by Khalid Alshaikh
At a speech on the final day of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump stated that he is “going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS.” Trump vowed to work with American allies to destroy the terrorist group if he was elected to the White House.
Trump’s words seem on the surface to agree with the strategy adopted by the Obama administration. President Obama himself, after all, wrote in the introduction of the 2015 National Security Strategy that the goal of the United States government is “to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”
If the endgame is the same, why do some of us disagree with Trump’s position? Trump’s approach to terrorism is different because he is not offering real solutions but merely providing emotional comfort to his supporters. His proposal to ban foreign-national Muslims or go after terrorists’ families satisfies the anger many people in this country feel regarding ISIS and its barbaric acts.
Yet, a dilemma emerges once we try to synthesize Trump’s statements into a coherent practical strategy to fight ISIS.
On the one hand, he wants to destroy ISIS by working with U.S. allies. On the other hand, he wants to ban people from entering the United States based solely on their religious identity. It is hard to imagine U.S. allies in the Middle East (such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt) sacrificing their soldiers to destroy ISIS while at the same time their regular citizens are barred from entering this country.
Terrorism ultimately does not recognize borders, and Muslims are also victims of the Jihadists. I still remember when terrorism hit my hometown of al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Al-Khobar is a city located on the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia. It was modernized with the help of American workers who arrived in the 1930s. Many of them chose to stay, keeping their American culture and values with them.
When Osama Bin Laden’s organization, Al Qaeda, started to target the Saudi police and expats residing there, the Americans started to leave. Back in 2004, while I was taking a final exam at my high school, I noticed one of my friends was missing. A terrorist attack targeting a compound had trapped him in his home. The compound was only a couple hundred yards away from my school. That experience filled me with rage and anger against the Jihadists who targeted my friends, my country and my fellow human beings. In some nations, such as Iraq, terrorism has become the norm.
What Trump is ignoring in his declared mission to destroy ISIS is that Muslims are the cure for this global Jihadist insurgency. Muslim theologian Usama Hasan issued a fatwa in 2014 against ISIS stating that “persecution and massacres of Shia Muslims, Christians and Yazidis is abhorrent and opposed to Islamic teachings.” He also obliged Muslims to “actively oppose its poisonous ideology.”
Several months ago, KPSU interviewed Muslim feminist Asra Nomani, and she called upon fellow believers to resist fundamentalist and extremist ideology. Here in Portland, Harris Zafar, the leader of a local Muslim community, wrote for the Oregonian, saying that “halting the expansion and popularity of ISIS requires involvement of all parties, including Western nations as well as Muslim nations.” Zafar added, “With its military, diplomatic and economic might, the United States certainly does have a role to play in bringing ISIS to justice.”
While Muslim community leaders are agreeing with Trump that ISIS ought to be destroyed, his emotional statements often fail to see the nuances of the problem. For the sake of satisfying an angry voter base, Trump continues to play into the ISIS narrative that there is a war between Islam and the West. More dangerously, Trump’s illiberal ideas of banning Muslims from entering this country or targeting terrorists’ families challenges the core principle values of the United States.
By viewing people collectively through their religious identity and not by their individuality, Trump alienates his potential allies in the Middle East and among the Muslim community in the United States, while simultaneously damaging the very character of what it means to be American.
Originally from Saudi Arabia, Khalid Alshaikh is currently studying political science at PSU.