The United States currently finds itself embroiled in one of the most ugly and derogatory campaigns in recent political history, and one again finds the Middle East at the centre of the most inflammatory rhetoric, particularly a fear of Islam. Tweets about political opponents’ wives, threats of massive border walls, and the dismantling of NATO are all worrisome, but the specific bombast against Muslims is what has so many foreign leaders aghast. Whether one looks at Donald Trump’s declaration to ban all Muslims from entering the United States or Senator Ted Cruz’s plan for police to increase ‘patrol’ of Muslim neighbourhoods, it is impossible to ignore the discourse as mere political sloganeering or pandering to base voters. Sadly, this is hatred masquerading as policy and the world has every right to be both concerned about, and embarrassed for, the condition of the United States’ political arena. I am not writing to declare support for any one candidate, but rather to make it clear that the anti-Muslim slander is not representative of America’s legacy or her values.
THE RETURN OF NATIVISM
Some seeking America’s highest office used the tragic events that transpired in Brussels on March 22nd as an example of Europe’s failed immigration system and the imminent threat of radicalised Islam. In reality, the lessons to be learned from Brussels and Paris and from the litany of previous terror attacks is that governments must improve communication and information sharing, not begin to restrict civil liberties or profile a specific group of people. The attacks in Brussels demonstrate the desire of the Islamic State to assault the European continent, and by extension, weaken the United States. If America views the terrorist violence in Paris and Brussels as solely a European problem, the impact of the Islamic State will continue to resonate with the disenfranchised in the
Middle East and Northern Africa and this will not make the world safer. Finding fault with the Islamic faith and those who practice it will only solidify the impression of a supposed ‘clash of civilisations’ that is the heart of the Islamic State’s goal of a 21st Century version of The Crusades to divide the world between the West and Islam. Equating Islam with violence and hate does nothing but generate wider divisions among people, whether they be religious groups or local communities. The horrific generalisation of the causes of terror may placate a voting block that believes complex problems can be solved with rudimentary solutions, but the reality must be faced that destroying the seeds of terror will be a generational fight that will require intelligence, moral conviction, and dignity. Omitting any of these elements will exacerbate an already tenuous global climate. Free societies will always be at risk of violence, but the answer is increased vigilance not vigilantes, and certainly not the use of hate-tinged speech used by supercilious politicians to earn a form of wispy trust from a populace that is frightened, vulnerable, and therefore, overly reactionary. The mark of real leadership is the ability to remain steady and calm the waters when horrific events unfold. Thus far, there has been little indication that the primary conservative front-runners in the United States have either the ability or willingness to do so.
The desire to present one’s self as intransigent in terms of security is unfortunately viewed as a strength at a time in which compromise and cooperation is so desperately needed. Simply looking to close borders and shut one’s nation off from the world is an unacceptable response to the issues facing the nations of influence today.
Talk of nationalism, isolationism, and nativism, both throughout Europe and on the American campaign trail, is a dangerous path to take during a time of glaring global insecurity. The type of language being broadcast from American campaign trails has stoked the fires of hate groups who now believe their repugnant worldviews to reflective of a broader audience – I am intending to re-emphasise that repression, subjugation, and targeting of individuals or groups does not equate to security. The same is true of isolationism. Firstly, the global reality of the twenty-first century simply does not allow powerful nations to become hermit countries, as global trade and instantaneously availability to information indicates. However, rather than look to ignore long-standing relationships and alliances, political leaders must express a desire to work together to confront the global threat of terrorism. Efforts to demonstrate strength through individualism will only lead to the dismantling of alliances and continued fracturing of a world order that resonates fragility. Organizations such as the Islamic State are not representative of Islam or billions of Muslims who peacefully practice their faith; however, rather than exploring this topic in a serious and extended manner, too many political leaders are using the senseless scapegoating of individuals in exchange for overly simplified answers to complex questions. The foundation of radicalisation is often hopelessness and a belief that the future is empty and bleak. To break the cycle of recruitment and retention, societies should collectively unify before educational and economic reforms.
EDUCATION TO REBUKE FEAR
Regardless of where an individual lives, education is a critical determinant of success. Limiting educational opportunities only ensures intensified frustrations that can boil over in violence. Efforts by a nation such as Germany to accept Syrian refugees are examples of leaders who grasp the importance of allowing young people to have a sense that there is hope and the potential for a successful adulthood. However, in the light of recent terror attacks, these acts of good will are being vilified, and vitriolic politicians are seizing upon the victims of the Syrian civil war as cause of impending doom for the West. Undoubtedly there are unseemly people attempting to manipulate the suffering of others, but the broad labelling of a group as dangerous or unwanted only promotes xenophobia that restricts progress and emboldens scaremongering. It is the responsibility of politicians, whether in office or seeking it, to offer positive, inclusive ideas rather than lowering the level of discourse to nothing more than stereotypes and misguided hysteria.