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Law and Society

The Trump Administration does not recognize Muslim Americans

The Trump Administration does not recognize Muslim Americans

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

On May 26, President Trump released a statement on Ramadan, the lunar month that Muslims spend fasting from sun-up to sun-down every day. Unlike statements by other U.S. presidents who used the occasion to recognize the presence and contributions of Muslim Americans, Trump used it to denigrate them and stigmatize their religion and deny the fact that they exist.

As a statement of best wishes on the occasion of a religious event, the intended receiver is supposed to feel good about who they are and what they do. Instead, Trump’s statement made Muslim Americans feel demeaned and defamed. Trump’s statement connected all of Islam to terrorism and portrayed Muslims as people who are prone to violence. Not once did the president use the phrase Muslim Americans. Instead, he talked down to Muslims as foreigners who live in far way places everywhere else in the world, though he acknowledged that some of them–Muslims–live in the United States, but not as Muslim Americans.

If that offensive message was not enough, Trump’s choice for the post of the nation’s top diplomat emphasized the same attitude. On May 29, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, declined a request to host an event to mark Ramadan, breaking with a bipartisan tradition in place for nearly 20 years. Taken together, it is clear that this administration does not recognize Muslim Americans as full citizens of this country. This statement is not based on speculations, it is based in facts—the kind of facts that withstand legal scrutiny. Four courts and judges found Trump to hold anti-Muslim views and for that reason they ruled against his Executive Orders–widely known as the Muslim Ban–in the original and revised editions.

Muslim Americans will resist these odious speech and acts because their right to be recognized as full citizens enjoying all the due protections of the law and shouldering all the responsibilities are not bestowed by one person or by one administration. Muslim Americans exist as a matter of fact: they are 1% of the population, they are represented in all ethnic and racial communities, and they contribute to all aspects of life in the United States. They lead productive lives and they speak against the violent ideology and practices espoused by violent Wahhabi-Salafists. American Muslims are well aware of the double-edged sword of extremism and fanaticism: the absolute majority of victims of terrorism (82-97% of all fatal terrorist attacks) are Muslims and Muslim Americans are victims of domestic terrorism and hate speech disguised as acts of patriotism reacting to “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase made popular by Trump and many of his leading supporters and associates.

Trump does not seem to recognize that, upon taking the oath of the presidency, his primary responsibility becomes to uphold the Constitution—not pursue personal ideological goals. With his words, when he denigrates a specific group of citizens, he incites hate and violence. Muslim Americans don’t expect him to change his belief or convictions about Islam and Muslims, but he is expected to uphold his oath of office and stand for the Constitution and for the rights of all citizens, including Muslim Americans.

As a presidential candidate, he insisted on using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing that terrorism must be accurately defined for it to be defeated. He knows the power of words and he has used words as weapons against anyone or any group of people who stand in his way. Muslim Americans now insist that he acknowledges them as citizens by calling them by their proper name: Muslim Americans.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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Trump’s Statement on Ramadan:

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: Teaching future generations is indeed a costly endeavor, especially when governments allocate little or no money to higher education. Universities’ administrators are always under extreme pressure to keep their institutions afloat. However, as learning and training institutions, universities instill values and norms that guide future citizens and professionals towards a better future. Therefore, the source of money is just as important as the amounts of money for universities and for the people they serve. It has been revealed that Georgetown University would not have survived if it did not profit from selling hundreds of human beings and participate in the cruel slave trade. Ostensibly, Georgetown is unable to totally break from its legacy of profiting from slavery and racism. Its dependence on money provided by Muslim individuals and/or Islamic regimes with a history of human rights abuses, sectarian, and racist practices raises questions about its ability to overcome and dispose of both Catholic and Islamic legacies of depravity and decadence.
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About 200 years ago, to save Georgetown College, priests sold human beings thus fully endorsing and profiting from the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery. To date, we’ve learned of the existence of records documenting at least 272 human beings, like Mr. Frank Campbell, who were sold so that that college would survive to become the institution we now call Georgetown University.  Evidently, for these priests, the survival of an educational institution outweighed the abuse of the dignity of hundreds of human beings. Today, to gain prominence as an elite university, Georgetown has established financial ties to individuals and governments with social and ideological affinity to racism, sectarianism, and absolutism. Georgetown’s connections to Wahhabism and individuals who are interested in whitewashing that sect adds to the University’s legacy of exploitation in pursuit of elitism and financial advantages. Recently, Georgetown’s dark history with slavery was brought to the forefront once again when one of its faculty members used dubious logic and absolutist interpretation of ancient texts to argue that slavery is morally justified in Islam, a position that conforms to that held by groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda.

In an audio recording, the director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Jonathan Brown, is heard equivocating: “The Prophet of God had slaves… There’s no denying that. Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God? No you’re not.”  The implication is that, since, reportedly, Prophet Muhammad had slaves 1400 years ago, it is morally right to own slaves and it is morally right to continue to own slaves today. While Georgetown sanctified the university and relativized slavery in the 1830’s, today, one of its faculty sanctifies Muhammad and relativized slavery the same way ISIL sanctifies the “Islamic State” and relativized slavery, rape, and religious and sectarian cleansing.

