It’s the big picture around Trump’s speech that must be examined to understand the irony and – it must be said – the hypocrisy therein; but this is mostly ignored by television commentators.
First, why go to Saudi Arabia to “unify” Muslims? The idea that Muslims need Trump, of all people, to unify us is insulting. Moreover, the Saudis are not “leaders of the Muslim world.” They constitute 2% of the Muslim population worldwide, and they are considered extreme on the spectrum of Muslim interpretation. Most Muslims in the world do not like Saudi policies or their state religion, which is a combination of the conservative, misogynistic culture of the Arabian Peninsula and a narrow interpretation of Islam.
Nobody likes to be lectured at, particularly by someone who consistently makes prejudiced and racist statements about those he’s lecturing. Nonsensical Islamophobic statements have been a hallmark of Trump’s rhetoric. It’s ironic that Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia to speak to Muslims when he’s ignored the Muslims in his own country, except to demonize them and attempt to enact laws adverse to them. He doesn’t seem to know what Muslims are already doing to combat terrorism – which is quite a bit, actually, from all different angles. (Just google “Muslims combating terrorism.”)
Even in Saudi Arabia, Trump couldn’t refrain from using words like “Islamic terror.” Most Americans don’t understand why this is a problematic term, assuming “political correctness” is the issue. It’s not. The issue is accuracy. “Islamic terrorism” is an oxymoron, because it means that terrorism is Islamic, even though Islam prohibits terrorism and has always prohibited terrorism.
The term “radical Islamic terrorism” is even more of a problem – it’s not radical Islam that’s operating in terrorist contexts. Rather, it’s no Islam at all. That’s because, even in legitimate warfare, Islam has always unequivocally prohibited killing civilians, arbitrarily destroying property, using treachery, using the clandestine use of force, committing suicide, killing the wounded or fleeing, and terrorizing populations.
Why do we need a term like “Islamic terrorism,” anyway? We don’t even call abortion-clinic attackers “terrorists,” much less “Christian terrorists” or “Christianist terrorists.” Even the Hutaree Christian Militia in Michigan or the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa are not called “Christianist terrorists.” When non-Muslim terrorists are reported on the news, their religion is not even mentioned, even when they’re acting from religious motivations. Why is it necessary, then, to constantly point out the religion of Muslim terrorists? It’s not political correctness that’s at issue here; it’s the double standard that portrays Muslim criminals as acting because of their religion (usually in conjunction with global terrorist conspiracies) and non-Muslim criminals as just people committing crimes.
Besides, religion is not what motivates the vast majority of Muslim terrorists. Terrorists themselves repeatedly assert that they acted because of political grievances, not religion. Didier Francois spent ten months with ISIS and said he never saw a Qur’an or had a talk about religion; rather, he and ISIS members talked about politics. Lydia Wilson at Oxford interviewed Iraqi ISIS fighters and found that they knew little of Islam and had joined ISIS because ISIS paid them – after the US invasion of Iraq, they couldn’t find means to support their families. And Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer, asserts that terrorism arises from “moral and emotional outrage” at seeing what’s happening to their fellow Muslims around the world. Terrorists use religion to justify their actions, Sageman says, but they’re not motivated by religion and, in fact, most of them know little about Islam.
Trump forcefully urged Muslims, in his speech, to drive out the terrorists. “Drive them out”? If they’re driven out, won’t they merely form their own enclaves from which they continue to attack us? Shouldn’t we punish the terrorists according to existing laws, but also fix the underlying problems so that fewer and fewer people join these groups in the first place? ISIS was formed because of the violent repression of Sunnis by the current US-backed Iraqi government. Some ISIS leaders are former Saddam Hussein officials who got “driven out,” humiliated, and left with no means to support their families.
Missing in Trump’s speech was any taking of responsibility by the “Christian World” (and if that term seems off to you, then consider whether “Islamic World” should be acceptable) for Muslim terrorists. The United States and other European nations have supported Muslim dictators for decades, even against democratically elected governments. In fact, the United States has helped overthrow democratic governments in Muslim-majority countries. ISIS was born from the chaos the United States caused in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and ISIS target the United States because they resent U.S. foreign policy: U.S. support of authoritarian governments in their countries, U.S. military bases in their countries, the treatment of Palestinians, and the relentless Western demonization of Muslims.
Want to reduce terrorism, President Trump? Then address those political problems. Pressure the Iraqi government to stop oppressing Sunni Muslims. Pressure Israel to stop building illegal settlements. Stop supporting repressive governments, like that in Egypt. Support the many numerous democratic and progressive movements in Muslim-majority countries, including in Iran. And stop demonizing Muslims.