The election of Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States has sparked fear in the hearts of many Americans. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of it in my own university. One of the fears—along the lines of those pertaining to immigration and diversity—regards Muslims. As a Turkish-American this is a subject that I pay attention to every day. Today, I was not happy with what I saw.
The Position of Muslim-Americans–Even Those Who Represent the United States in Sports–Is Difficult. Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad Was Discriminated Against In The Ultra-Liberal City of Austin, Texas, Of All Places. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/sxsw-south-by-southwest-us-olympian-ibtihaj-muhammad-donald-trump-a6928471.html
The first story I read was a response to Mr. Trump’s plan to “register” Muslims in the United States. One response to this proposed plan by Americans is one where
citizen allies of the community have been increasingly stepping up on social media and offering to register themselves instead. The goal is to confuse ICE officials — the more names on the list, the harder they will be to identify, the argument goes — and to establish ties of solidarity. A website that has since gone viral, known as Register.us, allows allies to sign a pledge to register themselves in the event of a Muslim registry.
As with most issues in the current political climate there was a reference to the Holocaust, designed to horrify rather than stimulate debate: Benjamin Gladstone wrote that, “All Jews should should register as Muslims because we know the horrors of religious registration all too well […] The new American president-elect, Donald Trump, whose Islamophobia, misogyny, ableism, racism, and anti-Semitism have brought protesters out into the streets, has also announced a plan to ‘register’ Muslim Americans, just as the Nazis once did the Jews.” The comparison is disgusting—and that is where critical thinking needs to come in.
I think that this visceral reaction comes for two reasons: The first is a misinterpretation (or misunderstanding) of Mr. Trump’s position, mainly because he has not articulated it very well. The second comes from the fact that vast numbers of Americans have never visited or lived in a Muslim country, and that the few—if any—Muslims they may have met are most likely to be Americanized. In response to the first point, I must say that racist/bigoted policies in the West towards Muslims are not new. Just look at Turkey’s (failed) bid to join the European Union. The country—if Europe had wanted it to—could have (and, given the state of Turkey now, probably should have) joined the European Union long ago, before the current government even came in. The main obstacle was that Turkey was too big; Christian Europe did not want a Muslim majority country to be the second largest country (after Germany) in the European Union. Now, had they allowed Turkey to join, we may have now been living in a very interesting world—but that hypothetical is a job for the alternative historians.
In response to the second point, I really do wonder what Americans would think about living in a Muslim country. Having lived half my life in the United States and half my life in a Muslim country (and an officially secular Muslim country at that) I must say “it isn’t easy”. But American ignorance of things international is nothing new. I look at one Tweet featured in the article outlining Americans’ response to Mr. Trump’s proposed registry, which claims that “allies of the Muslim community offered to step up and be registered first, arguing they could use their privilege to help others”. I have never known what the term “white privilege” actually means, but perhaps the Tweet featured below might give me a hint:
Image Courtesy Of: http://mashable.com/2016/11/17/ways-to-fight-muslim-registry/#vGMJkwBaM5qQ
The user cited in the article, “liam and the bees” (https://twitter.com/liamandthebees?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw , vows to “stand with Muslim-Americans” as a “LGBTQ citizen”. The irony here is palpable, since the sentiment expressed is one that could only be expressed by someone with “white privilege” who lives in the West. An article in The Independent regarding the international status of LGBT relationships notes that according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA):
In 13 countries, being gay or bisexual is punishable by death. These are; Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq.
In 17 countries, bans are in place to prohibit ‘propaganda’ interpreted as promoting LGBT communities or identities. These are; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lithuania and Russia.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/gay-lesbian-bisexual-relationships-illegal-in-74-countries-a7033666.html
Of all these countries, only Russia, Lithuania, and Nigeria are not majority Muslim countries. And that makes me think: What do Americans really know about Muslim countries? Does “liam and the bees” know that, in many Muslim countries, it would not be possible to express being a member of the LGBTQ community? Probably not, and the reason I’m terrified for Turkey’s future should be indicative of why all Americans should do a little more research on what goes on in Muslim countries before taking such bold stances.
In Turkey, my other country, there will be a historic vote on Tuesday. The result could be far more terrifying than the result of the American Presidential election could ever have been. The vote will decide if men can be cleared of statutory rape as long they marry their victims. This is obviously a stomach-turning proposal, which, if passed, “will likely quash the convictions of some 3,000 men accused of assaulting an under-18-year-old”. For some background on a motion that states: “in the case of sexual abuse of a minor committed before November 11, if the act was committed without ‘force, threat, or any other restriction on consent’ and if the aggressor ‘marries the victim’ the sentence will be postponed”, we can look at some pieces from Al Jazeera:
Under current law, the age of consent in Turkey is 18 years old, meaning individuals aged 17 or younger are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape.
Turkey’s statutory rape law is violated when an individual has consensual sexual contact with a person under the age of 18, but sexual contact with minors between the ages of 15-17 can only be prosecuted upon complaint.
[Turkish Prime Minister Binali] Yildirim said the motion will be a “one-off” pardon for people who violated the law “unknowingly”.
