that is wrong in the world and by blaming Islam and Muslims for the instability in the West, history is being erased.

For Muslims it is necessary to be prudent of the realities of the past that shape both the present and the future, as Professor Magobe Ramose states, “[h]istory is the repository of memory necessary for the construction of an ever changing present and the projection of a better future.”[21] For the white supremacist, the goal is the erasure of an ever problematic history. But let it be etched into memory that Islamophobia is a political category and a political system; it thus requires political means and interventions to end its harmful impact on society.

Yes, #IslamophobiaIsRacism. Muslims in America, the force is with you. It is the force of dua. In our over zealousness to counter the threats, arrests, negativity and violence, it is possible that we forget about the power of dua. Dua is a weapon, and its power is from the Mightiest of Sources. It is possible that we forget about His Power and Might, that we think of Him not as the Liberator, the Giver, the Just, the Merciful…Zul Jalaal wal Ikraam. Ya-Kareem. There is none that can prevent if He allows and there is none who can allow if He prevents. Perhaps we have invested ‘Authority’ and ‘Power’ incorrectly. Our minds have become colonised into worldly manifestations of concepts that are wrapped in fear, hype and lies. And it is also possible that we have not forgotten but that we have not placed that knowing with certainty. For certainly, “Honour is only from Al-Azeez, Al-Mu’iz.” And from all of these reflections, and the outpourings of comment from Muslim Americans, I can certainly say, The Force is with You.

 

 

[1] Bigotry is the exhibition of an intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself

[2] White supremacy is a racist ideology based upon the belief and the advocating of the belief, that white people are superior to non-white people. By promoting this racist ideology, they claim that because of their superiority, white people should have political control and rule economically and socially as they know and ‘do’ better. Those from the non-white peoples who have been brainwashed into this ideology have begun to think that ‘white is right’ and that ‘white is best.’ This manifests in their hankering for anything white – white designers, professionals, businesses, places of residence etc. Even in desiring a place of residence or holiday destination the fascination is first and foremost with whiteness and Europeanness. These fascinations are blind to the fact that all this development and so-called progress of spaces of whiteness and instances of whiteness have been achieved at the expense of the majority of the world’s non-white populations  through exceptional violence in the form of 1.genocide (deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group – think of the Red Indians in the USA, Aborigines, Africans during the slave kidnappings and trade of humans) and 2.epistemicide (which is a form of war on existing[Islamic, Chinese, Asian, Latin American] knowledge and the destruction of existing knowledge. By destroying these knowledges and traditional sources of knowledge, white supremacists have aborted the possibility of new knowledge coming about from the colonised peoples, and then claim that Muslims and Africans are inferior because they cannot invent, contribute new technologies etc.). By continuing the exploitation of colonised populations through a process of coloniality (refers to the process and forms of continued colonial domination of entities even after the colonial administration has left and is considered the most widespread form of domination in the world today), there has been the wholesale destruction of indigenous systems. The loss of these systems and the loss of self-confidence and belief in their own traditions and knowledge have resulted in these populations exhibiting an inferiority complex and always desiring to be white. As a result, the aspiration to whiteness has permanently crippled these peoples. The mind has been colonized.

[3] M. Benjamin “America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016. What a bloody end to Obama’s reign” January 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/america-dropped-26171-bombs-2016-obama-legacy

 

[4] N. Ahmed “Unworthy victims: Western wars have killed four million Muslims since 1990”  April 2015 http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/unworthy-victims-western-wars-have-killed-four-million-muslims-1990-39149394

 

[5] G. Greenwald “Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen. Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister.”                      January 2017 http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/january/30/obama-killed-a-16-year-old-american-in-yemen-trump-just-killed-his-8-year-old-sister/

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] This idea has been extensively played out since 9/11 when G.W. Bush promoted the idea that only the Americans killed were victims, the innocent victims of American bombings were not afforded the same status. This trajectory has since developed and has been sanitised into categories of ‘collateral damage’ which remove the human element from the discussion, negating the humanity of the dead. See  A.M. Agathangelou “Power, Borders, Security, Wealth: Lessons of Violence and Desire from September 11” International Studies Quarterly 2004 48 522

[10] F. V. Harrison “Global Apartheid, Foreign Policy, and Human Rights” (2002) Race and globalisation

[11] M. Bondok “Twitter users take down French politician who told Muslims to be ‘discreet’” August 2016 http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/discreet-muslims-french-twitter-responds-best-way-Jean-Pierre-Chevenement-Islamophobia-islam-muslims-177059137

[12] T. Ramadan Western Muslims and the Future of Islam 2004

[13] L. Gordon What Fanon Said 2015 113

[14] W. T. Cavanaugh The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular ideology and the roots of modern conflict 2009 4

[15] Ibid 4

[16] R. Grosfoguel “What is racism? Zone of Being and Zone of Non-Being in the work of Frantz Fanon and Boaventura De Sousa Santos”

[17]  Ibid

[18]  Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] M. Ramose “Transforming education in South Africa: paradigm shift or change?” South African Journal of Higher Education 17(3) 2003 137-143

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