Donald Trump's recent proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States has been widely condemned by many people from both the right and the left for many reasons. The first, people argue that this kind of political rhetoric feeds into the narrative of radicalization within marginal Islamic fundamentalist enclaves throughout the world. The false idea that the West is against Islam is a selling point for most Islamic groups in many parts of the world. The Islamic militancy of Boko Haram, in Nigeria, was propagated through such a narrative hence the name Boko Haram, which translates that Western education is evil. Second, some other people argue that Trump's proposal violates the constitution of the United States and the First Amendment. The Pentagon has also warned that such political rhetoric endangers national security and emboldens the militants of the Islamic State.
Trump is not an ordinary American. This is a man running for the highest office in the land. According to latest CNN poll he is the front runner. What this means is that in the eyes of many Muslims especially those outside America, Trump's intolerant rhetoric against Muslims could be seen as representing the thinking of some Americans especially those who support him in the polls and those who stream to his campaign events. Perspective, as they say, is everything. This is why it is important to show that such thinking and politicking have no place in American or global politics and that Trump represents a fading and marginal voice in American politics and public discourse.
Sure, America and the free world need to find answers to home grown radical Islamic terrorism and global networks of terror, but the answer cannot be the simplistic and bigoted proposals of Donald Trump. Sure, there needs to be a wider conversation in America and the rest of the West as to why some young Muslims in France, the US and the UK as Malise Ruthven observed are radicalized into thinking that their lives have meaning only by wrapping themselves in explosives, arming themselves with guns and fusing martyrdom with murder. The answer is not in stereotyping but in finding the right kind of diversity suitable for each nation. It will also require finding the right kind of integration into some common values which hold up each nation and a commitment to social justice for those who are abandoned and on the fringes of society. It requires above all recovering a new sense of community with shared concerns and commitments to the highest good of everyone. This is sorely needed in a world where many people are alone, isolated, and abandoned to their own designs and warped sense of identity constructed through the anonymity of social media. I want to employ the lessons of history from Lebanon and my home country Nigeria which is struggling with religious fanaticism to make the point on why politicians must embody a higher view point rather than reinforce popular sentiments and fears.
Many people often compare the situation in Nigeria today with the condition of Lebanon. Lebanon was once referred to as the Switzerland of the Middle East because it was a land of diverse cultures, ethnic groups and religious traditions. However, over time the politicians in that country began to polarize the country and politicize the religious differences through all kinds of aggressive rhetoric. These introduced a poison of fear, intolerance, hatred and mutual suspicion into the fabric which held the country together. Overtime Lebanon slithered into religious wars and sectarianism from which it has never recovered.
Growing up in Nigeria more than four decades ago, I saw a nation where everyone despite their religious differences lived together in peace. Muslims and Christians lived together in the same houses. Many of us Christians from the South will employ Muslim security men called 'meguard' to protect our homes and our companies and churches. Many Nigerian Christians lived and flourished in Muslim cities in Northern Nigeria. The Nigerian currency had Arabic and Islamic signs which most Christians accepted as part of the rich diversity of this land. Most ordinary Nigerian Muslims and Christians lived together in peace. Nigeria was seen in the early 70's as the Giant of Africa and a model of the celebration of cultural and religious diversity in Africa. That was why the Second World Festival of African Arts and Culture was celebrated in Nigeria in 1977 to showcase Nigeria as a model of multiculturalism and diversity in the African continent.
However, with the national dialogue for the constitution of the Second Republic in 1978 some Muslim politicians who were seeking cheap popularity began to question the secularity of the nation, while calling for the introduction of the Islamic law, Sharia into the Nigerian constitution. This was the beginning of a new form of religiously inspired politics in Nigeria. Within a space of twenty years the healthy balance and tolerance between Christians and Muslims began to change. What emerged as a result was the introduction of Sharia law in Muslim dominated states and Christian education in Christian populated states and religious riots in many parts of Nigeria. Muslim politicians felt that the only way to gain vote was to present themselves as champions of Sharia, and opponents of any form of Western education. Soon Nigeria secretly joined the Organization of Islamic State (OIC) which nearly led the country to the brink of religious war. Since then the national space has remained poisoned by mistrust and rousing rhetoric on which religious symbols and value should govern the conduct of national affairs. As Bishop Kukah of Sokoto said in a recent public address in Nigeria, Boko Haram is the product of Nigeria's religious conflicts. It is especially the politicians in the North whose rhetoric and religious grand standing helped to turn ordinary tolerant Nigerians into aggressive and intolerant radical Islamic militants and potential recruits of Boko Haram and ISIL. It is obvious that what politicians say shapes the minds of many people. Political aspirants like Trump shape public opinion for better or for worse.
Writing many years ago on the power of rhetoric and communication, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle called on statesmen to speak the truth which calls forth the deepest values of the body politic. Politics is all about people. Political speeches must draw from the deepest values of the people; they must arise from the pathos of the people, as well as their dreams, aspirations, and hopes. It must address their fears; challenge settled prejudices, and project a hopeful future in a realistic and healthy manner through a praxis of social transformation. I am not sure how Trump's latest political speech on banning Muslims from the United States spoke to the dreams and aspirations of the United State. I am not sure it is a representation of the finest democratic aspirations of Americans and a globalized world. History has shown that such cheap political rhetoric polarize nations, feeds on the fears of people, and is a distortion of truth and democratic values. Trump's proposal should be rejected because Trump is wrong, very wrong.