I dislike Donald Trump. Yet I am grateful to him. No not because I believe in his particular philosophy of making America great again but because he can save America from people like him.
Islamophobia has been on the rise for many years and it had become politically acceptable. But before the bombastic and narcissistic Mr. Trump joined the race to lead this nation, the media and the political leaders including Mr. Obama, were not paying much attention to it. Like an insidious cancer, this poison was spreading in the body of our great nation. Mr. Trump was a symptom that finally led the physicians to take notice. Trump is not the pain of hemorrhoids but of the deadly and insidious pancreatic cancer.Before Mr. Trump, Congressman Tancredo of Colorado had suggested that America should bomb the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. A person of the stature of Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, and who is a history professor, had called the mosque in downtown Manhattan, a symbol of Muslim triumphalism. Senators Cruz and Rubio, Governor Huckabee and Congressman Santorum had said worse things.
But these politicians were too respectable and sometimes too inconsequential for leaders like Mr. Obama to take notice. Only the moderate faith leaders and the human rights and civil rights organizations were taking notice. They were showing solidarity with their Muslim fellow citizens.
Mr. Trump changed all that. He was too big a name and getting bigger too fast, to be ignored. With his crass pronouncements against so many groups and individuals, he was not too respectable. Never had been. The President and the Speaker could no longer hide behind the need to be politically expedient. Both came out in defense of the Muslim Americans. President Obama even gathered the courage to visit an American mosque to show his solidarity with the demonized Muslim community.
Trump is a good thing for the Republican Party too. GOP was fast losing the immigrants and the women, after having lost the African Americans already. The rise of Tea Party and the extremist wing of the Evangelical community who had a very strong grip on the party, was making it become marginalized nationally. Mr. Trump will force the GOP to address this suicidal ideation. Even if it comes to allowing a split, the leaders can calculate the loss of the extremists against the gain of right leaning immigrants, racial minorities, younger Whites and women. Just a decade and a half ago the affluent sections of immigrants and conservative sections of Muslims were supporters of the GOP.
Trump has also been a good thing for America. Anyone who forces the country to take notice of the cancer of intolerance has done a good job. At a time of demographic shift and economic stagnation, fear-peddling can lead to the undermining of the national fabric itself. Any one who spray gasoline from the air when the drought has caused many small fires will be noticed.
I have been speaking out against the danger of rise of xenophobia in the US but was mostly met with disbelief and denial. When in 2010, for the first time in its history, the US saw more non-White births, I spoke about it an anti-war conference in New York City. I have been so sure about the rise of xenophobia and demagogues because never in the history of humanity a dominant ethnicity had let its power erode without trying to arrest that erosion. In such times of demographic shifts, especially if these shifts are occurring during economic downturns, it becomes very easy for a demagogue to rise to power
Six years after that conference, I am still frustrated at the denial that our intellectuals exhibit. I attended a teleconference on the rise of Islamophobia held by the Council on Foreign Relations on February 25th. The speakers and the participants mostly focused on hate and prejudice. They would end their statements with a “positive” message that America always overcame the hatred of new groups and cite the history of Jewish and Catholic struggle against hate. No one focused on fear. It was frustrating and scary.
Muslims are in a much worse shape than their predecessors- the Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews. The Catholics and Jews, though reviled, were not feared. Muslims are feared..
Fear is an almost primordial emotion. It can evoke the survival instinct in the most docile of men and turn them into fear-crazed violent mobs armed with bullets or ballots.
History teaches us that when native Americans were demonized as savages and African Americans were dehumanized as sub-humans we committed the worst of atrocities on the grandest of scale without suffering even the mildest of guilt-pangs. We saw what demonization did to the European Jews and Gypsies, how the Bosnian women were gang-raped in thousands in our own era and how in Gujarat -the land where Gandhi was born- vegetarian mobs gleefully cut open the bellies of pregnant Muslim women , fully confident that in post 9 11 months, the world will not mind at all if a few “Muslim baby snakes’ lives were snuffed out even before they could breathe.
So we must not take fear-mongers and hate-peddlers lightly. But we were. That is till Trump became the leading contender for the nomination for Presidency from the Republican Party.
But this is not enough. The leading intellectuals, the editors, the clergy, the leaders of human rights and civil rights groups must not only start addressing the rising xenophobia against the immigrants but must start to identify and counter those who are behind it. The powerful forces that are exploiting the insecurity of the Whites in times of economic decline and demographic shifts must be countered in an organized way.
When it comes to Islamophobia, these leaders must not feel shy in identifying those evangelical groups that are involved in Islamophobia. They must counter the American supporters of the Israeli right-wing parties who consider the rise of the US Muslim population as an existential threat to their dream of a greater Israel and therefore fund the Islamophobia industry.
Just wishing for xenophobia to go away or living in denial that xenophobia can not lead to bad things at a grand scale in the US, will eventually be suicidal to the pluralistic and democratic ethos of America. A dynamic alliance of all those groups who believe in a pluralistic America will have to be built and built soon. Its strategy must be based on a study of history, sociology and behavioral science.
All religious groups and media must report fairly that violent extremism is a human problem that exists in all communities. While the Muslims have their Boko Haram, ISIS, Mehdi Army and Al-Qaeda; the Christians have their Neo Nazi groups, the armed militias, the KKK, the Lord Resistance Army; the Hindus have their RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Vahini and Shiv Sena; the Buddhists have their 969 of Burma, the Jews have their Kach, Kahane Chai and the settler groups. The reassuring fact is that all these groups are fringe movements. Reporting such facts in a nondiscriminatory way will suck the oxygen out of the propaganda of the demagogues who might be targeting one religion for demonization.
All political parities and institutions must be convinced to make countering racial bigotry and religious hatred a priority.
The rise of Trump in these can be a wake up call against the spread of xenophobia and can be the catalyst for the launch of a broad based alliance to protect pluralism in the US. This is my hope for America and this is why I thank Trump for running.
Dr. Shaik Ubaid is a community organizer, political commentator and a practicing neurologist. He is active in inter-faith arena and recently presented a panel discussion at the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City on “Sharing the lessons from the intrAfaith struggles against extremism”, where leaders of major religions shared their communities’ struggle against extremism.