What do Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau have in common? Neither is capable of recognizing that Muslims, like most other groups, are highly diverse and present a wide spectrum of characteristics. Both Trump and Trudeau deal with Muslims as if they were a homogeneous group.
Donald Trump considers all Muslims dangerous and would treat them like pariahs, as if all were members of the lunatic fringe of extremist jihadists. In a December 7th statement he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” whether they be immigrants or only visitors. In a field of Republican Party candidates for the U.S. Presidency, where practically all come across as Neanderthals, Trump now stands out as outrageously bigoted even compared to them, so much so that several have denounced his proposal.
Accusations of xenophobia and even fascism are certainly in order. Nevertheless, a certain scepticism is also appropriate. Ibrahim Hooper, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), declared that, “We’re entering into the realm of the fascist now” but he is ill placed to make such accusations as CAIR itself apparently has links to some dubious organizations which sound rather fascistic.
Attempts to compare Trump’s treatment of Muslims with the Nazis’ treatment of Jews fall flat. Trump targets adherents of the Muslim religion while the Nazis targeted the Jewish “race” and not the religion of Judaism. Trump is reacting to violent actions by a small number of Muslim jihadists – and to larger numbers of Muslims who appear to sympathize with the extremists. Thus his reaction is based on fear of religious terrorism, whereas Nazi anti-Jewishness was based primarily on economic considerations. Furthermore, the Nazis and their anti-Jewish fanaticism were enthusiastically supported by some Islamic fundamentalists, in particular by Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the time.
Yes, Donald Trump is an unscrupulous far-right populist clown and undoubtedly a fascist. But Naziism has more in common with the totalitarian extremists to whom Trump is overreacting than it does with Trump himself.
Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, acts as if there were no reason for concern, as if Islam were harmless, as if the extremist fringe did not exist. Before the recent federal election he became notorious for visiting several mosques associated with some very conservative Islamists who promote Sharia law. At the Brossard mosque he met Samer Majzoub, director of the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF). Like CAIR, CMF tends to use charges of “Islamophobia” with alarming frequency as a tool to intimidate critics of Islam. As a general rule, anyone who uses that word as an accusation is either an apologist for Islamofascism or a dupe of it. In his riding of Papineau Trudeau visited the Al Sunnah Al-Nabawiah mosque which promotes a Wahhabist interpretation of Islam.
Once elected, Trudeau acted almost immediately to keep his election promise of withdrawing Canadian military planes from the conflict against Daesh. He maintained this decision even after the horrific events of November 13th in Paris, a few short weeks after the election. But Syria in 2015 is not Vietnam in 1970. The invasions of Middle East countries motivated by inept Anglo-American foreign policy did not create Islamism. Rather, those invasions destabilized the region and opened Pandora’s box, thus liberating the pre-existing monster we call Islamism. Abandoning the fight now will not restore the pre-invasion situation. It is too late to close the box.
Donald Trump is paranoid; Justin Trudeau is complacent. Both are very useful to Islamists. Trump’s plans to persecute Muslims allow the extremists and their sympathizers to continue playing the sympathy card with impunity, painting everyone’s fears as irrational. Trudeau’s complacency is a wide open door, which would allow extremists, along with Muslims in general, to enter Canada as if they posed no danger. Whether by design or through naïveté, Trudeau is rather chummy with some very dubious fundamentalists. Both Trump and Trudeau facilitate, each in his particular way, the jihadist agenda.
Both Trump and Trudeau lead the vanguard of anti-secularism in his respective country. Although not personally particularly religious, Trump speaks for far-right Christian fundamentalists who are hostile to Muslims for reasons of religious competition, i.e. religious bigotry, independently of any terrorist threat which a small number of Muslims (and a small number of Christians!) may pose. Trudeau is an icon of multiculturalism, an ideology which, in the words of Kenan Malik, seeks
“to build a bridge between the state and minority communities by looking to particular community organizations and leaders to act as intermediaries. Rather than appeal to Muslims and other minorities as citizens, politicians tend to assume minorities’ true loyalty is to their faith or ethnic community. In effect, governments subcontract their political responsibilities out to minority leaders. Such leaders are, however, rarely representative of their communities.”
