November 28, 2016 Abdul Haqq

Is Donald Trump a Salafist?

As the US prepares to inaugurate its 45th president,  an important consideration should be given to what social conservatism  actually means to Donald Trump. Upon closer examination of his beliefs, some of the core values he subscribes to are not dissimilar to those espoused by other societies and faiths across the globe.  However, his previous vow to marginalise an entire faith group because their conservatism does not accord entirely with the US’, now appears somewhat contradictory. In fact, could a claim of Trump actually being a closet advocate of Salafism be as  [il]legitimate as those that described Obama as a closet Muslim?[1]

Although Salafism is specifically used to describe an ultra orthodox section of Muslims (often, and incorrectly attributing them to extremism) its linguistic definition and meaning, when adapted to fit a western historical context, is pertinent:

The term ‘Salafi’, or ‘Salaf[ism]’, denotes the era of the ‘pious predecessors’ and is understood to apply to the first three generations of Muslims. The reverence for these early Muslims is based upon their chronological proximity to the Prophetic period and they were noted for their exemplary piety…[2]

When compared with statements from Trump supporters and the president elect himself, it is not too difficult to see similar historical points of reference to which either religious or patriotic adherents subscribe:

Fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their honor, their fortunes and their very lives for a cause they believed in. These patriots demonstrated great courage, and gave their all, for the fledgling colonies. They understood that freedom was not free. They had to persist against tremendous odds, and fight for it. So in this presidential election, enter into the ring Donald Trump.’[3]

And, from Trump:

We believe in the conservative principles America was founded upon and know that with the right leadership the citizens of this country will come together to help Make America Great Again.[4]

A Yearning for the past

It was not too long ago that we witnessed the Arab world face seismic challenges as a result of the Arab Spring.[5] As the Syrian civil war enters its 6th year and Libya continues to teeter on the brink of becoming a failed state[6], the initial fervour and optimism that accompanied the revolutionary waves  have been replaced by wanton destruction, violence and fear.

The West is now undergoing paradigmatic shifts of its own in which maverick populists have challenged the political elite, pledging to ‘take our country back[7] or make the society return to former economic, political and military greatness.[8] And they have won…[9]

Understanding the reasons behind the success of these campaigns is not difficult; fear, racism and bigotry have been part of the ugly veneer that has driven significant numbers to vote for a return to an idealised, glorified past.[10] Additionally, and as I have previously argued, a significant section of society also desire a return to more discernible socially conservative values upon which many societies were first established.[11] In many respects, values that were previously considered sacrosanct have since been consigned to obscurity and anyone advocating a return to them is marginalised as being either radicalised or extreme. While it is senseless to deny the huge societal progress across many fields today, i.e. science, technology and health etc. it is equally futile to deny the palpable moral regression that has blurred or reduced the importance of traditional institutions such as marriage, family and education. When referring nostalgically to founding forefathers of various societies, it would bode well for us to remember that it is precisely these institutions they sacrificed so much for.[12]

Democracy vs. Mobocracy

Mobocracy is defined as either:

  1. rule by the mob or
  2. the mob as a ruling class.[13]

A reflection on the type of leaders who have attracted the populist vote can lead us to conclude that elements of mobocracy have crept into the democratic process. A significant number of Brexit voters in the UK comprised the less educated sections of society whose fears regarding immigration and unemployment were compounded by a politics of fear similar to that witnessed in the recent US elections.[14] Trump supporters included white nationalists, some of whom celebrated his election by saluting him in scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany.[15] Also, and more alarmingly, the recent increase in racism and Islamophobia in the US have been attributed to a white identity crisis. Trump has restored hope that existing multicultural disparities will be redressed once he is in office. Indeed, his election promises to build a wall and prevent Muslims from entering the US certainly provide credence to such hope:

‘…the political ascent of Donald Trump is largely about Caucasian fears of browning America…As a result, this election is no longer about all Americans. It is about white Americans.[16]

White America elected Trump to make America great again by returning the country to its former ‘greatness’. White Britain voted for Brexit to leave the European Union (EU) and assume complete control of its own borders and destiny [again] without an outside legislative body from Brussels interfering in its sovereign affairs.[17] White Russia supported Putin in his move to annex the Crimea from the Ukraine on 18th March 2014; the impetus behind this clearly imperialist decision being: ‘…to gradually recapture the former territories of the Soviet Union.[18] Racist and Islamophobic attacks have increased exponentially in both the UK[19] and US following the Brexit and presidential elections respectively. Mobocracy’s insipid effects should not, therefore, be ignored in case it further damages the already flailing democratic process in which virtually anyone can end up running a country.

