‘Creating fear, suspicion benefits agenda of some politicians’

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PETALING JAYA: An American Muslim-scholar in Middle-East studies at the University of Denver says Muslims in the US are considered “the other”, just like the non-Muslims in Malaysia, and this divide could be due to politics.

Professor Nader Hashemi said a lot of it had to do with exploitation by politicians to meet their political needs.

Deliberate attempts to create fear and suspicion of others is a way to mobilise people and benefit their agenda, he said.

“It is effective because people are fearful in societies where there is a sense of economic and political insecurity. People are looking for someone to blame,” he said in his interview on BFM Radio.

He was sharing his thoughts on Donald Trump, the US presidential elections and Islamic State (IS, or Daesh) terrorists.

Nader said presidential candidate Donald Trump had been playing with economic insecurity that Americans had been facing increasingly over the years.

“It is a fear of foreigners. A big part of the Trump rhetoric is lashing out at Mexican immigrants.

“He wants to build a (border) wall. Kick out 11 million people. That spoke to certain segments in the US.

“Look at the reason we are suffering economically – because there are a lot of immigrants who have taken away our jobs,” Nader said of Trump’s message, adding that the Republican candidate also uses anti-Muslim bigotry in a similar way.

In the case of Muslims, instead of the economic factor, Trump uses national insecurity.

” Trump says, ‘we can’t bring in Syrian refugees because of potential IS terrorists’.”

As a result, Nader added, the fear of “the other” had helped Trump to win votes during the Republican primaries, before clinching his nomination at the party’s congress last month.

“He had directly touched on the vulnerabilities and fears of the people for the future of the country.”

Such rhetoric was made real when politicians give legitimacy to the issue, gaining votes through fear, he said.

The professor also spoke on what it meant to be a Muslim living in the United States in the post-9/11 era.

He said there was a lot of open bigotry and it was fearful to hear even the liberal voices supporting bigotry in the US.

He was asked if the recent attacks on French soil by terrorists could have sparked such views.

“Any act of violence is now associated with Islam. For instance, the Orlando massacre in June, where Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a terrorist/hate crime attack inside a gay nightclub in Florida.

“No one connects it to a deeply troubled individual,” said the Canadian, who has been living in the US for the past eight years.

Nader also spoke on Southeast Asia and other Muslims around the world, where youths were being recruited by IS.

“IS has attracted youths to its barbaric cause. Violence against others. Oppression of women.”

He said a lot of these ideologies were based on Wahhabism and Salafism, which opened doors to violence.

“There is no other way to explain these interpretations of Islam,” he said on the radio talk show.

He said the only way to help people understand Islam better was by engaging with local representatives or getting to know the neighbours.

“In the US, Muslims have an open day at the mosque, present gifts to neighbours. We have seen the suspicion level drop when people interact in this way.”

Nader said the irony was Muslims only constituted one to two per cent of the population in the US, but the level of suspicion was high.

“I find that it is the same in Malaysia, where the number of Shia Muslims is very small but a lot of people feel paranoia about them. This is caused by politicians,” he added.

However, he said, despite being a minority in the US, Muslims in US are more integrated and are well adjusted, if the Donald Trump factor was not included.

“Muslims are economically successful, more educated and feel more integrated among themselves.

“They are happy and that explains why there are few IS recruits from the US when compared with Europe, especially France, where there is economic impoverishment. They don’t feel connected to the community and are therefore exposed to toxic narratives.”