ODVV Interview: Racism in America cannot be...
The different aspects of the U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency are being debated by the U.S. and international media these days intensely. CNN's Brian Stelter has recently talked about a "credibility crisis" Trump's White House is grappling with, saying that despite the pledges he made during the campaign season, he is telling lies to his constituency on a daily basis. For millions of Americans who voted for Trump in the 2016 polls, Stelter's warnings might be of significance.
The foreign policy of Trump administration is similarly highly controversial and questionable. He finds himself in a new skirmish with another country every couple of days, while traveling internationally to expand the limits of the United States' influence and strength.
A noted Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University says Trump's policies are untenable and conducive to global divisions. "I find Trump isolationism, and his “America First” policy to be untenable, profoundly unwise, and harmful to the interests of both United States and the world community," said Prof Omid Safi in an interview with the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence.
Omid Safi is the director of Duke Islamic Studies Center and the author of five books on Islamic theology and political Islam. He is a columnist for "On Being", a public radio conversation and Webby Award-winning website hosted by American journalist and entrepreneur Krista Tippett.
In an interview with ODVV, Prof Omid Safi shared his views about President Trump's foreign policy, the rise of hate crimes and intolerance against Muslims and religious minorities and the life and working conditions of Iranian academics and students in the 2018 America. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Since coming to power, U.S. President Donald Trump adopted an aggressive and atypical foreign policy. He is now embroiled in a serious challenge with Mexico, one of the best allies of the United States in Latin America. He has also put the name of seven countries on an immigration ban list. Does this approach in foreign policy make the United States isolated on the international stage or more popular and powerful?
A: I find Trump isolationism, and his “America First” policy to be untenable, profoundly unwise, and harmful to the interests of both United States and the world community. The truth of the matter is that increasingly we are all tied up together, whether the issue is global health crises, refugees, environmental disasters, or more. Isolationism in face of such interconnectivity is not a response, and merely a form of populism, and nativism.
Q: The national discourse in the majority of the U.S. media these days, reinvigorated after coming to power of Donald Trump, is associating Muslims with aggression and terrorism. How do you think it's possible to change this narrative and depict the realities of Islam for the American audience?
A: It is possible and necessary to challenge this dangerous trend, but not necessarily the way that many have gone about it. It is not about giving people more copies of the Quran, or even having apolitical models of “interfaith dialogue.” This too is part and parcel of the American experience, albeit a less beautiful part of the American experience. In America, there have always been communities who have been marginalized, brutalized, and made into an scapegoat. Without equating the experiences of these communities, it may be said that at different points of American history Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Hispanics, Asians, and others have been made into victims. Today it's Muslims, who along with other communities, are targets of this demon of racism and bigotry. What’s important is not to wait for the next victim, but to address, undo, and heal this underlying disease altogether. As such, what is at stake, I truly believe, is the struggle for the very soul of the American experiment.
Q: Does the international community accept the claims made by the American statesmen and right-wing think tanks in this country that the United States is a defender of human rights and fights for humanitarian causes, while uncontrolled gun ownership continues to claim lives in the schools of southern states and the government apparently is not determined to address this concern?
A: The international community has not, for decades, accepted this claim. Rhetoric is not enough; it must be connected to evident actions. The United States is, and has been, the largest producer and sellers of weapons on the world market. If we were to make a list of the wars that we have been engaged in, started, or supported, it would be a lengthy volume. And the gun ownership is not restricted to Southern States. It is a daily disaster all over the country. We would so dearly love to see the United States as the home of the human rights and liberty. But our reality has to live up to that.
Q: A study by the Pew Research in 2017 shows hate crimes against Muslims, including physical assault, burning of mosques and sending hateful, xenophobic messages to the apartments of Muslim citizens has even surpassed the post-9/11 levels and the U.S. President Donald Trump is considered one of the main causes of this surge. What's your interpretation of these figures and the rise of anti-Muslim prejudice in the States?
A: Surely these figures are on the rise. But I do resist the notion that we can reduce these phenomena simply to Trump the man, or even Trumpism as a phenomenon. No, these are much longer traits in the American experiment, which are profoundly connected to racism against African Americans, colonized people, and more. I see it as a multi-causal phenomenal that is fanned and fuelled by several groups, some of whom have religious motivations, many which are white separatists, some which are motivated by a one-sided support of Israel, and some which have a narrow view of “Islam vs. the West”. All of these are erroneous assertions, but they are not solely about Islam as a religious tradition.
Q: How are the living conditions of Iranian academicians, lecturers and students in the United States these days? Has life and work become particularly more difficult after the Muslim ban? Are you optimistic about a better future and the improvement of the situation?
A: I am always on the side of hope. One of the most extraordinary events that I see is that many Iranians have tended to see themselves as being exempt from the bigotry that other Middle Easterners and Muslims are subject to, even attempting to identify as “Caucasian” or “White.” Ironically one of the unintended consequences of Trump lumping Iranians together with other Muslim countries is that Iranians realize now that we are all in this together, and many are reaching out to other Iraqi, Syrian, and African American groups in arguing for a broader and more holistic model of justice. That, surely, is a positive.
By: Kourosh Ziabari