Trump has officially legitimated prejudice against Muslims: Prof Khaled Abou El-Fadl

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Publish Date : 06/25/2018 20:01
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The use of terms such as “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” in media has psychological effects that leads to misunderstanding about Islam and Muslims, as if all Muslims are radical and extremists.

A distinguished professor of law says the average working American doesn't bother to differentiate between Muslims as a group of people living peacefully across the world and al-Qaeda and ISIS militants, and as a result, misunderstanding between the Muslim world and the West continues to exist under ultra-conservative leaders such as Donald Trump. Prof Khaled Abou El Fadl believes that the use of war-mongering language towards Islam leaves the American public with a sense of dread and anxiety and they barely come to understand that the realities of Islam are different from what the right-wing media portray.

"This sense of dread is sufficient to make all Americans apprehensive and scared of something called Islam, and to be willing to ignore systematic violations against the civil rights of American Muslims, who might be their neighbours or their co-workers," he said. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a Kuwaiti scholar who is the recipient of the University of Oslo's Leo and Lisl Eitinger Prize notes that President Donald Trump has officially sanctioned and legitimated prejudice and bigotry against Muslims and his policies have led to a "virtual explosion" in "Islamophobia, religious bigotry, xenophobia and racism."

Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law teaching courses on international human rights, Islamic jurisprudence, national security law and terrorism. His writings have been published by The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

In an interview with the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Abou El Fadl detailed his views about the rise of Islamophobia in the United States, President Donald Trump's anti-Muslim policies and the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The following is the text of the interview.


Q: What do you think the prevalent anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry against the Muslims in America is rooted in? Do you blame it on contemporary politics and policy-making of the successive U.S. governments or are there other factors at play?

A: Islamophobia in the U.S. has been institutional and structural. Most people do not know that until the 1960s Muslims could not become citizens of the U.S., and the first time that Muslims were allowed to become U.S. citizens was in a case involving a Saudi national who wanted to naturalize. It is widely believed that the law was changed to allow Muslims to become naturalized U.S. citizens because of petro-dollar politics. The roots of the current wave of Islamophobia rest on two primary factors. First, the U.S. needed to demonize Muslims in the context of waging war all over the Muslim world, including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. It was imperative to demonize Muslims so that the military could kill Muslims with impunity and without any accountability in the context of the so-called “War on Terror”. The second factor is that pro-Israeli right-wing parties in the United States aided by right-wing Christian evangelical groups commenced a well-funded campaign to demonize and vilify Islam in order to secure the annexation of Jerusalem for extremist Zionists. Islam, especially so-called political Islam, is considered a natural enemy of Israel, and for Zionists like Daniel Pipes, they wanted to make sure that there would be no accommodations with political Islam and that American policies would become increasingly pro-Israeli. For extremist evangelical groups, they have a strange belief in the end of times and the need to speed up the coming of the Messiah. For extremist Christians, they believe that Muslims will be the army of the anti-Christ and that there will be a showdown between Christianity and Islam in the town of Armageddon.


Q: Islamophobia and fear of Muslims surged significantly following the 9/11 attacks. Barack Obama's coming to power contained Islamophobic sentiments. However, with the election of Donald Trump as the U.S. President, the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims in America has been widened again. How much do you think Donald Trump's policies have led to the creation of social divisions and the spiralling of xenophobia and Islamophobia in the States?

A: Trump’s policies have led to a virtual explosion in Islamophobia, religious bigotry, xenophobia and racism. What Trump did is to officially sanction and legitimate prejudice and bigotry against Muslims. He has publicly demonized Islam as an evil religion, and he has placed in government officials with established records of staunch pro-Zionism and rabid hate of Islam. What is truly shocking and dismaying is that the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis have strongly supported Trump’s election and presidency, and effectively helped place in power a government that makes no secret of its religious bigotry and deep hatred for Muslims.


Q: The immigration ban imposed by President Trump worsened and undermined the U.S. relations with the seven countries involved, which already had unsteady and unstable relations with the United States. Some experts say his Muslim ban was illogical and some say it was against the principles of the U.S. constitution. What's your take on that? Do you think Trump will reconsider his policy and lessen the restrictions?

A: I do believe that the ban is against the principles of the U.S. Constitution. I do believe that the Trump ban is against the first amendment and the fourteenth amendment, and a violation of Due Process of law and the Equal Protection Clause. Unfortunately, however, I do not believe that the current U.S. Supreme Court is going to declare this ban to be unconstitutional. Sadly, I think the current Supreme Court is going to uphold the ban as a constitutional exercise of executive power. Sadly, I do not believe that Trump is going to lessen the ban or weaken it. Since Trump has been elected, very few Muslims have been granted political asylum in the United States and there has been very widespread discrimination against Muslims at every level of government, most notably in immigration law. The reason Trump will not lessen his ban is that he discovered that he can have very close relations with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other Muslim countries regardless of what he does or says about Islam and Muslims, and regardless of what he does about Jerusalem. In other words, Trump and his administration discovered that the richest Muslim countries do not care about Jerusalem, and do not care about protecting other Muslims from discrimination, and do not care about whether Islam as a religion is vilified and insulted and demonized by the Trump administration. There is no political cost when Trump targets Muslims, and this is why nothing will change. Things will only get worse.


