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Muslims must join the struggle against authoritarian populism

The unexpected Trump victory in the US presidential election on 8 November and the Brexit vote in the UK on 23 June appear to be signalling a new and uncertain political direction in the West.

Middle America and Middle England voted with their feet against their political establishments led by the metropolitan elite – thanks to the winning camps’ arrogant style, demeaning attacks on opponents and chilling comments about immigrants and other vulnerable communities such as Muslims. Whether these election outcomes have a snowball effect on some other countries in the European continent such as France remains to be seen.

As the most powerful country on earth, America has been affecting global politics and the worldwide economy since World War II. Because of the way Donald Trump conducted his election campaign and won, the spectre of an intolerant and more divisive America is now haunting its many citizens and the rest of the world community.

As seen in the huge spike in bigotry against minorities in post-Brexit UK, Trump’s victory has also been followed by a wave of hate crime attacks against minorities across America. As his victory sunk in and the shock wore off, many parts of the country have seen protests by high school, college and university students and other young and progressive sections of the society.

Will Trump follow through?

America and the rest of the world are eagerly waiting to see if President Trump will be any different from candidate Trump. Unfortunately, his appointments, particularly the former head of the alt-right Breitbart News outlet as his chief strategist, do not bode well.

Some powerful groups have urged the president-elect to withdraw Steve Bannon’s appointment, but there is yet no sign he will give in. His announcement that America will quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on his first day in office is seen as a snub to many friendly countries.

Although Trump himself belongs to the elite club of super-rich people he publicly outs and has himself benefited from the system he called rigged, he has succeeded in unleashing the anger of many ordinary Americans against the political establishment. By contrast his opponent, Hilary Clinton, was struggling to connect with the voters.

Fake anti-elitism

Trump’s slogan to “make America great again” and his crude remarks on many groups during the election campaign chimed a chord with many, particularly right-wing, voters. British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recently attacked his fake anti-elitism, saying it is “farcical at one level, but in reality it’s no joke at all”.

Many have started to fear that this “anti-establishment” politics, some rather call it authoritarian populism, may put an end to the democratic values and inclusiveness of the modern West that was already being eroded since 9/11. The Trump camp’s consistent use of language and campaign style has already done huge damage in encouraging political intolerance, misogyny and hateful rhetoric in America. This has energised some far right European politicians who cannot be blamed for thinking electoral victory is within their reach.

American ruling elites in collaboration with the military industrial complex and corporate lobbies have indeed failed many ordinary citizens over the decades. The obscene inequality and powerlessness in recent times have galvanised angry people and polarised the country. The mess created in the post-9/11 brutal invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, with its lack of plan or desire to rebuild, has brought all sorts of disaster to the whole world.

Can a president, who is seen as an alpha male by his supporters and a sociopath by his critics, correct some of America’s and world’s urgent woes? Terminal damage will be done if his presidency initiates a Muslim registry.

Challenging Trump

Some are not prepared to wait to see what he will do and are taking a stand. The Jewish director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has already declared that he would register as a Muslim if this turns out to be the case, and others have followed suit.

Ordinary people  left out by the political system feel bitter about today’s politics based on short-termism and rhetoric that often betrays people. They expect national politics to be about serving all people and not just a few.

But in a post-truth political world that has witnessed a sharp decline in its moral compass, this will not happen, unless people themselves wake up and unite to fight for their rights.

For this they need to take innovative steps to change the status quo. People are very angry, but anger is not a plan. They must unite and take rein of their destiny in their own hands, as they cannot expect others to do the heavy lifting for them.

Muslims must play a role

Muslims in the West have a huge stake in this fight for social justice as they have been, since 9/11, constantly used as pawns by the far-right political and media establishments on the one hand and terrorists in the name of religion on the other.

The young Muslims particularly have a monumental task of leading their own communities towards an effective engagement with the wider society for the common good, as they are going to suffer most if authoritarianism sweeps across western democracies. They are naturally more clued-up in understanding the dynamics of the society and have better skill set to join the fight against the wave of populist and divisive politics.

It is vital they rise above their narrow comfort zone and proactively take part in civil alliances with other minority groups and progressive movements – locally and nationally – in their neighbourhoods and across towns and cities.

This article was originally submitted to Middle East Eye.

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