Friday, December 11, 2015

Trump popularity soars despite call to ban Muslims from US

Donald Trump has once again dominated the news agenda after what many people have seen as outrageous and vile comments pouring from his lips. Trump has made immigration and the battle to defeat terrorism two of the main focuses of his campaign to become the Republican presidential nominee.

But despite his comments being ridiculed and scorned by both his fellow Republican nominees and the mainstream press his ratings have soared.


His latest declaration that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States has prompted widespread condemnation and even spread beyond America's borders.

The White House even responded by saying the statement even disqualified him from serving as president [Daily Mail].

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic thousands of Britons were busy clicking on a petition to 'BAN TRUMP FROM GREAT BRITAIN' [BBC].

Even if Trump were elected President, he wouldn't be able to ban Muslims from his shores - even if he wanted to - since it would fly in the face of the American constitution - at least as it currently stands.

However, his controversial statements have resonated with large swaths of the electorate. Indeed almost two-thirds of likely 2016 Republican primary voters favoured Donald Trump's call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US, while more than a third said it made them more likely to vote for him [Bloomberg / Fox News].

Anti-terrorism or Islamophobia

Trump insists that his stance is about security and not religion, saying that it is difficult to assess which Muslims are radicalised and dangerous and which are not.

His comments come in a week that new figures showed record numbers of people arrested in Britain on terror related charges in the year up to September. Home Office figures showed there were 315 arrests in the year to September 2015, an increase of a third on the previous year and the highest number of arrests since 2001 [BBC]. 

Whilst a significant number, some 115 individuals, did not face any further action by police, 124 [39%] of those arrested have been charged, with a further 68 [22%] released on bail. And 43 people of the 315 arrested have so far been convicted this year, a rise from 30 last year.

The figures were seemingly further proof of the severe threat of terrorism facing the UK according to MI5, and more ammunition for the likes of Trump who also claimed that parts of London were so radicalised they were essentially no-go areas even for the police.

Trump's claim of radicalised no-go areas existing in London were dismissed by the Metropolitan Police, though some individual officers have told British newspapers that Trump was right and that some parts of the capital were indeed dangerous.

One policeman told the Daily Mail that he and other colleagues feared becoming terror targets and spoke of the "dire warning" from bosses not to wear a uniform in their own car.

The threat from terrorists is also affecting people's bank balance as scammers are targeting vulnerable pensioners to fleece them of millions of pounds to fund the likes of ISIL.

This week four men were convicted over a phone scam carried out across the south of England that defrauded 18 pensioners out of a total of £600,000 that was only uncovered after an anti-terror investigation found payments in a bank account used by someone who later travelled to Syria [BBC].

The men were arrested in March this year as part of a huge investigation into large-scale fraud that was being used to fund extremists travelling out to Syria to fight alongside the likes of Islamic State [Sky News / Daily Mail].

The current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also become embroiled in the affair since he wrote a letter on behalf of Mohamed Dahir, one of those convicted, asking for him to be granted bail when he was first charged [Daily Mail]. However, a Labour spokesman for Corbyn said he had been approached by the constituent prior to the trial and wrote a letter on his behalf as is standard for a constituency MP.

Divisive issues

The fight against ISIL has become a divisive issue. Those like Trump who call for extreme measures to counter the threat are labelled 'racists' or likened to Hitler while others who call for a moderate approach are just as much condemned for being terrorist sympathisers.

Corbyn has himself opposed military action against Islamic State militants in Syria and rejected a shoot to kill policy against terrorists on the streets of Britain. Meanwhile the British Prime Minister David Cameron caused ire in parliament after he made a flippant remark during a private meeting suggesting that those who opposed military action were 'terrorist sympathisers'. However there has been condemnation of comments made by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone who only days before the vote on Syria suggested the 7/7 bombers died for their beliefs and that the former PM Tony Blair was at fault.

