THE US presidential election campaign has been both captivating and terrifying. Donald Trump has been dubbed as dangerous, scary, bigoted – and an irresponsible candidate. He has staked his campaign on demonising communities and erecting walls and trade barriers.
Hillary Clinton is seen as a symbol of the political establishment and has called for the tearing down of barriers. The anti-immigration rhetoric and politics of hatred played a key role in the EU referendum, and similar, or even worse, scaremongering and disgraceful tactics have been used by Trump throughout his campaign.
Less than a year ago, Trump jolted the American political system, and shocked much of the world, by proposing a temporary ban on all Muslims entering into the US. He further said that he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration and terrorism.
Trumpism has thrived on a blend of populism and nativism mixed with politics of hatred and fear of the ‘other’. The fact that his ridiculous bigoted remarks about women, migrants, Muslims, Jews and other communities didn’t dominate the televised debates in any significant way shows how far the Trump campaign managed to turn the once unspeakable into something so mundane it did not need to be spoken about. This is worrying for not only one fifth of the world’s Muslim population but for other faith groups and minorities.
The irony of Trump’s proposals about Muslims is that they partly mirror the tyrannical world view of terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, several terrorist organisations, including IS, began to use Trump’s rhetoric to recruit others to their bloody cause.
Both Trumpism and the terrorists effectively carve the world into a binary of us-v-them, Muslims-v-non-Muslims, finding no space for the complex identities that encompass us. Trump has not even spared the family of a US Muslim soldier, Humayun Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq defending his post from a suicide car bomber. The message this sends is that regardless of the grave sacrifices that the Khan family has made for America, their foreignness will remain intact.
What is even more appalling than Trump’s bigoted rhetoric is that the majority of Americans support Trump’s travel ban on Muslims who are not US citizens. Will Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Olympic champion Mo Farah, business tycoons and sports persons and millions of other Muslims be able to travel to the US if Trump wins? He has also talked openly about creating a national registry for US Muslim citizens. Worryingly, a CBS poll in December 2015 found that nearly half of Americans supported such an idea.
For many Muslims around the world, groundless suspicions or of their loyalty to their country of residence or birth have become a familiar fact in the post-9/11 era. Public opinion polling in Britain, the US, and Europe has generally shown that people view and treat Muslims differently than other religious groups, or otherwise hold negative views of Islam.
In Britain, we saw some politicians exploiting voters’ legitimate concerns to push their own divisive and at times racist agendas.
In the last couple of decades we have also seen many walls and boundaries being erected including the existing US-Mexico border fence, the Israel-West Bank barrier, and the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border fence. New border controls and barriers, including the UK’s Brexit vote and Austria’s proposed fence along the border with Italy, are threatening the viability of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric has always been dark, but the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency cannot be ruled out. Whether Trump wins or not, his campaign seems to have unleashed bigotry and hatred; it has given legitimacy and a new-found voice to racist and Islamophobic narratives.
Post-election, the real challenge is going to be heal the deep divisions that have been created by the toxic campaign, and offer workable solution to immigration and terrorism. Unity, stability, reconciliation and tackling of inequality and bigotry must be the priority of the new elected US president. The economic, political and security challenges that the world faces, including America, can’t be solved by building walls or going into isolation.
Qari Asim MBE is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds. He can be followed on Twitter via @QariAsim