Recently I was shaken to learn that the son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was detained for hours by immigration officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Feb. 7 after returning from speaking at a Black History Month event in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
They were pulled aside while going through customs because of their Arabic-sounding names, according to family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini. Immigration officials let Camacho-Ali go after she showed them a photo of herself with her ex-husband, but her son did not have such a photo and wasn’t as lucky. Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, “Where did you get your name from?” and “Are you Muslim?”
When Ali Jr. responded that yes, he is a Muslim, the officers kept questioning him about his religion and where he was born. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and holds a U.S. passport.
When this kind of racial and religious profiling and harassment happened to Ali Jr., what chance does an ordinary Abdullah or Amina has to be spared when he or she doesn’t have a legendary father? It is simply shocking!
Trump’s unbridled remarks against ‘radical’ Muslims surely have something to do with such profiling. His anti-immigrant rhetoric is also emboldening many white supremacists to unleash their hate crimes against the ‘others’ – who don’t look like a white American.
This week, two Indians (who had legal permits) were shot in a bar in Kansas by an anti-immigrant bigot – Adam W. Purinton (wearing military medals) who tossed ethnic slurs at them and suggested that they did not belong in the United States. He killed one and wounded the other Indian. The assailant was captured in Missouri state.
The attack, which the federal and local authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime, reverberated far beyond both states. It raised new alarms about a climate of hostility toward foreigners in the United States, where President Trump has made clamping down on immigration a central plank of his “America first” agenda.
Early in February, a trial began in federal court in Tennessee of a self-professed Christian minister Robert Doggart – who plotted to kill Americans of another faith (Islam) to prove his “commitment to our God.” The trial did not get much publicity simply because the man on trial is not Muslim. If he were Muslim, Dean Obeidallah says, we would of course have heard of his sinister plot. But as we have seen time and time again, terrorist plots by non-Muslims are met with a collective yawn by most in our media.
Undercover FBI agents allege that Doggart was plotting to travel to upstate New York to kill Muslims there using explosives, an M-4 assault rifle and even a machete to cut the infidels to shreds. The FBI’s investigation also found that Doggart viewed himself as a religious “warrior” who wanted to kill Muslims to show to his commitment to his Christian God. Doggart even boasted that the attack on the Muslims “will be cruel. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] … and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”
As rightly noted by Dean Obeidallah, this man “sounds no different from an ISIS terrorist wanting to kill people of other faiths in accordance with their own perverted interpretation of their religious faith.”
In December 2016 white supremacist Glendon Scott Crawford was sentenced to 30 years to life for trying to build a radioactive weapon to kill Muslim Americans. Crawford, a Navy Veteran and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was an electrical engineer who has carried out extensive research on his radiation dispersal device designed to target a Muslim community.
In September 2016 three men known as “The Crusaders” were arrested for plotting to kill Muslim refugees in Kansas. Per the FBI, the three had been engaged in surveillance of the apartment complex where primarily Somalian Muslim refugees lived. The FBI also noted that the three spoke of dipping their bullets in pig’s blood before shooting the Muslims—which was reminiscent of a Trump’s campaign stump speech when he wrongly claimed that General Pershing had done the same when fighting in the Philippines.
This Saturday, dozens of headstones at Mt. Carmel Jewish cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia have been broken and overturned. Last week, vandals toppled and damaged more than 100 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City within the past week. The defacement was discovered on a weekend when 11 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats. A Muslim-American group has helped raise more than $80,000 to help the vandalized Jewish cemetery in Missouri.
All these criminal activities, attacks and harassment of religious minorities in recent months are warning signs for the USA – the land of the immigrants, and parallel the evil activities of the old fascists of Italy and Germany against the so-called undesirables – the Jews and gypsies.
Is America heading towards fascism? To answer, let’s first look at how does fascism emerge. An analysis of the events leading up to the emergence of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s point to some important findings. These are:
- High unemployment (1921 in Italy and 1932 in Germany.)
- Destabilized government in the wake of WW I. Both countries were at the mercy of factional strife, coups, and street fighting.
- Fear of Communism. When the Communists came to power in Russia, they executed Tsar Nicholas II, cruelly bayoneting his daughters. This sent a down every royal spine in Europe (many of whom were related to Nicholas.) The wealthy also feared for their power and riches. Communists were active in both countries, trying to get themselves elected or take the government by force. Both Mussolini and Hitler exploited this fear to secure help from the wealthy and powerful.
- Wounded national pride in the wake of WW I. Although Italy was among the victors of WW I, it was quickly marginalized by the other victors. It received none of the spoils of war and no voice in the armistice. Germany lost the war, much territory, and had to endure the Treaty of Versailles which inflicted total blame and financial reparations.
- Many war veterans from WWI. The streets were full of experienced soldiers, jobless, often still armed. They were ripe to be organized against other political parties. Political disputes often spilled over to gunfire in the streets. These conditions favored the most ruthless political party.