Parents sending their children to learn from faculty members who use this kind of logic and embrace a morality rooted in absolutist reading of contested texts should be concerned. Muslims who seek guidance from a scholar associated with an endowed chair funded by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, demonstrably known for its abuse of human dignity, should be wary about the recasting of Wahhabism as Sunni Islam. Besides the conflict of interest and the methodological absurdity, Brown’s assertions are flawed for many factual and logical reasons.
 
First, there is no absolute evidence that Prophet Muhammad owned slaves. Those who contend that Muhammad had slaves rely on oral reports (written down three centuries removed from the time of Prophet Muhammad) invoked, preserved, and transmitted by figures who owned and even abused slaves themselves. Therefore, to emphatically assert that there is no “denying that Prophet Muhammad had slaves” amounts to suggesting the existence of a fact beyond any reasonable doubt. There is doubt beyond reasonable levels about events that took place more than 1400 years ago, especially when all the textual evidence is derived from only one school of thought: Salafism.  Indeed, leaders and wealthy individuals gave Prophet Muhammad slaves as “gifts” but he emancipated them: the women became his wives and the men became his mawāli (i.e. mu`taq [freed], as was the case with Zaid (given to him by the wealthy Khadijah, who married him later). However, many of the aristocracy of Arabia, who were absorbed into the newly established Islamic state, continued to own slaves. Considering that it was this aristocracy that monopolized most leadership positions after the death of Prophet Muhammad, it is easy to figure out why the institution was kept alive and by whom.
 

Second, while the Quran did not explicitly abolish slavery as a matter of law, the text and tone of the Quran left no doubt that enslaving human beings was morally wrong and that emancipating slaves was morally right. Moreover, the Quranic text consistently avoided the use of the word “slaves” [`abīd]. It referred to persons already in servitude as “what your right hands previously possessed” [mā malakat aymānukum] instead. Importantly, this wording, with the verb “possess” or “own” conjugated in the past tense, indicate that such a state of being lacks permanence. In other words, those who were enslaved before the start of Islam will continue to be so, but no new ownership of slaves shall be initiated moving forward. With that being the case, whether Prophet Muhammad had slaves or whether he was “more morally mature” becomes immaterial. The text of the Quran explicitly determined that slavery is immoral and it established a path (atonement and substitute for religious obligations with valid reason) to making it illegal. In fact, most proscribed acts were first judged morally contemptuous before they were explicitly prohibited in the Quran. The gradual prohibition of wine [khamr] is a good illustrative case in point.

Third, perhaps members of Brown’s audience were not “more morally mature than the Prophet of God.” However, inspired by the Quranic teachings, the same Prophet of God whom he is using to justify slavery made it abundantly clear that,

a. All human beings are equal in dignity,
b. Freeing slaves is moral,
c. Enslaving humans is immoral,
d. True belief in God is possible only when a person is free,
e.  The natural state of being for humans is to be free, and
e. Freeing slaves allowed a person to atone for unintentional homicide, breaking the oath, breaking the fast during Ramadan, and other “sins” and criminal offenses.

To override these established norms that became part and parcel of the Quranic and jurisprudential norms in favor of an analogy based on the chance that Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves is absurd. Because even if we were to assume that Prophet Muhammad had slaves, Prophet Muhammad had also determined that slavery is abhorrent. It follows, then, that it is immoral independent of him having had slaves or not. 

Fourth, the Quranic discourse is known for its graduate proscription of entrenched practices and social behavior not through abrupt prohibition. Subsequently, even if Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves in the early days of his life and the life of his disciples, it is likely that that practice would have been proscribed with time given the repugnancy of the institution and dehumanizing implications.

Fifth, considering the entirety of Quranic sanctions, it is certain that the dignity and sanctity of human beings cannot be overruled by the mere practice or temperament of the Prophet. After all, the Quran is dotted with passages admonishing Prophet Muhammad for some of his practices. In a plethora of passages in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was reproached for his poor judgement concerning his actions relevant to certain war booty [fay’], forms of taxes, treatment of persons with disability, and other matters. Most Sunni Muslim scholars hold that Muhammad, like all other Prophets, is fallible in matters not related to purely religious matters. Therefore, he might have erred in economic, military, social, and administrative matters—including owning slaves if it were to be proven that he did own salves after being characterized in the Quran as immoral.

Sixth, most Sunni Muslim scholars believe in the principle of abrogation, which essentially contextualizes legal edicts and justifies temporary or permanent revocation of social and legal practices. Per Sunni exegeses, passages of the Quran were abrogated by later passages of the Quran and so were units of Hadith. Subsequently, the existence of a passage in the Quran or a tradition from the Sunna does not necessarily mean that laws that might be derived from it are still in effect.

Seventh, like many other Traditionist Muslims, Brown privileges reports found in Sunni collections of Hadith and Tafsīr. He ignores, or is unaware of the rich body of religious, legal, and political texts produced and preserved by Ibadi and Shia Muslims, which provided fuller narratives and contexts especially regarding the most divisive and controversial events and ideas. The logic Brown employs is common among many Traditionist Muslims (ahl al-ḥadīth), too. For them, it would suffice to point to an event or an act purported to be from the formative period of Islam where lived the Predecessors (salaf) for such an act to be applicable to all human beings and in all times. Their reasoning is simple: If something was practiced or said by the Prophet, his Disciples [ṣaḥāba), or the Predecessors in general, then it is binding—part of the canon. Traditionism, the method of deriving ethical and legal judgments, was foreign to Muslim scholars of the first three centuries of Islam, who were primarily Reasonists (ahl al-ra’y].

