Sunday, December 20, 2015

Finally, Something American Muslims and Jews can agree on: Stop the Hatred and Bigotry … Stop Trump!

Growing up in the US as a Muslim-American (not a term I had even heard or ever identified with until recently, since I’m not particularly religious – more on this in a later post), I had many Jewish-American friends and colleagues.  We usually got along great, and this translated into my professional career in Silicon Valley as well - at one point, for example, when I was running an outsourcing company with an office in Pakistan, we did work for a company started by a Jewish American, with an office in Israel.  If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it wasn’t - as everyone was professional and things generally went well. 
But like many American Muslims and Jews, I’ve found that there is one area where we almost always tended to disagree - and that was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely, the policies of the Israeli government, the responses of the various Palestinian factions, settlements, etc.
Over time, the arguments about this intractable conflict, with its long history and everyone on both sides insisting they are “right”, went online and into social media.  Just as in the real world, I found that we rarely agreed on this issue either.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on the same side of an argument with many of my Jewish friends recently, when I wrote about my fears of the cheering white Christian crowds supporting Trump’s ideas of racism and bigotry, and how it echoed Hitler’s rise to power and his party’s de-humanizing of the German Jews.  It is my contention that this de-humanizing was a necessary step before an atrocity like the Holocaust, or atrocities like slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing can occur.
 Like some of my Jewish friends pointed out, the analogy isn’t exact (i.e. Jews weren’t doing terrorist bombings in Germany, and no-one, not even those of us invoking the Hitler analogy, literally expect anything as terrible as another Holocaust to occur here in the US).  Still, I was surprised to find that many of my Muslim friends and many of my Jewish friends agreed and shared the same concerns about the rise of Trump and more importantly, about the unleashing of racism and bigotry that seemed to be simmering just below the surface, and exploited by Trump, could be extremely dangerous.
I wasn’t the only one who made this analogy - it’s become more and more common over the last month.  
For me, this echo started well before the current rise of Trump campaign.  Not only does it go back to his insistence that Obama isn’t a ‘real’ American and wasn’t qualified to be President because he wasn’t born in the US (even though no one doubts that he had a white American mother and a foreign father, just like Ted Cruz, who also had a white American mother and a foreign father, and who  was also not born in the US).  Though Trump led the birther movement against Obama, you don’t see him or his supporters saying a word about Ted Cruz’s birth certificate. What’s the difference between Obama and Cruz? Take a look.  Pretty clear that racism was playing a big role here.
 The echo got stronger with his sweeping anti-immigrant comments earlier this year (using the crimes of some immigrants as an excuse to generalize the hatred), and it really started to sting when he went against all Muslims after the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks.  Each of these were making de-humanizing of an ethnic minority “respectable” amongst a group of people in this country who always had some racism under the surface.
 As I said, I’m not the only one making this analogy.
Recently, The New York Daily news put  a cartoon of Trump chopping off the head of the statue of liberty (see image here ) while they and invoking a new version of a famous quote from German pastor Martin Niemöller who spent seven years in a concentration camp because of his anti-Nazi veiws:  
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