The Failure of Multiculturalism by Kenan Malik, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2015.
In a very friendly letter addressed to the CMF on November 29th, 2013 after attending the CMF’s annual banquet, Trudeau, writing as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, denounced the Quebec government’s so-called Charter of Values, explicitly damning one of the most progressive pieces of secular legislation ever seen in this country. He claimed that the Charter promoted “intolerance” and discrimination, and was a mere pretence of secularism, thus using precisely the same dishonest language which Islamists used to fight that legislation.
Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau are both wrong. Muslims do not constitute a monolithic group. Viewing them with such a lack of discernment puts us all at risk. They range from the most extremist jihadists at one pole, all the way to secularist reformers who are on the way to becoming ex-Muslims. In between those two poles we find non-violent fundamentalists, practicing but “moderate” Muslims, non-practising Muslims, etc. In both the USA and Canada we need leaders capable of discerning the differences and acting accordingly.
We must not be paranoid and discriminate on the basis of belief – as Trump does – but on the other hand we have a duty to discriminate on the basis of behaviour – as the complacent Trudeau fails to do. The niqab issue is one example of a situation where our society can say no to fundamentalist excesses – by banning face-coverings in official ceremonies and in the public service – without targeting individuals. We thus limit extremist behaviour without discriminating on the basis of religion. The only individuals affected by such restrictions are those who self-select by adopting ostentatiously some of the most backward and dangerous aspects of the tradition they claim to espouse.
The refugee challenge must be met by seeking an appropriate equilibrium between compassion for those seeking asylum and due diligence to questions of security. Refugees are welcome. Promotion of extremist ideology is not. Given the Canadian government’s plans to welcome massive numbers of Syrian refugees, and hastily as well, there is a real danger that a few jihadists may sneak in among them. Do we really want to entrust our security to a government which cannot even muster the courage to take the minimal measure of banning that flag of Islamofascist misogyny, the niqab, at citizenship ceremonies?
There are many Muslims and ex-Muslims who have left the country of their birth in order to escape theocratic repression and to live in a freer, more open, more secular society. They are only too happy to leave behind archaic practices such as gender segregation. They certainly do not need us to facilitate the maintenance of religiously mandated backwardness by treating fundamentalists as if they were representative of the entire Muslim “community.”
In the USA, the most important impediment to secularism is the hegemony of the Christian right-wing, represented largely by the Republican Party. In Canada the situation is different: here, the worst impediment to secularism is that sacred cow, multiculturalism. To say that Canadian multiculturalism leads to cultural relativism is an understatement. In practice, it has become fashionable to privilege non-Christian religions, especially Islam. If the niqab tolerated by the Trudeau government were a Christian accoutrement and if Trudeau campaigned in churches as far to the political right as the mosques he has visited, he in all likelihood would never have been elected Prime Minister. As long as we Canadians fail to oppose Islamic fundamentalism as vigorously as we do Christian fundamentalism, we are in serious trouble.
As I completed writing this blog, I heard a disturbing news story which confirms my worst possible assessment of Trudeau as an enemy of secularism. In the recent Maclean’s townhall interview, Trudeau basically slanders anyone who supported the Charter of Secularism proposed by the previous Quebec government — including the majority of Quebecers themselves — by declaring that the Charter’s limitations on religious symbols in the public service was equivalent to the recent xenophobic comments of Donald Trump about Muslims. In Trudeau’s simplistic rhetoric, both are “politics of fear” and “division.” Trudeau thus spreads the irrational and divisive fear of secularism which he, Islamist fundamentalists and others have consistently used to vilify those who desire to continue the process, begun half a century ago, of removing religious interference from the Quebec state.