The methodological and logical flaws in Brown’s reasoning are further weakened by historical and substantive facts. With the rise of Islam and before the death of Prophet Muhammad, and because of the restrictions and measures that encouraged the emancipation of slaves, a person can end up in servitude only through two paths:
1. During war: members of the defeated armies who were not part of a prisoners’ exchange deal or whose ransom is not paid will be “owned” by the victorious army as spoils of war. Since there were no facilities at that time to house them, captives were distributed among fighters who took part in the campaign.

2. By birth: children of two slave parents continued to be considered slaves and remained under the ownership and responsibility of the person who had owned their parents until they are freed or sold. Once a slave is freed, even in jest, they are permanently freed and the pronouncement of their freedom cannot be withdrawn or revoked.

The legal rule that prohibits re-enslaving persons who were freed, the religious edict commanding believers to free slaves to atone for a variety of sins and offenses, the restrictions of entry paths into slavery, and the ruling that determined emancipation of slaves being praiseworthy, with time, all such factors would have necessarily led to slave-free Islamic societies. That point was in fact anticipated in Islamic law, when an alternative (feeding the poor) to emancipating slaves for atonement or substitute for obligations purposes was made available. Indeed, Islamic regimes that continued to rely on slaves for their economic prosperity resorted to raiding distant communities and kidnapping peoples who would be forced into servitude, as did a number of rulers from the Umayyad,  Abbasid and Ottoman dynasties.

Brown spent most of the ninety-minute-long talk highlighting the cruelty associated with the treatment of slaves in other civilizations. However, given the cruelty practiced by ISIS in the name of Islam and the abuses unleashed by the Saudi ruling family, also in the name of Islam, and given that he holds academic chair established by members of the Saudi ruling family, most of the time should have been spent speaking against the atrocities committed by some Muslims against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Brown glossed over the practices committed by many Muslim rulers throughout Islamic history, giving credence to the racist narrative championed supremacists (non-Muslims and Muslims), like Turkey’s Erdogan, who refused to take responsibility for Ottoman crimes by arguing that “Muslims do not commit crimes of genocide.” The same argument was made by an Australian legislator when his country debated the ratification of the convention proscribing the crime of genocide: “It [genocide convention] deals with a crime of which no Anglo-Saxon nation could be guilty… None of the crimes that are enumerated in it could ever be committed by the Anglo-Saxon race.” Indeed, as is the case with any dominating empire, Muslims who headed some of these powerful governments have committed crimes and many Muslims remained silent, when heads of governments, in their name and on their behalf, committed genocides, crimes against humanity, and failed to abolish slavery. Enslaving human beings was wrong then despite its rootedness in society and it is abhorrent now that there is no socioeconomic argument to justify it. There should be no equivocation, no qualification of who treated slaves better, and no hesitation in characterizing it as a crime against humanity. 

The crucial step for achieving Islamic societies free of slavery is for the holders of chairs of Islamic studies to speak forcefully about the nature of the struggles that defined Islam as a social movement before it was hijacked by theologians who were interested in sanctifying institutions, concepts, and persons while abusing the dignity of human beings. To that end, Muslim scholars must emphasize the place of critical and truth-centered interpretation of key events in Islamic societies during the formative period. Many of Islam’s ethical and legal norms were authored or transmitted by the generation of leaders who came after Prophet Muhammad. But that generation is also responsible for much bloodshed and abuses. The Umayyad rulers, who the Saudi rulers emulate today and from whom they draw legitimacy, carried out some of the most genocidal wars against Muslims who opposed their rule and challenged their practices. The Ottoman Sultans, too, committed genocides and oppressed indigenous communities. That, and many other important facts, ought to be revisited so that a credible leadership can stop the bloodshed, end the carnage, and break the cycle of abuse in modern Islamic societies.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Association representing Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies scholars join efforts to legally challenge the Muslim Ban

Association representing Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies scholars join efforts to legally challenge the Muslim Ban

Civil rights and refugee groups today asked a federal court in Maryland to block the Trump administration’s revised executive order, arguing that it would cause irreparable harm for their plaintiffs. The order, which still maintains the suspension of refugee resettlement along with banning entry of nationals from six Muslim-majority countries, was issued on March 6.

The groups that brought the case include the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Maryland, and the National Immigration Law Center on behalf of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, HIAS, and the Middle East Studies Association, along with individuals, including U.S. citizens, affected by the ban.

Representatives from each group gave the following statements:

Beth Baron, President, Middle East Studies Association

“The Middle East Studies Association joined this case because the new executive order cuts at the very core of our mission as a scholarly association — to facilitate the free exchange of ideas. The order directly harms our student and faculty members by preventing travel, disrupting research, and impeding careers. The order hurts us as an association intellectually and financially. It is incumbent upon us to support the interests of our members and stand up for the peoples of the region we study and our colleagues.”