Q: A recent study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) shows the Muslim ban of President Trump has had grave domestic impacts as well and influenced the American communities significantly. For example, Muslim students have been on the receiving end of daunting behaviour and aggressive or racially-motivated mistreatment by their classmates, mosques were vandalised and Muslims in business and enterprises faced public harassment. What's your take on the domestic repercussions of President Trump's immigration ban?

A: The domestic repercussions have been horrendous and drastic. Discrimination and violence against Muslims has become widespread, not only in the United States but in Europe as well. Muslims, whether in the workplace or on university campuses or even in high schools and regular social venues, have been subjected to regular harassment and persecution. It is fair to say that since the election of Trump, there has been a civil rights crisis and the victims of this crisis are, for the most part, Muslim.


Q: A key question: do you think Islamophobia has been institutionalised in the United States? Has America come to reconciliation with its law-abiding and patriotic Muslims who are committed to the values of this country and try to improve their own livings and that of their fellow citizens and recognise their rights?

A: The trajectory right now in the United States is largely negative. Racism and religious bigotry have been legitimated, regularized and institutionalized. Because Muslims are so politically weak, and because members of the Trump administration are able to earn millions of dollars doing business with Gulf countries in spite of their rabid hostility to Islam and Muslims, there has been no deterrent to the spiralling sentiments of Islamophobia in this country. While there has been an attempt to combat the rise of xenophobia and racism in the U.S. by civil rights activists and other minority groups, the effort has simply been insufficient to combat the rising nativism and populism in the U.S. I fear that Trump is going to be re-elected and that the Democrats are not sufficiently organized to prevent the re-election of Trump. I also fear that the military industry in the U.S. has an embedded financial interest in sowing chaos in the Muslim world and hatred against Muslims. The reason, very simply, is that it is very profitable to do war against Muslims. You can kill Muslims with impunity and you can make a lot of money selling weapons when the victims are largely all Muslim. Put differently, right now Muslims are being killed all over the Muslim world and it is the military industry in the West that is making immense profits on the conflicts igniting all over the Muslim world; no one cares how many Palestinians are killed in Palestine, or Muslims are killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, etc.


Q: How much do the frequent use of terms such as "radical Islam" or "Islamic terrorism" by the American media influence the public image of Muslims in the eyes of their fellow citizens, especially in the Southern States? Have the American media been successful in depicting the realities of Islam as a religion and Muslims as an indispensable part of the population?

A: The use of language like “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” has become emblematic of the problem. This language has the psychological effect of communicating that all of Islam and all Muslims are radical and terrorists. The average working American does not bother to differentiate between normal Muslims and al-Qaeda or ISIS Muslims. For the average working American, all of Islam is scary and all of Islam is evil. Even for Americans who are not religious bigots or racist, the use of war-mongering language towards Islam leaves them with a sense of dread and anxiety. This sense of dread is sufficient to make all Americans apprehensive and scared of something called Islam, and to be willing to ignore systematic violations against the civil rights of American Muslims, who might be their neighbours or their co-workers. The wealth of the right-wing in the U.S. is only being obscenely augmented through the business deals they are conducting with the Saudis and the UAE, and this wealth is increasing the power of the right-wing in a fashion that truly threatens to allow them to win the coming presidential elections, simply through the power of their propaganda and financial influence. Sadly, I struggle to find a venue for optimism in the current climate of religious bigotry and widespread racism. Since Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis and the “Clash of Civilizations,” the West has been determined to turn Islam into an historical enemy. The election of Trump is simply the fulfilment of the vision advocated by Bernard Lewis, Huntington and Netanyahu. This vision is leading the world to a disastrous conclusion of bloodshed and suffering, but because Muslims are the weak party in today’s world, they will constitute the disproportionate number of victims of violence sown out of prejudice, violence and ignorance.


Q: And a final question. Some activists and authors in the United States have come up with the idea that the anti-Muslim literature of President Trump has united Americans against him and undermines his popularity in the eyes of those who voted for him because they believed he means what he says and is a strong man. How much significant is this impact in your view? Is it possible that Donald Trump might lose his seat after the 2020 elections because of his radical stance against the Muslims and immigrants?

A: In my view, this opinion is grossly misguided. Anti-Muslim publications continue to be extremely popular, even after Trump’s election. Anti-Muslim literature continues to be best-selling material. Racist and bigoted Americans have found in Islam-hating a very convenient “punching bag”. They can act out their racism and bigotry without serious repercussions or costs. Unfortunately, even the initial shock about the Muslim ban seems to have dissipated, especially after the Supreme Court indicated in a number of decisions that this ban is in all likelihood, constitutional. This deflated so many activists and empowered so many right-wing parties. Moreover, Trump’s policies toward the Muslim world and Jerusalem have not proven to be costly for the average American. They can move the embassy to Jerusalem and discriminate against Muslims, yet the price of oil will not change and the business of American companies in the Muslim world will not be affected. This is all what the average American cares about. If the livelihood of the average American is not impacted and if the economy is good, they do not have a strong enough incentive to care whether Muslims are hated or discriminated against; in fact, they feel good that their religion, Judeo-Christianity, and their civilization is superior and somehow better. Whether they explicitly admit to this or not, this is the truth about social dynamics in the U.S. This is the nature of implicit and embedded racism and bigotry.



By: Kourosh Ziabari

“ Trump has officially legitimated prejudice against Muslims: Prof Khaled Abou El-Fadl ”