"They [the 7/7 bombers] gave their lives, they said what they believed, they took Londoners' lives in protest against our invasion of Iraq," Livingstone told a shocked panel on the BBC programme Question Time [Guardian]. The comments have been widely criticised and even prompted some to call on Labour's governing National Executive Committee to consider sacking the former London mayor as the co-chair of the party's defence policy review [Mirror].

Meanwhile the hysteria concerning Trump's remarks have continued. And there have been several polls showing varying levels of support for the American politician.

One poll on the Daily Mail website indicated some 83% of respondents agreed with Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US. A YouGov poll meanwhile indicated that only 25% of the British public agreed with the presidential candidates views [Independent].

Reactions from some politicians have been somewhat different. Speaking on the BBC programme Question Time Labour MP Caroline Flint said Donald Trump was more than just offensive and said she didn't want him within a 1,000 miles of the UK.

"This is more than Donald Trump being unreasonable. He has condemned an entire religion by saying nobody who is Muslim should be allowed into the United States of America," Flint declared, and went on to say, "I think that's racist." [though of course it's not technically racism since Islam is not a race].

Semantics aside, is Donald Trump playing into the hands of terrorists, inciting violence or as some have suggested even verging on a rekindling of the fascism seen in the 1930s. Indeed there are many who have already likened him to Adolf Hitler.

Banning him plays into the hands of the social media mob. Indeed, Trump's remarks have only served to increase his media profile and get everyone talking about him instead of his rival candidates.

Trump himself likely realises that his comments were going to create a media frenzy. He probably realises that such a policy would be almost impossible to put into action. Trump's main motivation is to provide leadership in the wake of a terror attack perpetrated by a Muslim husband and wife which saw 14 killed in a San Bernardino care center. He undoubtedly realises his grandstanding and controversial rhetoric is hot air. But he is articulating a sentiment held by millions and reinforcing himself as a protector of the American people [Daily Mail].

Ultimately, for Trump, that's what matters. In fact those that criticise him may well fall into the trap of being with the terrorists. It wasn't so long ago that George Bush declared "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" shortly after 9/11 when he made it clear that the War on Terror may have started with al Qaeda but will not end "until every terrorist group of global reach has been found stopped and defeated" [YouTube] [Full transcript - 20/09/2001].

Growing distrust & understanding

Trump may also have a point that many are too willing to ignore.Trump wants to call a temporary halt to Muslim immigration "until America figures out what is going on."

"Adversaries may be quick to jump on Trump and make him the problem," Katie Hopkins of the Daily Mail writes, "But look around. You are too busy gazing at the fluff in your navel to see the gangrene in your foot. You lost sight of terrifying. It isn't a big, brash American untroubled by the need to be loved. It is the march of ISIS and the so-called Islamic State."

Not every Muslim is a member of ISIL or an al Qaeda sympathiser. However there is also no clear divide between extremist Muslims and peaceful ones. Indeed it is a sliding scale, from the utterly peaceful, to ambivalence to sympathising, to extremist, to a man blowing up buses in London or shooting Parisian cartoonists or concert goers. Trump says he wants to stop movement of all Muslims until one can figure out what is going on. But knowing what is going on in Muslim communities is seemingly difficult. As Katie Hopkins observes, following every terror atrocity attributed to Muslim extremists the supposed tight knit Muslim communities know nothing. "Not the local imam, not local families, no one. No one denouncing terrorism. Just a wall of silence."

Most Muslims living in the west are likely peaceful and not a threat. But maybe they should prove themselves to be more proactive at helping root out the extremists that hide in their midst. By feigning ignorance, not challenging those who preach hate in the name of Islam and not being seen to turn out those have become more extreme, those who practice Islam will only draw further suspicion. Imams and scholars also need to better explain the more extreme passages in the Koran which lays scorn on unbelievers, Jews and Christians. Such passages are fodder for both extremists and those who wish to tar Islam as a religion of hate.

Without frank debates and better understanding there will only be an us and them. And ultimately the risks of than may lead to yet more distrust between Islam and those outside the faith.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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