Becca Heller, Director of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center

“The exemption of Iraq from the (Muslim and refugee) ban is nothing but a weak attempt at righting one of the many egregious wrongs of the original order. The majority of Iraqis who have worked with the U.S. in Iraq arrive via the refugee resettlement program, which the new order attacks just as viciously. By suspending the program for 120 days and slashing the resettlement slots by 60,000, more than 50,000 Iraqis will still be affected, many of whom have worked for the U.S. or have family in the U.S.”

Karen Tumlin, Legal Director of the National Immigration Law Center

“A repackaged Muslim and refugee ban is still a Muslim and refugee ban. This version may be tweaked to work its way around the courts, but the intent remains the same. Trump has a clear and well-documented record of animus and discrimination directed at immigrants, refugees and Muslims, either from his tweets, stump speeches, or statements made to the media. There’s just no way to work around that fact. The courts have overwhelmingly rebuked the administration’s attempt to legalize bigotry and religious discrimination, and we are confident they will do so again.”

Mark Hetfield, CEO and President of HIAS

“As with the first executive order, President Trump has once again ignored the Constitution in order to fulfill his campaign promise of a Muslim ban. We are asking the court to intervene in order to protect thousands of refugees’ lives. HIAS is a Jewish organization that has worked since 1881 to protect and resettle refugees based on the Torah’s command to welcome the stranger. We cannot be bystanders as our own government turns away and discriminates against tens of thousands of refugees who have played by our rules and already subjected themselves to ‘extreme vetting.’”

Omar Jadwat, Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

“Putting a new coat of paint on the Muslim ban doesn’t solve its fundamental problem, which is that the Constitution and our laws prohibit religious discrimination. The further President Trump goes down this path, the clearer it is that he is violating that basic rule.”
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CONTACT
Juan Gastelum, NILC, 213-375-3149, media@nilc.org
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, 212-284-7347, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org
Henrike Dessaules, IRAP, 646-459-3081, hdessaules@refugeerights.org
Gabe Cahn, HIAS, 212-613-1312, gabe.cahn@hias.org
Geoffrey Knox, MESA, 917-414-1749, gknox@geoffreyknox.com

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Why the Muslim Ban cannot be justified by national security concerns?

Why the Muslim Ban cannot be justified by national security concerns?

The White House justified its ban on Muslims coming from seven countries by citing potential threat of terrorism and national security. The facts do not support that argument. 

First, it is a fact that none of the terrorists who actually carried out attacks in the United States since 2001 has had any connections to countries listed by the White House.  

White House officials could argue that the wars in Iraq and Syria  attracted and trained new terrorists and therefore the list reflects that new development. That logic, too, can be refuted by facts and figures. The majority of the fighters who joined al-Qaeda and its derivatives in Syria and Iraq came from countries other than the ones sanctioned by this White House.  


By cross-referencing the two sets of data, it becomes clear that more terrorists had come from Saudi Arabia than from any other country. Yet, Saudi Arabia is not mentioned by the White House on its list of countries with potential threat of terrorism. Moreover, and considering the passage of legislation by Congress (JASTA), which candidate Trump supported, allowing families of 9/11 victims to seek justice from Saudi Arabian citizens and officials for any possible complicity in terrorist attacks on Americans, the exclusion of Saudi Arabia is odd. Clearly, there is some bizarre logic at play in determining which country to target by this Muslim ban that splits families, endangers lives already at risk, and violate terms of treaties and conventions ratified by the United States.

The Ban on Muslims is motivated by prejudice, politics, and xenophobia, not by legitimate security concerns. Muslims from rich nations, such as Saudi Arabia, were excluded from the ban while Muslims from poor countries like Yemen are banned. This practice is consistent with this White House’s position that equates being “rich” to being “smart,” and developing oppressive policies guided by this new form of racism, where being wealthy is equated to being innately virtuous. The ban targets the most vulnerable and if it is allowed to stand, more dis-empowered social groups, at home and abroad, will be victims of discriminatory executive orders and arbitrary measures from an administration that, based on its actions thus far,  has little concern for due process, the rule of law, constitutional limits, and human rights.

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Links to statements made by leaders of major US universities in response to the January 28, 2017 Executive order barring Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entry to the United States:

Boston University 
Brandeis University
Brown University
California Institute of Technology
Carnegie Mellon University
Case Western Reserve University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Duke University
Emory University
Harvard University
Indiana University
Iowa State University
The Johns Hopkins University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michigan State University
New York University
Northwestern University
The Ohio State University
The Pennsylvania State University
Princeton University
Purdue University
Rice University
Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Stanford University
Stony Brook University – The State University of New York
Texas A&M University
Tulane University
The University of Arizona
University at Buffalo – The State University of New York
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego
University of California President and Chancellors 
The University of Chicago
University of Colorado, Boulder
The University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Kansas
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
University of Missouri
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of Southern California
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Virginia
University of Washington
The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vanderbilt University
Washington University in St. Louis
Yale University

Welcome to Trump’s America!

Welcome to Trump’s America!


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Trump said many things that offended many people. Muslim Americans were among those offended by his comments on refugees, terrorism, and Islam. Now that he is elected to be the 45th president of the United States, should Muslims freak out?

