Is a Clash of Civilizations Looming?

President-elect Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn during a media interview said, "Islam is a political ideology based on a religion." This contradicts the lived experience of Muslims. But more alarmingly it opens the door for denying Muslims in America their First Amendment rights. If Islam is not a religion then mosques need not be afforded protections enjoyed by churches. Insidious surveillance becomes defensible. In the worst case scenario it normalizes the idea of Muslim-registry and internment camps. Of course, one statement by an administration official does not imply policy but Flynn is hardly the lone member of a potential Trump administration harboring apocalyptic views about Islam and Muslims. HUD nominee Ben Carson also expresses views similar to those of Michael Flynn.

Attorney-General nominee Jeff Sessions favor intensive vetting of immigrants from Muslim countries. He defines such vetting as, "Questions can be asked: Do you believe in religious freedom, do you believe in Sharia law or the Constitution, and do you respect minorities such as women and gays?" The irony is rich. VP-elect Mike Pence advocated gay "conversion therapy" using tax-payer money and signed a bill that allow legalized discrimination against the LGBT community. Sessions voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Moreover, it remains unclear as to how the U.S. government intends to determine which applicants and countries are Muslim. After all, not all people from Muslim-majority countries are Muslim and sizeable Muslim minorities exist in many countries. Yahya from Syria could be Christian while John from Germany a Muslim. The obvious inefficacy of such policy prescriptions are only matched by their bigotry.

Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Mike Pompeo naively divides Muslims into two categories. Those who are with "us" and those who are against "us." For those against "us" he said, "I have a missile that is looking for you." Trump's own idea of a "Muslim ban" catapulted him to the top during the primary. Despite subsequently expressing many variations of this odious idea the original statement that ominously reads, "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," remains on the Trump campaign website.

Unlike Obama's foreign policy team, the Trump team insists that calling terrorism by Muslims as "Islamic terrorism" is a necessary prerequisite to fight against terror. Trump's chief horse-whisperer Steve Bannon views "jihadist Islamic fascism" as not only an existential struggle but also a continuation of the ancient enmity between the Christian West and the Islamic world. Not coincidently, ISIS also views its fight with the West in similar apocalyptic and messianic terms. Taken in totality, the stage seems set for a clash of civilizations, something both Presidents Bush and Obama assiduously avoided.

While escalation in rhetoric has drawn admiration from Trump supporters, the toll this is taking on the Muslim community in America is palpable. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), known for their dedication to fighting hate and bigotry, documented 867 hate incidents in the 10 days since Trump was elected. Nearly 300 of those incidents included direct references to the rhetoric promoted by Trump and his campaign. Anti-Trump incidents also took place but comparatively the numbers were much smaller at about 23. Such trends ought to elicit heightened concerns partly because they are a continuation of ominous developments that started in last year. Pew Research Center, using FBI's hate crime statistics, reports that in 2015 "the number of physical assaults against Muslims in the United States reached 9/11-era levels," representing nearly 35 percent of all hate-crimes and a over 60 percent increase from the previous year. Numbers for 2016 will not be known until later next year but anecdotal reporting suggests a worsening trend.

The President-elect has used Twitter to complain about Hamilton, Saturday Night Live, New York Times, and fictitious "illegal" voters. But never about rising hate-crimes, largely, though not exclusively, committed in his name. Recently a Texas man named Justin Normand showed another way forward. He stood outside a mosque with a sign that read, "You Belong. Stay Strong. Be Blessed. We are One America." He followed this with a Facebook post explaining his action, "This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother's feet." An idea that Trump seems incapable of comprehending.