In the Trump version, it was about Mexicans first and then Muslims.  Who’s next?
 Once a country goes down this path, things that seemed unthinkable even a few years ago are given serious consideration, such as labeling members of an entire ethnic group or an entire religion as “undesirables” who need to prove themselves as patriots or “real Americans”.
 Dana Milbank, from the Washington Post, wrote a column recently about the kind of racist and bigoted emails that Trump supporters have been sending him ever since he pointed out that Trump was bigoted and a racist.  “Trump brings bigots out of hiding”.   
 Dana Milbank isn’t Muslim.  He’s Jewish.  But when you tell people it’s OK to be hateful towards one religious or ethnic group, you pretty much tell them it’s OK to be hateful towards any other religious group of “foreigners”, even if they're American (because they're not "real" Americans according to the Trump supporter logic).
And once it becomes acceptable de-humanize an entire group (ethnic, religious or otherwise), any law or behavior that an angry majority wants to impose on the minority is acceptable and "lawful".
 It took this country more than a hundred years AFTER the civil war to get out of the hatred towards African Americans, and many of the Jim Crow laws in the south weren’t just directed at blacks – “No Blacks and Jews” was a very common sign.  Why? Because that’s what a vocal majority wanted.  The United States even turned away several ships of Jewish refugees form Germany in the late 1930s and 1940s because of xenophobia against jews and fears of "German Inflitraters", similar to the Syrian refugee fears that Trump and others are fanning.
 A number of mainstream Jewish groups have condemned Trump’s proposals.  According to “The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson, noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”  Read more here . 
 Many in the world said, “Never Again”, after the extent of the German atrocities towards Jews and other “undesirable” groups was revealed.   
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as Hitler was, but I’m saying that he’s opening the doors to racial hatred in a large group of angry people and making it OK to “de-humanize” minority groups, which his supporters are doing in droves.  
 Social media is serving to fuel the fire amongst this angry but vocal group, and his supporters are putting out ever more demeaning and de-humanizing posts first towards Hispanic immigrants and now towards Muslims and their faith.  I’ve even had to turn off my social media posts from many of my far-right friends because of so many hateful and racist posts they were sharing. When I try to call them out on it – they get angry and say “I’m not a racist – I’m sick of this crap.”  I’ve got an idea – if you want to stop being called a racist, stop putting racist and bigoted posts de-humanizing people that don’t look or worship like you do!
 Since we’re using a Nazi analogy, what do the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist and openly anti-semitic groups think of Trump?
 These groups were already super-excited when Trump was going after Hispanic immigrants, ranting about how  Trump’s critics were, according to Stormfront radio co-host Don Advo,  “are people living on the pieces of silver that they get from their Jewish paymasters so that they can preside over our extermination, our disposition, and our ultimate disappearance from the face of the earth.”.    Andrew Anglin, who edits the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, said that Trump’s opponents were simply  “Jewish groups are entirely obsessed with flooding America with brown people.”  Read more on buzzfeed
Once Trump announced his anti Muslim plan, the neo Nazis went from simply excited to doing orgiastic somersaults. Anglin for example, wrote, “Glorious Leader Calls for Complete Ban on All Moslems.”  Read more here on the Huffington Post  
Really?  Trump is now considered, at least in spirit, the Glorious Leader of the Neo Nazi White Supremicists?  Need I go on?
If ever there was a time for American Muslims and American Jews to put aside their differences it is now:  Let’s band together to stop the hate, and make sure this country, which we all love, doesn’t go down the slippery slope that others have gone before.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Rise of Donald Trump and his Cheering Crowds — Where Have We Seen This Movie Before?