In a country where child marriage is widespread, this is clearly a troubling motion since it will allow the rape of young girls “as long as they consent to marry”. How a twelve-year old girl can consent to anything like marriage is mind-boggling. If it is passed, Turkey will be moved back hundreds of years. Yilmaz Ozdil, a Turkish political commentator, listed a number of offenses committed against underage girls in Turkey which will be legalized if this heinous motion passes in his recent column, noting that as long as the Imam—or religious leader—accepts the marriage on religious (Islamic) grounds, the rape is acceptable.
Many In Turkey Are Coming Out Against The Government’s Stomach-Turning Proposal. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38030182
Women From All Walks of Life Protest The Government’s New Proposal in Turkey. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/turkey-motion-protecting-child-marriage-draws-debate-161118124734306.html
The reason this is important is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who is seeking to change the laws so as to rule until 2029 (he has been in power since 2002), was backed for many years by the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency with Mr. Obama claiming Mr. Erdogan as one of his best buddies among world leaders. With Mr. Trump now pushing a harder line on Muslims in the United States, we have seen the domestic backlash I described earlier. Still, state media is pushing the idea that—somehow—Mr. Erdogan is delighted at Trump’s victory. I am not sure that I can see any reason that Mr. Erdogan would be enthused about Mr. Trump’s victory but, as I have said earlier, state media in the U.S. have an agenda to push and mendacious stories are not totally unexpected. Even state media’s (Bloomberg’s) piece mentions an Op-Ed (that I have cited in an earlier piece) written by Trump advisor Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (Ret.), former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and they note that Flynn’s “language was deliberate. He said he wanted to provide Erdogan a choice to move away from the Islamist ideology of his own party”. This sounds like more of a threat than an endorsement, and that is why I see things differently, in the vein of Brookings’ more nuanced analysis.
The Mr. Obama who supported Mr. Erdogan so whole-heartedly is the same Mr. Obama who could not utter the words “radical Islamist terrorism,” during his years in office. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, was quick to state that “Turkey looks to be on ISIS’ side” (something I have also written about). This is, obviously, not something Mr. Obama could say since his administration did, arguably, have a hand in the emergence of the so-called “Islamic State” through the funding of various shady “opposition” groups in a bid to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Now that Mr. Trump is shaping his new administration, fears have arisen since “’President-elect Trump’s first appointments and nominations display a troubling Islamophobic trend that is of concern to American Muslims and should be of concern to all Americans,’ Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement”.
What the media frames as “Islamophobic” is merely realist geopolitics (even state media can admit it) —and given the hard line stances that Mr. Trump and his possible cabinet member Mr. Flynn have expressed—I cannot imagine that it will be free sailing for Mr. Erdogan. Perhaps that is why he is attempting to push openly-Islamist legislation (like the one mentioned earlier regarding child rape) before a possible threat to his hold on power stemming from the changes in Washington.
Given what I have seen in Turkey, rising from the rhetoric of a strongman leader who has stated that “to lead people one must understand the philosophy and psychology of a shepherd”, I am (unlike most Americans) not overly concerned about the hardline rhetoric emanating from President-elect Trump. Just two weeks ago, before the recent proposal to legalize statutory rape, an art show was attacked in Istanbul by those objecting to the presentation of an Ottoman Sultan’s image on a female body. The growing misogyny and repression of women in Turkish society is worrying and it needs to stop, and I think one way would be a concerted effort to confront ISIS/ISIL/DAESH.
The Sculpture in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/625771/Contemporary_istanbul_acilisina_gerici_saldiri.html
Politico.com points out that Mr. Obama refused “to use the phrase ‘radical Islamic extremism’ for fear of alienating moderate Muslims who might hear in those words an attack on their religion”. I, as someone who has lived half of his life in a Muslim country, see things differently. I have met many completely peace-loving people who are also observant Muslims. Traveling in Egypt I met some of the kindest people I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life; even though the country was in turmoil they were excited to help a foreign visitor since they were (rightly) proud of their country. That’s why the term “radical Islamic extremism” should not be offensive to Muslims since it serves to separate the small number of “radicals” from the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims. The world is a difficult place, and most people just want to live out their days in peace without having to worry about violence. Unfortunately for many in the Middle East—especially those who are not “radicals”—the “radical Islamic extremists” of ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and their ilk are not allowing the majority to live in peace. If we need to use “bad words” to wake people up to the threat that radical Islamic extremists pose to the world—whether the United States, Turkey, Syria, or anywhere else—then so be it.
But I believe that, first and foremost, the small number of bad must be separated from the vast numbers of “good”. I am speaking from experience: Mr. Erdogan was seen as a “moderate Muslim” when he was first elected, but the term offended him back in 2007. “Moderate Islam” was seen to not be offensive in the West (even though it implies that there are non-moderate Muslims, as Mr. Erdogan showed), yet “radical Islamist” is now offensive? If we want to truly show Muslims that they are respected and accepted, then we must do our best to single out those Muslims who give the entire religion a bad name first. No one wants art shows to be disrupted or statutory rape to be legalized, any more than people want concerts or airports to be bombed, and I think that is something both Muslims and non-Muslims can agree on. That’s why those in the United States—many of whom have never even visited a Muslim country—should try to step back for a minute before balking at everything that “offends” their refined sensibilities, and hope that the United States can develop a more positive policy towards Muslims in the future.