To answer this question, I include this essay, which I drafted in June of this year in response to some of my colleagues’ comments. I said then that support for Trump was not a passing moment: Trump will be president. Here he is: President-Elect Trump and in about two months he will lead this country… to somewhere. I did not publish the essay then because it could have been perceived as an attempt to influence young voters, like the ones I have in my classes. Now that the elections are over, I will share it. It is still as relevant now as it was then. 

I should add one thought since we now know for sure that Trump is elected president: He is the legitimate president produced through the system as is. But his election and the process should not and cannot be allowed to legitimize and legitimate racism. The task of resisting falls on the shoulders of civil society institutions as understood in the broadest sense possible. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions.

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Electing Donald J. Trump president of the United States of America
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
June 9, 2016
Thus far, Donald J. Trump used some of his own money to finance his presidential campaign and he thinks that his support comes from outside the political establishment. With such real or perceived autonomy, he was able to make some of the most outrageous comments that allowed him to be the lead story in every news outlet–for free. Some conservative commentators thought that his campaign will eventually collapse because Mr. Trump does not represent the Republican Party. To his credit, he is now the presumptive nominee and that did not come easy. 

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, for whom the field was basically cleared–a decision Democrats might regret later, she faced just two other contenders. Mr. Trump beat sixteen other candidates. He earned the Republican nomination. Still, some thought that since he is now the GOP nominee, he will stop making inappropriate and racist comments to widen his base of support. Last week, he suggested that Hispanic or Muslim judges cannot be partial because of their heritage, drawing rebuke from many Republican leaders, including the person who stands third in line to become president of the United States, Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

He replied to Mr. Trump’s reported comment saying that “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Then he added, “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him.” In other words, Republicans want to have it both ways: condemn racist comments and embrace racists. That is why many people, including myself, believe that racism in America is unique, deep, and systemic. Such racism, exceptional as it is, cannot be addressed unless the institutions that originated and have sustained racism are purged. The lack of thus understanding racism is the reason why, I think, Mr. Trump will be elected president.
I resisted interjecting into a crucial political context. However, when colleagues and acquaintances who rarely talk about politics approach me these days to tell me how sorry they were to see politicians like Mr. Trump feeding the flames of prejudice against and hate of Muslims, I felt that I should say something. Then, when politically active colleagues use Mr. Trump’s example to suggest that Muslims will be safer with a Democratic president, I was even more frustrated. To use fear to create a default political position for Muslims is just as offensive, in my mind, as Mr. Trump’s comments about ethnic, racial, and religious disempowered social groups. Today, Muslims are facing systemic racism the same way all other disempowered social groups have faced it since the founding of this Republic. This is not a Republican problem. It is an American problem.
It will not be the end of the world if Mr. Trump were to be elected president of the United States, and I think he will be. He may not be America’s worst president because, unlike party-favorite presidents, Mr. Trump will be heavily scrutinized by both parties and every other civil society institution in the country. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions. It is values and rules enshrined in the Constitution, unfulfilled many of them still, that provide comfort to citizens, not the person sitting in the White House. It is the distribution of political power and role of civil society institutions that curb the hunger to grab more power and use it to destroy opponents that would allow American society to weather corrupt politicians, authoritarian presidents, and zealots. The presence of dangerous men in power should empower activists and civil society leaders to collaborate more, to unite, and to take their role seriously to overcome the power and violence unleashed by the state, which is controlled by power hungry persons.
President Trump will be just as capable or incapable of carrying out his personal agenda as President Obama. After all, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, bring home the troops, stop bombing other countries, honor the Constitution respecting torture and extrajudicial killing, treat immigrants with dignity, insist on public option within a universal healthcare law, and rebuild the image of the country abroad. Eight years later, Guantanamo is still housing detainees. He sent more troops back to Afghanistan and Iraq. He played a role in creating two more failed and near-failed states–Libya and Syria, and he allowed corrupt rulers of so-allied nations from the Middle East to arm and supply Wahhabi genocidal fighters to overthrow the Syrian and Iraqi governments. He continued to appease and shield human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain. He carried out more drone-assisted extrajudicial killings of American citizens than his predecessors.  He deported more immigrants than his last three predecessors. And standing on grounds where the U.S. government dropped its weapons of mass destruction, he refused to apologize to the Japanese victims. 

This catalog of shortcomings were not due to a hidden agenda or his lack of trying to do the right things. They were due to the deep state that control the long-term strategic posture of the United States, slow moving wheels of bureaucracy, and the resistance from some civil society institutions, interest groups, and political expediency. 

So we expect a president Trump to fail to act on some of his threats the same way president Obama failed to deliver on many of his promises. If he succeeds, it is because civil institutions leaders and citizens failed to comprehend their role and act as a counterweight to those in power. It will be an opportunity to transform society and overhaul outdated institutions like the press, which has become a tool in the hands of the powerful, not a voice for the people.