When I heard the recent comments by Donald Trump about putting a religious ban on all muslims from entering the US, including American citizens, I was more than a little upset. Not least because I’m a Muslim American citizen who’s worried about my constitutional rights be taken away by cheering crowds of white Christians who know nothing about Islam or Muslims. But it was also because this whole pattern of Trump’s campaign seemed familiar, as if I had see this movie before.
And I’m not just talking about the scene in Episode I of Star Wars where the senate elects a “strong leader” and gives him unlimited power to put down terrorist threats with force!
It wasn’t just what Trump said (which is bad enough) that seemed familiar. The really scary thing was the cheers that came from his mostly white supporters in the recent rally in South Carolina. And if that wasn’t enough, I am ashamed to say that a good number of people that are my “friends” with on social media actually have been supporting Trump’s statements, starting with attacks on Obama not being a real American, then towards Hispanic immigrants (as they are known in Trump-land “rapists and murderers”)and now towards Muslims (known in Trump-land as “terrorists”). The recent comments were part of a longer arc, and i’ve watched it not just with Trump but with social media posts recently including pictures of “burning” Korans and otherwise spewing hatred about “sending all Muslims back”. While most of the media condemned his plan, Fox news and certain other outlets were much more gentle towards it.
So, I wondered — where have we seen this kind of thing before?? And what did it lead to?
There are of course many parallels in world history both here and abroad: ranging from Christians being discriminated by the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire of the day, for their faith, to the internment of US citizens of Japanese origin during World War II, or the “No Blacks or Jews allowed” signs across the south before desegregation. The Japanese internment was of course a moment of disgrace for the United States of America, which was echoed by George Takei recently, who was as child at the time his parents were unconstitutionally put into “camps”.
But I think the most worrying example was this one:
Let’s see, demagogic leader promises to make the country “great” again, and get back at those foreign and domestic elements that were “holding them down”.
The leader demonizes an ethnic and religious minority as being the ones who are taking over their jobs and who aren’t “real” citizens. This results in large cheers from his primarily white supporters. Although no party wins a majority of the electorate, his party is in the lead, and he gets put into power.
When a “terrorist” attack happens in the country, he suspends the constitutional rights of all of its citizens. Then he starts to seize and transport the demonized middle eastern minority “away” from their homes a move which “white” citizens generally support.
Now you might ask why would the electorate support this? Because they are sick and tired of this “ethnic minority”, and they have been indoctrinated in how superior their own culture is to the dirty, filthy minority that needs to be “taken care of”.
While I am describing the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s in Germany in the 1930’s, this could just as well be a future history of the rise of Donald Trump and his racist and bigoted minority into power.
When you speak about Hitler these days, it is so loaded that people will automatically dismiss you. Trump is nothing like Hitler, they will say. Jews are nothing like Muslims (or Mexican immigrants). And the USA is not a racist country like Germany was.
Let’s see, Trumps’ recent anti-muslim remarks came after his announcement that the government should track “muslims” and have a database of them, which of course came after earlier remarks that Mexican immigrants should be deported — even if they are children that were born here and are natural born citizens.
Cue images of the a new Gestapo knocking on doors of Mexican famlies and taking children away from their parents because they didn’t have “proper” papers. Cue images. of rounding up families and putting them on boxcars to “ship them back” to where they belong.
Not enough? Let’s cue images of people being forced to wear arm-bands that show their religion, not unlike Jews who had to wear the Star of David identifying them as part of the “minority” that was out to destroy “pure” German society.
When hatred is allowed not just to exist but supported and cheered by enough of the population — you are on a slippery slope. It starts with demonizing a minority, then enacting laws to make them second class citizens and limiting their ability to do things like practice their religion, and finally, leads to ways to “send them back” and “get rid of them”.
Don’t think it could happen here in the United States of America? Think again.
Discrimination and racial hatred is built into American History, and it was supported by some large segment of the population each time. This hearkens back to the killing of millions of Native Americans and holding of millions of Africans as slaves. All a candidate has to do is to touch that vein and ride it.
George Wallace, another person that you could compare Trump to, ran on a racist agenda and in 1968 got 10 million votes. This was a hundred years after the end of slavery and giving citizenship to African Americans. Lincoln had to send in troops to certain parts of America to get them to relinquish slavery, Kennedy had to send in troops just to get an African American to be able to attend university with white kids a 100 years later. How much would you want to bet that in another hundred years, in 2060, there won’t be some ethnic or religious minority here that is being demonized by the crisis or prejudices of the moment?
Remember Hitler wasn’t always a reviled figure. There were crowds of white Germans cheering, just like the white Americans we saw on TV cheering Mr. Trump as he talked about ripping up the constitution, denying rights based on a religious test. Hitler called Jews “filthy”. He promised to build up the military and make Germany great again (at least for the white Germans).
Whenever we say “never again”, somehow, some way, things seem to come back in circles. They say that when one ignores the lessons of history, you are bound to repeat them. Something tells me that if you question most Trump supporters at his rallies, they aren’t particularly good students of World History.
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as the Hitler we know of in the history books. I’m saying he’s just like the Hitler that built support from the white majority in Germany by demonizing the minority to get power and promising to “make the country great again”, which is really a euphemism for “make our country white again”. It wasn’t until Hitler started to take advantage of “terrorist” attacks that he really started to build his support and implement his crazy policies, turning into the “Hitler” we know from the history books.
When many German Jews like Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, both of whom played critical role in the development of atomic weapons, emigrated to America, they publicly wondered where they would go if the USA succumbed to the Nazis?
It took a while, but it seems like certain parts of America may be on the verge of succumbing to a Nazi like mentality — leaving first Hispanics and now Muslims wondering, what will happen to us if this guy gets elected?
And for any other group that is not white and Christian — African Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian Americans — don’t worry, once Trump’s cheering throngs are done with Mexicans and Muslims, they’ll turn their eyes somewhere else. After all, Hitler had a long list of “undesirables” in his book that he would get to.
God help us all if that happens.

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