Strategising response to Trump | Talat Masood

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While President Trump’s policies pose a huge challenge to the Muslim world it also affords an extraordinary opportunity for reformation and bringing unity among its ranks. But this will remain only a pipe dream unless there is realisation among the ruling Muslim elite that they have to draw strength from their people to govern and not ride on the crutches of America or other foreign powers to gain legitimacy. In this way they could earn self-respect and counter effectively any unfair policies of the Trump administration.

Prohibiting citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering US for the action of a few is blatant discrimination. Fortunately, the order has been reversed giving hope and confidence in the American justice system where it is the rule of law that prevails. States are not supposed to take collective action for the crimes of few. Trump’s decisions are a source of great concern as these are being mostly taken for short-term political gains.

Failure to put across the viewpoint of Muslim countries against such policies could have serious repercussions. The global and national militant organisations are delighted at Trump’s policy towards Muslims. They maintain that the West and especially the US is Islam’s foremost enemy. Trump’s policy of demonising Islam and Muslims and opening its doors to only Christians from Muslim majority countries plays in the hands of IS and al Qaeda and could attract a large number of youth to join their ranks. It is ironical that IS leaders have been warning that sooner than later Muslims will be compelled to leave Western countries. Hopefully, this would never happen and liberal and democratic forces will prevail. It is heartening that President Trump is already facing serious opposition from civil rights groups.

Muslim countries should not merely be satisfied with favorable court judgments but also make serious efforts to correct internal weaknesses and remove vulnerabilities. Foremost requirement is to ensure that no discriminatory treatment is meted out to the minorities due to bad laws or in fair implementation of justice. The fact is majority of the people in Muslim countries are peace loving and abhor IS, al Qaeda and other radical organisations. Governments are taking action against them notwithstanding there are limitations of capacity and governance. They are however fully aware of the damage that these organisations have done to them. United States has been closely associated with many of these governments in the fight against militancy. Majority in the West and America are liberal and accommodating towards Muslims. Until recently it is the fringe that was taking the hard discriminatory view but now the anti Muslim sentiment is widespread and President Trump has tried to politicise it to his benefit. If this continues the beneficiary would be IS, which all along has claimed that the West is our enemy. Recently Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham made a strong statement criticising the ban on Muslim countries and stated that this would benefit ISIL to attract more volunteers and do little to improve the overall security. No wonder, Senator McCain has come under severe criticism by President Trump.

Of course, we Muslims have serious shortcomings and at times our bias toward West and other religions betrays petty mindedness and poor worldview. This needs to be addressed because one cannot expect to be treated fairly if we are being unfair to people of other faiths. The Muslim countries stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the world when it comes to freedom of expression and democratic rule. And even those countries that are in form democratic lack institutions and accountability, which is the hallmark of democracy. Most notably lacking in freedom is the Middle East. With plenty of oil wealth to spread around the rulers feel they can continue to keep a tight rein over their subjects. Political dysfunction in these societies has serious consequences and is apparent in their subordination of policies to major powers with conflicting agendas. Chaos that it has created in Middle East has split countries internally apart. Classic example of this inner explosion is manifest in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. This was long coming, as the past rulers of these countries were the most oppressive. They became easy victims of exploitation by major powers whose principal motive is to serve their geo-political designs. The worst part was that the Muslim autocrats used technology and modern methods of media management to further tighten their grip over the masses. Regrettably, they never used technology and modern governance tools for the advancement and benefit of the masses.

We Muslims never ask ourselves why we are in this sad plight and unable to modernise and catch up with the rest of the world. African countries that at one time lagged behind have now overtaken several Muslim countries in terms of education and political and social evolution. The tragic part is that Islam emphasises on learning, a just society and is very egalitarian in nature and any false categorisation that it is anti democracy is false. Unless the Muslim countries do not rise to the challenge and gain confidence of the people they will be an exploited and backward class. Furthermore, disparity in income, pervasive corruption combined with lack of modern education and a progressive outlook are crippling Muslim societies. It is these weaknesses that have given rise to IS and other militant groups and provided a cover to opponents to pursue prejudicial policies against Muslims.

The differences between predominantly Iran and Saudi Arabia have been fully exploited both by US and Israel. Although these are more a consequence of regional power politics and less to do with sectarian divide. Iran is supposed to be on notice by Trump administration for its latest missile test and additional sanctions have been imposed. This is in sharp contrast to how Israel’s nuclear and missile programme is viewed. Unless Muslim countries improve their conditions internally and take a more unified approach they will continue to be exploited.

Talat Masood is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board