Obama, Trump, and Something I Put In My Book

When I was writing Summer of Long Knives, Bush’s War on Terror was still fresh on my mind. Part of what kept me going through the novel was a chance to explore, in the context of Nazi Germany, the effect that Bush’s Black Sites, Torture Centers, and Guantanamo–to which we frequently kidnapped people without establishing whether they’d done anything wrong–would have on Muslim populations that we would need to trust us if we were to secure their help in rooting out Al Qaeda. In the book, Kriminalkommisar Rolf Wundt has to track down a serial killer who once preyed upon the Jewish community of Munich. This means that he, a homicide investigator in Hitler’s Germany, has to get witnesses to talk to him, and even though this is 1936 and the Nazis aren’t arresting Jews for being Jews quite yet, this proves difficult.

From what Rolf could intuit from these witnesses, it was neither ordinary forgetfulness nor fear of direct reprisal that stopped their mouths. It was Rolf’s mere presence in their environment that seemed to spook them. Rolf often wondered what they believed he was really looking for, or if they thought he’d come to plant drugs or subversive literature or bomb making materials. He noticed that none of the witnesses ever left him alone in a room. the one time Rolf had asked a middle aged woman if he could use her bathroom, she’d blanched. Perhaps she thought he’d plant a bug in there. This, Rolf thought, was one of the ironies of the police state, and one of its more destructive feedback loops. The National Socialists gave the police phenomenal powers and better surveillance, which when unleashed created a public who didn’t trust the police with information. Because information was now more scarce, the police needed broader powers and better surveillance, which further eroded the trust of the people.  Someday, in the future, Rolf thought, they’d be planting bugs in people’s brains, and in response the human race would stop thinking. At which point, mission accomplished, Rolf supposed.

This put me in mind of something the President said yesterday that I thought exactly right:

Here’s what else we cannot do. We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

Bigotry isn’t just deeply immoral. It’s also an asinine basis for policy. It ruins the ability to respond in any kind of coordinated way to collective threats, like terrorists. It gives them places to hide that they wouldn’t otherwise have because as much as the population a terrorist comes from might fear the terrorist, they also fear those trying to stop terrorist attacks and feel, in their own way, the same grievances that feed the terrorist’s cause.

What recent even might alienate Muslims? Something like this.

(New York, NY) December 7th, 2015, — Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policyreleased data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% of those polled, “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.” Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.

Mr. Trump stated, “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.”

If we followed Trump’s advice, it would drive a thick nail in the coffin of American greatness, especially since Trump intends for this policy to extend to Muslim-American citizens currently abroad. The next logical step from there would almost have to be mass Muslim deportations, a policy with grim antecedents. Treating Muslims in this fashion would anger hundreds of millions of Muslims abroad, ruining any chance of securing their cooperation in identifying and monitoring extremists and making any of our foreign policy goals in the Middle East and Southeast Asia unachievable. When other countries do things like this, they have to spend decades begging for readmission to the human race, with centuries of mistrust to follow.

For civilization, much less democracy, to work, we have to be able to have a minimum level of trust in and respect for each other. We don’t have to think of each other as angelic, but we do need to think of each other as human beings, not always good but not always bad, worthy of respect until proven otherwise, and not subject to collective punishment because we share a race, a gender, an ethnicity, or a religion with someone who commits a crime. We have to be smart enough to interrogate and by interrogating control our natural impulse to fear and suspicion, which, if left unchecked, will make it impossible for any of us to live a decent life.

Since I’ve been quoting a lot here, I’ll end with one more, from JFK:

So, let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.




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