Donald Trump is smashing red lines at the rate of knots, yet his popularity with Republican voters is soaring. Most polls place him way ahead with 35% nationwide; 19% higher than his closest rival. The more vulgar and offensive he is, the more the voters love him.
He is successfully exploiting people’s fears of ‘the other’ with racism and bigotry his tools of trade, echoing the strategy of a certain Austrian painter, who was democratically-elected as the president of Germany with catastrophic results.
He walks on the dark side to tap into the concerns of his primarily non-college educated base; voters who feel they have been abandoned by the establishment. He uses the same language they use and they mistakenly believe this billionaire, who boasts about his riches and his luxurious properties, speaks for them. He will make the US great again, they believe, even as he undercuts his country’s moral standing each time he opens his mouth.
The US media that initially wrote Trump off as a buffoon, a one-minute wonder, has been proven wrong. Commentators who once ridiculed him are now perplexed; some very worried. Senior politicians in his own party see him as an embarrassment, tarring not only Republicans, but the US itself with the same soiled brush, but few are speaking up.
Senator Lindsey Graham is a high-profile exception. In response to Trump’s call for all Muslims to be barred from entering the US, he urged his party to tell him “to go to hell”. “He’s the ISIL man-of-the-year,” he said, “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” who “doesn’t represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.”
But Trump has the Republican Party in a headlock with a threat to run as an independent. Splitting the vote would be a gift to Hilary Clinton, who is leading the Democratic field.
The voices of Republican presidential candidates may be muffled, but what I find baffling, not to mention highly disturbing, is the silence from the Muslim and Arab leaderships. The world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are under attack by an individual aiming to be the ‘Leader of the Free World’. Muslim-Americans say they are fearful. Islamophobia is on the rise.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has characterised Trump’s statement a “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong”. France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted: “Mr. Trump, like others, fuels hatred: our only enemy is radical Islam”. Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said: “It’s something we cannot accept in Canada… We have never been as far removed from what we’ve just heard in the United States”.
Britons have launched a petition to ban Trump from entering the UK, which has garnered over half a million signatures, requiring its demand to be debated in parliament.
Arab leaders have responded with deafening silence. Arab business leaders working with the Trump brand, with few exceptions, are either covering their ears and eyes or have expressed their hope that Trump will reconsider. Well, that will certainly get this brash individual with his eye on the main goal shaking in his shoes!
Profits aside, how can anyone of good conscience continue to do business with this person or his companies when Trump the man and Trump the brand are one and the same? I will repeat what I told journalists over the past days, if he turned up at my office I would not let him in. How dare he bolster his bank account from business ventures in predominately Muslim countries when he is engaged in disparaging all Muslims as potential terrorists!
In any case, imagining that the US can be kept safe by shutting out Muslim politicians, tourists, businessmen, investors etc. is no doubt wrong thinking but, but who can blame Muslims for concluding “if you do not want us, then you do not deserve our money”.
Trump and his rah-rah backers may like to consider that Gulf states are heavily invested in the United States. For example, Qatar recently committed to invest $35bn over the next five years. Moreover, according to data released by the National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, the export of US goods to the 22 nations of the Arab world totalled $70bn in 2013.
US trade with the most populated Muslim country, Indonesia, exceeded $27bn last year; Pakistan accounts for 16% of all US trade; exports to countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkey and Muslim-dominated eastern European countries are worth billions annually.
Together with Ecuador, Venezuela and Gabon, Muslim-dominated countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria and Iran – owned $262bn in US Treasury securities as of 2014.
Moreover, as revealed by Foreign Policy Magazine, during President Barrack Obama’s first five years in office, the US sold $64bn worth of fighter aircrafts, arms and military services to GCC states alone, and since 2010, purchases have soared by 70%. Among the US’ Arab customers are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Sales to Pakistan since 2001 have exceeded $2bn in addition to joint-funded purchases.
What is happening to us? We Muslims are the target. Our faith is under attack. Non-Muslims around the world are appalled and they are speaking out. But we are behaving like lambs to the slaughter – and I suspect that if Trump has his way, we would be slaughtered. Is there a fear that just in case he makes it to Pennsylvania Avenue, we must keep in his good books? If so, that is reprehensible. Once our dignity is up for grabs, once we become appeasers, we deserve whatever horror comes our way.
He has already threatened to close mosques, create a database for American Muslims, indicated his support for WW2 detention camps and the reintroduction of water-boarding. And now he wants all Muslim visitors barred from entering his country, while brushing off questions as to the logistics when most passports do not indicate the holder’s religion.
Will we be interrogated at US airports or, worse, tortured to confess our beliefs? Trump does not have the answer. In fact, he throws out ridiculous statements like confetti but declines to get into the nitty-gritty. He is like reporters who do not allow facts to get in the way of a good story.
Forgetting the moral/human rights arguments for a moment, Trump’s solution makes no sense at all. Here are the facts:
- Almost one-fifth of “Islamic State” (IS) terrorists are nationals or legal residents of Western states.
- One of the San Bernardino shooters was American.
- The Fort Hood shooter was American.
- The Paris attackers were mostly French or Belgian nationals.
- The bombers who attacked London transport on 7 July 2005 were British.
- During the 2001-2013 period (the most recent CDC data), 406,496 Americans died from firearms on US soil, as opposed to 3,380 who died from terrorist attacks, a figure that includes the victims of 9-11.
I have received calls from some great friends of mine in the US asking why the governments of Muslim states are not banning Trump from our countries. I was unable to answer them.
In light of the danger this person represents, I would urge the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC) to issue condemnatory statements forthwith and all Arab leaders to consider placing Trump and anyone connected with his campaign or businesses on a blacklist.
If we are not willing to defend our own interests, trusting that Trump will stumble before the end of the race, we may get a nasty surprise. To quote MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who says Republican voters are unequivocally choosing Trump as their candidate: “It’s time to recognise this is really happening…Tick Tock!”
I backed Trump before he revealed his distasteful inner self because I believed the US needs a businessman who knows how to reinvigorate the economy and create jobs. It is now my hope that if Clinton wins, she appoints a vice-president drawn from the business world to complement her geopolitical and diplomatic expertise; someone who can make every American proud.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group. Al Habtoor Group is a Dubai based cooperation with extensive business interests in the region and worldwide, including: hospitality, education, automotive and real estate.