Muslim Americans will not move to Canada or return to their ancestral homelands. They will stay here, at HOME, in their country where they sweat and bleed everyday, and resist bigotry, racism, and discrimination the same way millions of other Americans have done before them.  
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

A leading Saudi Salafist fighting in Syria admits to committing war crimes

A leading Saudi Salafist fighting in Syria admits to committing war crimes


The peaceful protest movement in Syria wanted political and constitutional reform so that all Syrians are included and that the Syrian people have the final say in who governs and on the source (constitution) of their authority to govern. Salafists do not believe in a constitution that is derived from the will of the people. They believe in imposing a particular and specific interpretation of Islamic traditions from the top down. 

For militant Salafists, the imposition of sharia, as they see it not as seen by the majority of Muslim scholar, was the end goal. The presence of many religious, sectarian, and ethnic groups in Syria made that vision incompatible with a Syrian society that is too diverse to reduce to a single monolith. These diverse communities knew that their struggle is existential, since Salafists framed the conflict as one between “Sunni Muslims” (Salafists), on one side, and apostates (murtadd), Alawites (nusayris), Shias (rawafid), and crusaders (salabiyin) on the other side. Salafists’ actions in Syria reflect this framing of the conflict. They accused residents of towns that are predominantly inhabited by these communities of supporting Assad and they forced them out or placed them under siege. Members of the security forces were summarily executed. In most cases, these acts were videotaped and posted on social media to frighten civilians and force them to submit to their rule. Recently, the chief religious mufti of one of the largest armed groups in Syria admitted to committing war crimes by killing prisoners based on their religious affiliation

In an interview with a Lebanese paper, Abdallah al-Muhaysini, a leader of Jaysh al-Islam, which is a cover for Jabhat Fath al-Sham (aka Jabhat al-Nusra), Istaqim kama Umirt, and Ahrar al-Sham confirmed what has been reported since the start of the war in Syria. He admitted that his fighters target civilians who are “rawafid” and that they killed captured “nusayris” immediately. Salafist groups usually use derogatory sectarian names for warring parties to frame their war in Syria as being aimed at purging that country from non-Salafists.
This admission would have serious legal implications for individuals and governments known to have supported these groups, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Al-Muhaysini has had elaborate connections to foreign intelligence services and he formed working relations with all Salafist fighting groups in Syria which he urged to unite in a single army. He threatened those who refuse the unification. The admissions to war crimes and his threats could lead to his assassination.

The Barrel Bomb Conundrum

The Barrel Bomb Conundrum

Barrel bombs don’t do this, U.S. and British bombs do.

by Craig Murray*

Virtually every mainstream media article or broadcast on the United States aerial massacre of Syrian government troops, manages to work in a reference to barrel bombs as though this in some way justifies or mitigates the US action.

It is a fascinating example of a propaganda meme. Barrel bombs are being used by Syrian government forces, though on a pretty small scale. They are an improvised weapon made by packing conventional explosive into a beer barrel. They are simply an amateur version of a conventional weapon, and they are far less “effective” – meaning devastating – than the professionally made munitions the UK and US are dropping on Syria, or supplying to the Saudis to kill tens of thousands of civilians in Yemen, or to Israel to drop on children in Gaza.

If a bomb were to drop near me, I would much prefer it to be a barrel bomb as it would be less likely to kill me than the UK and US manufactured professional variety. If however my guts were to be eviscerated by flying hunks of white hot metal, I would not particularly care what kind of bomb it was. The blanket media use of “barrel bomb” as though it represents something uniquely inhumane is a fascinating example of propaganda, especially set beside the repeated ludicrous claims that British bombs do not kill civilians.

It is of course only part of the media distortion around the Syria debacle. Western intervention is aimed at supporting various Saudi backed jihadist militias to take over the country, irrespective of the fact that they commit appalling atrocities. These the media label “democratic forces”. At the same time, we are attacking other Saudi controlled jihadists on the grounds that they are controlled by the wrong kind of Saudi. You see, chopping off the heads of dissidents and gays is OK if you are one of the Saudis who directly controls the Saudi oil resources. It is not OK if you do it freelance and are one of the Saudis who is merely acting at the covert behest of the other Saudis who control the Saudi oil resources.

I do hope that is clear.
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* Craig Murray, Vauntie Cybernat, Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones


al-Sharq al-Awasat coverage
Journalism in Arab countries: With the increased violence and potential for sectarian war in the Middle East, one would think that the media and journalists would pay more attention to details, facts, and the language they use to report about the death and destruction in that part of the world. Instead, journalist and the media in general sided with their benefactors or religious/ethnic community, betraying the profession and their duty to objectively inform the public.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, which wanted to be the New York Times of the Arab world showed its true identity: the mouth piece of the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Aljazeera, whose funders wanted it to be the BBC of the Arab world, resigned to its limited true function: serving the Qatari ruling family and its political allies—the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Alarabiya has become the Fox News of the GCC ruling families. Alahram serves Sisi… and the list goes on. 

