Aijaz Zaka Syed

Trump shuts out the world

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Check this out. With more than 1.8 billion population, Muslims are currently the second largest religious community in the world after Christianity. Islam’s followers form nearly 25 percent of humanity. According to a much cited global survey by the Pew Research Centre last year, in the next half century or so, Christianity’s long reign as the world’s largest religion will come to an end, with the Muslim population expected to surge to a staggering three billion.

While the global population is estimated to rise by 32 percent, the Muslim population is projected to grow by 70 percent crossing the three billion mark in the next 60 years. In 2015, Muslims made up 24.1 percent of the global population. Forty-five years later, they are expected to form more than 31.1 percent. That is, more than three out of 10 people on the planet would be followers of Islam, the youngest of Abrahamic religions. In other words, one-third of humanity would be Islamic by faith.

These random statistics, dear readers, are needed to give you a sense of the absurd travel ban US President Donald Trump has imposed on people from several Muslim nations. The Trump ban is not just unreasonable and violates the very foundations and principles on which the world’s greatest democracy was established, it also shuts out the world and the future for America. For Muslims – the youngest religious group owing to their median age – and Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world, represent the future of the world no matter what the ‘leader of the free world’ thinks about it.

Indeed, by banning the followers of a particular faith, this administration does not merely betray its not-so-latent intolerance and animus, it has turned all that the US has celebrated and championed all these years as the so-called land of the free and a nation built by immigrants.

In the stirring words of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone voice of conscience of the predominantly Conservative US Supreme Court, who eloquently dissented with the majority opinion, “The United States of America is a nation built upon the promise of religious liberty. Our founders honoured that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. In upholding President Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, the Supreme Court has failed to safeguard that fundamental principle”.

In her 20-minute long speech, Justice Sotomayor quoted extensively from Trump’s own speeches and tweets to drive home the point that the ban is “inexplicable by anything but animus,” and to argue anything else is to “divorce oneself from the facts”. Choosing her words carefully, she asserted that the travel ban policy “masquerades behind a facade of national security concerns”.

Indeed, call it what you will but this is nothing but a ban on Muslims and openly discriminates against the followers of a particular faith in the name of national security and fighting terror. As early as December 2015, when he was still a candidate, Trump had called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”.

And now defending the indefensible, the Supreme Court has recognised this bigotry leaving everyone, especially Muslims in America and around the world, stunned.

Indeed, even more unfortunate and shocking than the travel ban itself that fractures and divides tens of thousands of families, many of them US citizens, is the fig leaf of justification that the highest court in the land has offered it.

Amid the continuing protests and passionate crusade of civil rights groups and activists against the travel ban, there had always been hope that the US judiciary, with its strong sense of commitment towards rights and individual liberties, would never accept and tolerate it and would soon turn it. Their hopes had especially been centred on the highest court in the land. After all, it has had a proud history of defending the individual rights and freedoms enshrined in the US constitution.

Amid all the hate and hysteria unleashed under this administration, they believed that such open bigotry and religious intolerance couldn’t be sanctioned by courts. After all, this is America, the ultimate land of the free, the leader of the free world. Surely, this couldn’t stand in courts!

Now all those hopes have come crashing down to the ground. Where do you go when the highest court fails to deliver justice? In the words of Roman poet Juvenal, who will guard the guards? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

And if this is how America that pontificated to the rest of the world on religious freedom and individual rights not long ago acts, what would happen to the world?

After all, for all its inadequacies, when it comes to protecting civil liberties and religious freedom, the nation of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr has been a shining model to the rest of the world. The annual US Report on Religious Freedom that measures the state of religious tolerance and minority rights around the world is taken seriously, including by the offenders.

For more than a decade, successive US administrations denied entry to India’s Narendra Modi for his apparent role in the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat. It was only after Modi emerged as a clear frontrunner for the top job that the US quietly amended its policy.

Now America is hardly in a position to hold regimes like Burma to account for their persecution and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. More worryingly, given the immense clout and leadership role that the US enjoys in the world affairs as the sole superpower and the world’s largest economy, not to mention its cultural influence thanks to Hollywood and control over the global media, this blatant discrimination and intolerance towards Muslims may come to be accepted and emulated by the rest of the world.

Already, Islamophobia within the US, in Europe and around the world has touched alarming proportions. This discrimination by the state, now fortified by the top court, is bound to further embolden the assorted extremists, fascists and bigots on both sides of the Atlantic.

Europe, known for its tolerance and multicultural cosmopolitanism, is fast catching up. With the rise of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim parties across the continent in the past few years, the land of Magna Carta has lurched further to the right. In India, the land of Buddha and Gandhi, things are worsening by the day under the current dispensation. In Myanmar, hundreds of Muslims have been killed and raped and thousands more have been driven from their homes on the watch of an indifferent world.

Doubtless, these are not the best of times for the faithful. But this is no time to hide or give up hope. No adversity is too great if those at the receiving end sink their differences and fight the gathering darkness. Instead of squandering our time, energy and precious resources in plotting against their own, shouldn’t they be working together to confront the shared challenges and growing threats?

The Islamic world must use all resources and diplomatic channels at its disposal to fight the rising Islamophobia in the US and around the world. The US needs to be reminded that it is its own unjust wars and policies in the Middle East that are to blame for the rise of groups like Al-Qaeda and Isis. The Muslim world needs to invest in world-class media, think tanks and lobbying firms to fight these perception battles. We cannot sit on our hands and hope things will somehow change for the better on their own.

Courtesy The News

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