Promoting Good Governance.

Demystifying America

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

By Tajudeen Suleiman

The United States of America is a fascinating country that holds incredible attraction for people and governments of other parts of the world. Whether in Africa, Europe, Asia or the Middle East, citizens and governments admire the US and aspire to attain its social, economic and political standards.

The country is viewed, and rightly so, as holding the gold in terms of high moral and ethical standards for political leaders. In their daily lives, most Americans may appal many by what may be considered their social indiscretions. But the citizens set a high moral and social standard for those who aspire to lead them.

That is why even though promiscuity and infidelity are a common feature of life in this great country, the people would easily reject any aspirant to high office upon the slightest evidence of moral laxity. And there have been several cases of politicians whose ambitions had been terminated because of photographs showing they had cheated on a spouse.

It is also a country of opportunities for hard working people, regardless of your country of origin, race or religion. For decades, America has opened its doors to people of all races who have dreams to pursue. The founding fathers of the country have inspired many around the world with their lofty visions of freedom and liberty for all humans.

The success of democracy in the US has made democracy and the presidential system a desirable model for all citizens of the world, including those in countries with history of monarchy and oligarchy. The American idea of liberty and its political system have also inspired protests in some other countries where social, political rights and freedoms are restricted or denied.

The image of the US has been rightly boosted by its advanced technology which has made it, in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, probably the only super power in the world today.

But one area where America is not leading the world is how to respond to religious extremism, especially what the West like to call “radical Islam.” But the truth is that there is nothing like radical Islam or Islamic terrorism. These are wrong but convenient labels to categorise a phenomenon that is changing the world in a terrible and unfortunate way.

What exist is not radical Islam, but Muslims radicalised by their socio-economic experiences to the point that they are willing to take their own lives as well as the lives of those they perceive as their oppressors.

And they would be willing to use whatever weapon, including religion, to mobilise support for their cause.

It is a tragedy of immense proportion that the modern world has not been able to fashion an appropriate response that would win back these young men and women into society and make them give up violence and death. But the world continues to provide more fuel for the fire of extremism and radicalism.

What we see and hear a lot of the time are people and speeches that further push these radicals towards society’s fringes and dim any hope of ever stopping terrorism. In the US, the republicans are demystifying their country and making many wonder whether America and Americans truly deserved our admiration.

It is a waste of time to talk about how Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has degraded political rhetoric in the world’s leading democracy. He not only shocked the world by the way he elevated bullying and abuse as weapons of campaign in American politics, he wants to “Make America Great Again” by building divisive walls among the diverse people of the country. What a sad joke!

What bothers one is the way his hate speeches have resonated with many Americans, including top members of his party who are now finding their voices because Trump had belled the cat. And the latest addition to the list is Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker and prominent GOP leader.

Just hours after a suicide truck ran over a crowd of people in Nice, France, killing over 80 people including women and children, Gingrich said on Fox News Channel, that all Muslims in the US must face a test.

And what is the test? Every American Muslim must be tested to find out if they believe in Sharia. He said Sharia was incompatible with western civilisation and any American who subscribes to Sharia must be deported.

His words: “We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if .  believe in Sharia, they should be deported,” he told host Sean Hannity. “Sharia is incompatible with western civilization. Modern Muslims, who have given up Sharia — glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”

He also called for mosques to be monitored for signs of jihadists. “Let me be very clear. You have to monitor the mosques,” Gingrich said. “I mean if you’re not prepared to monitor the mosques, this whole thing is a joke. Where do you think the primary source of recruitment is? Where do you think the primary place of indoctrination is?”

Gingrich betrayed an ignorance that is common among non-Muslims when Islam and Muslims are being discussed.

The problem is not Islam or Muslims as many non-Muslims seem to think. The problem is how society or certain systems radicalise people. The Briton who shot and stabbed Jo Cot, a British MP, to death is not a Muslim. He killed her because he supported Brexit and she campaigned against it. He saw her as a stumbling block and took her out.

Micah Johnson who killed five Dallas white police officers was not a Muslim. He lost patience with an American system that he wrongly believed was skewed against black people.

More revealing to me was what Kalyn Chapman James, the first black Miss Alabama, said in the wake of the Dallas police tragedy. James recorded a two-minute long Facebook clip in her car outside her local church while struggling to hold back tears.

She admitted in the clip that she felt little towards the five police officers killed when Micah Johnson opened fire during a rally in the Texas city recently. She said her heart was with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the two black Americans killed by police officers in shootings that sparked the Dallas riot

The former beauty queen said: “I don’t feel sad for the officers who lost their lives and I know that’s not really my heart.”

“I value human life. And I want to feel sad for them but I can’t help but feeling like the shooter was a martyr.”

“I don’t want to feel this way and I know it’s not the right way to feel because nobody deserves to lose their lives. But I’m sick of this.”

“I can’t stop replaying the image of these men being killed in my mind and my heart weeps.’”

If the world wants to stop terrorism and radicalisation of youths, we must begin to end situations that would make a human being call a killer “a martyr.” This is the way the minds of those called Muslim terrorists also work. The way to weaken them and stop them from embracing hate and violence against fellow human beings is for leaders to be more open-minded and work at eliminating the root causes of mass discontentment in the world.

Majority of Muslims the world over are as worried about radicalised Muslim youths as non-Muslims. And I know that many Islamic clerics have used every opportunity to preach against extremism and condemn violence as anti-Islam. Their mission to de -radicalise the youths will succeed only if world leaders help with rhetoric that unite and not divide, and admonish love and not hate.

Any Muslim cleric will tell you that he is scared when non-Muslims, especially those in the West, spew anti-Islam and hate speeches because that is what the terrorists love to hear. They simply use it as weapon of Jihadist recruitment.

If the US and Europe devout half of the resources they throw at solving humanitarian crisis all over the world to addressing this challenge, whether between Israel and Palestine or between government and political oppositions, the world would become more peaceful.

America can learn something from the city of London where a Muslim, Sadiq Khan, was recently elected mayor. Khan, whose parents came from Pakistan, is a British human rights lawyer who has defended many people of colour or Muslims that suffered discrimination. He is also author of several books including, “Fairness Nor Favours” and “How to Re- Connect With British Muslims.”

But his fellow Britons who elected him mayor did not profile him on the basis of his religion and didn’t also see him as an outsider. In the wake of the Nice attack, he condemned the “poisonous and twisted ideology” of the terrorists after denouncing the attack as an “unspeakable act of terror.”

Closing the doors of the US to Muslims, blacks or other people of colour would not make the US safer as long as it continues to have allies in other parts of the world.   The US has a long history of religious freedom. The American constitution protects the free exercise of religion while barring any official endorsement of a religion.

To change that because of the unfortunate activities of some misguided youths, is to demystify a great country such as the US.

(Tajudeen Suleiman is Editor @ icirnigeria.org)

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