Here is an example of the kind of headlines the “professional” journalists at al-Sharq al-Awsat ran recently:


5 nations cut their diplomatic relations with Iran… and the world condemn its violations

It did not cross the mind of Iran that its attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate in Tehran and Mashhad would open the doors of hell on it, including the cutting of diplomatic ties…

[The headlines and opening sentence sound ominous. But the rest of the news story would make you think that you are reading a satirical piece on The Onion or watching a story on the fake news program, The Daily Show. The 5 countries that cut relations with Iran are:

Saudi Arabia (the country the just executed 4 and beheaded 43 including a religious scholar whose crime was “criticizing wali al-amr [the ruler]”)

Bahrain (the tiny kingdom that serves as a bar and resort for the Saudi princes and princesses)

Sudan (Whose president cannot travel much because he faces arrest for war crimes and genocide)

Djibouti (where the hell is Djibouti)

Somalia (does this country actually has a government?)

Arab journalists’ dereliction of duty during these difficult times will make a grave situation graver. In the past, and during peace time, people of that region were used to the media serving as the propaganda tools in the hands of authoritarian rulers. People did not take them seriously. However, with civil wars raging in a handful of Arab countries, the need for accurate information is compelling and Arab journalists ought to take their responsibilities seriously.
Aljazeera devoted half of its space of its website frontpage to reports about the humanitarian crisis in the town of Madaya, Syria, because it is is “Sunni” town. Aljazeera avoided referring to the other towns under siege for years, as the BBC report shows, simply because those towns are inhabited by Shia. To stoke sectarian passion, Aljazeera used graphic images that did not depict people from Madaya.

U.S. – Saudi Arabia bizarre alliance is becoming a burden on the United States

U.S. – Saudi Arabia bizarre alliance is becoming a burden on the United States



Saudi war on Yemen: total destruction

On Friday May 8, President Obama announced that he was to meet with the Saudi King, Salman, ahead of the Camp David summit with the GCC rulers. On May 11, a day before the summit, the King cancelled his appearance altogether, a move widely characterized as a snub to the President. On Friday July 17, the White House said that King Salman requested that President Barack Obama meet with Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister, despite the fact that the President does not ordinarily meet with foreign officials who are not heads of state. Nevertheless, the President obliged. On August 28, the White House revealed that King Salman would be meeting with President Obama in Washington next Friday, September 4. The Saudi rulers are nervous, but they are blaming the uncertainty they face at home on other countries. The President should restate what he has already said in public: the threats to the Gulf States rulers are internal and of their own making.


Since the start of the uprisings that transformed many Arab countries, the rulers of Saudi Arabia have acted irrationally, arrogantly, and belligerently. As a country that continues to rely on an archaic system of governance, and given the significance of the changes taking place in the region, they ought to be nervous. However, when their paranoia pushes them to act in ways that risked stability and peace in the region, the world community ought to remind them of the limits established by international law and diplomatic protocols. Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said that President Obama and Salman will discuss the conflicts in Syria and Yemen as well as “steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.” Saudi Arabia has played a very destructive role in these and many other regional and international issues, and the President should tell the King that the behavior of the Saudi rulers is weighing heavily on the U.S.’s reputation and credibility. The Kingdom’s instances of malfeasance are numerous.

1. Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Turkey, has supplied genocidal fighters of ISIL, al-Nusra, and Ahrar al-Sham with material and political support, increasing the level of violence and sectarian tension in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

2. Saudi Arabia launched an illegal war on Yemen, imposed a devastating blockade on that country, used illegal weapons, and destroyed roads, airports, ports, schools, markets, and hospitals, pushing the poorest Arab country to the far edge of catastrophic conditions. In the words of Amnesty International, the Saudi-led campaign has left a “bloody trail of civilian death.” Curiously, the Saudi air campaign spared al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen. In fact, the bombing campaign created the kind of environment where al-Qaeda and ISIL thrive, giving them now a stronger foothold in southern Yemen.

3. Saudi Arabia continues to frame the conflicts in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen in sectarian terms, accusing Iran of interfering in Arab affairs when it is in fact Saudi Arabia that is bombing neighboring countries, arming genocidal fighters, and demanding the removal of presidents of other countries, all while harboring other dictators who have killed protesters and blocked real political and economic reforms.

4. The Saudi rulers continue to offer support and sanctuary for religious figures who preach hate, sectarianism, and supremacism. Hundreds of satellite televisions broadcast thousands of programs full of divisive content that has been used to justify the murder of civilians, the abuse of ethnic and religious minorities, and the subjugation of women.

5. While the Saudi rulers are actively pursuing destabilizing agendas in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, all countries that have a tradition of some level of citizen participation in electing their leaders, Saudi Arabia has been governed without its citizens’ consent and the ruling clan has no plans to change that reality.

6. The rulers of Saudi Arabia have relied on Wahhabi religious preachers to legitimize their repressive control over the peoples of the region. Wahhabism, the extreme creed skillfully disguised as pure Sunnism, is espoused by all extremist religious groups who kill civilians on sectarian and religious grounds. The Saudi rulers have used the country’s wealth for the benefit of a single clan and a single religious denomination. While relying on public relations advisers, extensive media outlets, generous investments in prestigious American Ivy League universities, and diplomatic relations with key Western governments, they were able to project a moderate image of a sectarian creed and political philosophy that is actually an ideology of hate, exclusion, and supremacism.