So, underneath are we all really Salafists?

Religious and linguistic definitions of this term differ, as do claimants to this title. Unsurprisingly, non-Muslims (and some Muslims) would argue vehemently against any ascription to Salafism – although the pragmatism of referring to pious predecessors is indisputable.  Instead, congruence might be found in referring to founding pioneers of the past for religious, cultural or political reasons in order to redress contemporary issues that have caused us to lose sight of who we are and what we stand for.

With this in mind, Trump would do well to rethink his strategy regarding Muslims before officially assuming office on 20th January 2017 because after all, the premise of our faith is not so different. It is also based on traditional values and ethical foundations adhered to by both conservative and liberal Muslims alike, albeit to varying degrees. Similar to the Founding Fathers’ positions to Americans as historical points of reference, the Salaf us-Salih – Pious Predecessors – equate to the same, if not slightly more, as exemplars of faith, humanity and progress for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

 

 

[1] Flopping Aces: ‘The Myth that President Barack Hussein Obama is a closet Muslim: 18th September 2015: http://www.floppingaces.net/2015/09/18/the-myth-that-president-barack-hussein-obama-is-a-closet-muslim/comment-page-1/

[2] Hamid, S: ‘Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism’, I.B. Taurus, 2016, p. 51

[3] Imhof, M: My view: ‘Trump is a patriot similar to the likes of the Founding Fathers’, Deseret News, 21st October 2016: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865665329/Trump-is-a-patriot-similar-to-the-likes-of-the-Founding-Fathers.html

[4] Trump, D: ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’, Make America Great Again: http://www.makeamericagreatagainpac.com

[5] Amnesty International: ‘The ‘Arab Spring’: Five Years On’: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/01/arab-spring-five-years-on/

[6] RT: ‘Kerry warns Libya may become ‘failed state’’, RT Question More, 25th February 2016: https://www.rt.com/usa/333549-libya-kerry-failed-state/

[7] Breitbart, London: ‘Farage Tells Breitbart: It’s Time to Take Our Country Back’, 22nd June 2016: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/06/22/farage-tells-breitbart-time-take-country-back/

[8] Trump, D: ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’, Make America Great Again: http://www.makeamericagreatagainpac.com

[9] Flegenheimer, M. and Barbaro, M: Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment’, New York Times, 9th November 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/us/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-president.html?_r=0

[10] Ball, M: ‘Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear’, The Atlantic, 2nd September 2016: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/donald-trump-and-the-politics-of-fear/498116/

[11] Baker, A. H: ‘Defining Muslim Identity in Conservative Britain’, AbdulHaqqBaker.com, 10th May 2015: http://abdulhaqqbaker.com/repairing-the-cracked-lens-defining-muslim-identity-in-conservative-britain-part-1/

[12] The American Constitution: http://constitutionus.com

[13] Merriam-Webster Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mobocracy

[14] Wilson, P: ‘Brexit: Who voted to Leave? The old, less educated and Christians’, The Australian, 2nd July 2016: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/brexit-who-voted-leave-the-old-less-educated-and-christians/news-story/55d06ce2bf15e99fe577d0f2fefa25ef

[15] Lombroso, D. and Appelbaum, Y: ‘’Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect’, The Atlantic, 21st November 2016: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/

[16] Bailey, I.J: How Trump Exposed America’s White Identity Crisis’, Politico Magazine, 22nd August 2016: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/trump-race-white-america-identity-crisis-214178

[17] Hunt, A. and Wheeler, B: ‘Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU’, BBC News, 24th November 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887

[18] Treisman, D: ‘Why Putin Took Crimea: The Gambler in the Kremlin’, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016 Issue: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2016-04-18/why-putin-took-crimea

[19] Dodd, V: ‘Far-Right terrorism threat growing, says top police officer’, The Guardian, 24th November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/far-right-terrorism-threat-growing-says-top-police-officer?CMP=share_btn_link

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