The U.S.-Saudi alliance has outlived its utility. If U.S. foreign policy is built on democratic principles and human rights norms, we must ask: what democratic principles and human rights norms do the Saudi rulers espouse and practice? In the post-Arab Spring era, the U.S. administration must align its foreign policy with the nation’s proclaimed values and support peoples’ aspiration for dignity. There are no shared values between clan-based abusive rule and an established democracy. U.S.’s support of a belligerent, criminal regime in Saudi Arabia diminishes its standing in the eyes of Arab masses, validates the double standard charge against the U.S., and exposes U.S. policy as self-interested and unprincipled. The administration ought to change that narrative, and can do so by communicating the above facts to the Saudi ruler on Friday.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Beyond terrorism: Sousse attack, economic development, fair trade, and dignity

Beyond terrorism: Sousse attack, economic development, fair trade, and dignity

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The intent of those who planned and carried out the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia and the reactions to it, both underscore the idiosyncratic connections between economic development and terrorism. Importantly, the attack ought to remind us of the global nature and imperatives, not only of ISIL’s brand of terrorism, but also of economic development. Both problems, terrorism and lack of economic development in the Global South, must be confronted cooperatively, because European countries were indeed involved, directly and indirectly, in creating the kind of conditions that weaken their southern neighbors’ economies, which in turn have created the kind of environment most suitable for terrorism.

Zakaria Hamad

When 30 British citizens vacationing in the city of Sousse, Tunisia, were killed along with three Irish, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese, and one Russian, the Foreign Office ordered all but essential travelers to leave that country immediately. Habib Essid, Tunisia’s Prime Minister, said that his government would help to evacuate approximately 3,000 Britons, but told Tunisia’s parliament that he was “dismayed by the advice from the Foreign Office.” The Tunisian government said the UK “was damaging the country’s economy,” which is heavily reliant on tourism, and may end up inadvertently fueling poverty and therefore terrorism. Oliver Miles, a former UK ambassador to Libya and Greece “found the [UK]’s response puzzling.” Other commentators and international affairs analysts contended that Britain was “wrong to bring tourists home” because it would weaken the only true emerging democracy in that part of the world.

Having just returned from Tunisia, I have had a chance to observe up-close life, the hopeful and fearful aspects of it, in that beautiful country. I have witnessed how ordinary citizens, bureaucrats and government officials, and business leaders are coping with the new reality of citizens’ mandated governance. It is clear that Tunisia deserves support from the global community for moral reasons, and deserves support from NATO countries for legal, political, and economic reasons.

The world community ought to support Tunisia because it is the only country in the region thus far that has managed to transition to representative rule without military coups, civil wars, and violent takeovers. Support for Tunisia means support for peaceful transfer of power, and serves the global community’s stake in political and economic stability.

More specifically, NATO countries have the legal obligation to stand by Tunisia because NATO, and its Gulf allies like Qatar, undermined Tunisian security when they launched the ill-planned bombing campaign against Libya. The two persons who carried out the Bardo and Sousse attacks were trained in Libya. Libyan weapons that were not secured after the fall of the Libyan government are now being used to destabilize Tunisia and other neighboring countries. In other words, NATO broke it, so NATO bought it.

Furthermore, NATO and European countries have a long history of supporting authoritarian regimes in North Africa, including the Tunisian and Libyan dictators. France sent its diplomats to show support for Ben Ali even as he was killing protesters in December 2010. Italy and other European countries paid off Gaddafi so that he could prevent African immigrants from reaching the European continent while continuing to deny his people basic political and economic rights. European countries must atone for their political and economic dealings with oppressive regimes.

European countries must also atone for decades of exploitation and unfair economic practices. Italy, for instance, used to buy Tunisian olive oil in bulk, process it in Italy, and ship it to the global markets as an Italian product. Agricultural, mineral, and other natural Tunisian resources were shipped to Europe for processing adding thousands of job opportunities to Europeans, denying them to Tunisian workers. 

Having considered these facts, let’s consider what Tunisians really want from their northern neighbors. Young Tunisian entrepreneurs and government officials want to be treated fairly and with dignity. They do not want handouts. They do not want loans. They do not want to be dependent on tourism or for European leaders to risk the lives of their citizens to shore up tourism in Tunisia. What they want is for the European leaders to encourage their powerful businesses and rich citizens who made some of their wealth through exploitation of African communities to invest in Tunisia and the Tunisian economy.

For example, in a conversation I had with Zakaria Hamad, Tunisia’s current Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining, it became clear that Tunisian leaders want the added value from their country’s products, of which it has been deprived in the past. For instance, instead of shipping raw materials to Europe for processing and sale, the new Tunisian leaders would prefer that Westerners invest in Tunisia by building factories and processing plants, creating thousands of jobs for Tunisians at home and producing quality goods for the global markets at fair prices.

If Europeans genuinely invested in the Tunisian economy, they would limit the flow of migrant workers, help stabilize their neighboring communities, undo years of past exploitative and unfair practices, and receive a healthy return on their investment. In the long run, this change in attitude and practices are the best way forward for Western countries and their southern neighbors. Military interventions, bombing campaigns, and reliance on dictatorial regimes are shortsighted, costly, callous, and destructive. Such acts are moral and legal burden on Western societies and powerful propaganda tools for genocidal terrorists.

Listen to article:

Watch video: Beyond Terrorism

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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