In the light of current events, is the USA witnessing the birth of fascism? After all, there are much similarities that make the case for fascism, if one were to replace the word ‘communism’ with ISIS (DAESH) or the so-called Radical Islam as part of that fear tactics.
For instance, millions of jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector have moved away from the USA to countries, at least since the 1990s, where the costs of manufacturing are lower. Most of these jobs never returned to the USA. Many of those former employees are either out of job or are forced to work for low-paying jobs in parts of the USA that are commonly called these days as ‘rust belts.’ The 2008 economic melt-down, brought about by Bush Jr.’s hawkish policy, financial deregulation and neo-Crusades – the perennial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – saw many of their life-time savings evaporate; many lost their homes and businesses. [The 2008 financial crisis led to the Great Recession when housing prices fell 31.8 percent, more than during the Depression of the 1930s. Two years after the recession ended, unemployment was still above 9 percent.]
Although by the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 the unemployment rate had declined to below 5% many low wage-earners, and surely unemployed Americans, remain bitter, angry and frustrated. They like to see a change for the better. They have been the major force along the ‘rust belt’ to elect Donald Trump as the 45th POTUS.
Ever since Barack H. Obama was elected as the 44th president, the USA has witnessed a series of tense events along racial fault lines (mostly involving police). The election outcome in November 2008 was undesirable to many White Americans who refused to accept the evolution of their country and government that has increasingly become diverse, slightly more tolerant on sensitive issues. Many of them joined white supremacist militia groups, preparing to bring about a race war against non-Whites and a federal government that they considered illegitimate and run by a ‘disguised Muslim’ (and not a ‘faithful’ follower of Jesus Christ) who – in their faulty understanding – was not even born within the USA.
After the loss of the Democrats to the Republicans in both the Houses in the 2010 mid-term election the Obama administration was weak to tackle a plethora of internal problems facing the divided country. The right-wing extremists and conservatives (including Christian evangelicals) saw the Obamacare as too expensive and thus, unhelpful to general public and rallied for its annulment. They also saw several of the executive orders of Obama, e.g., on LBGT, as warning signs for the conservatives to wake up and rally behind the Republican candidates.
The voices of these disgruntled White Americans found a very powerful advocate, or more correctly a provocateur, in ultra-right Fox TV News, owned by the neoconservative Rupert Murdoch. With a non-stop barrage of propaganda, based on ‘fake news’, fed by the conservative media outlets (including radio talk show hosts), the last couple of years of Obama administration saw the Congress as a lame-duck, which would not allow Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court to even get a hearing.
Even after the election win of Trump, voter anger is at an all-time high now. They want to see their problems solved immediately by the Trump administration with the supporting casts in the Capitol Hill – the Republicans controlling both the Houses. But what they are hearing (or not hearing) is not allaying their anxieties. Many Republican lawmakers are afraid of facing their electorates in town-hall meetings.
There is widespread perception that the electoral system is rigged, a constant theme during Trump’s election campaign, where the party insiders are stifling dissenting views and choices. The two-party system is apparently failing Americans. This also explains why voters chose Trump, as an outsider to politics, who seemed the least corrupt who was going to clean-out the mess in Washington D.C.
9/11 had already dug a gigantic, deep wound in American pride that had defined American psyche and politics ever since. No time in its history was the US mainland ever attacked by non-state actors that killed so many – nearly three thousand citizens. Rather than finding the root causes of the attack, the USA and its western partners attacked first Afghanistan and then Iraq savagely, killing in the process nearly a million unarmed citizens of those countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. Those regimes were soon toppled, the entire infra-structure of those countries destroyed, and puppet regimes installed. The rest is history!
More than a trillion dollars has already been spent in the Bush-initiated and Obama-continued ‘Global War on Terror’ in those countries to keep America ‘safe’ here from terrorists. [With all the expenses piling up for health care needs of injured veterans, the cost of the war may rise to six trillion dollars.] And yet, the illegal wars, started by the chicken-hawk, neocons within George W. Bush’s administration, have not ended with the American soldiers still dying there.
In spite of its gaping flaws, America’s war in faraway countries that did not attack the USA was sold to the general public and soldiers as a necessary and justifiable war. As part of the military’s rule of engagement, unarmed civilians – old and young, including toddlers and infants – were mercilessly killed or maimed unprovoked.
As a result of the evil that they committed in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the soldiers are now suffering from chronic PTSD. The Veterans Administration has failed them. Consequently, many of the returning soldiers are now dependent on drugs to temporarily forget their war crimes. Some of them have also committed homicides. Many of them remain jobless and are very critical of the government for what they consider their abandonment. Many are joining private militias for a ‘higher’ cause and some are even killing non-Christians to that end.
Thanks to western savagery and the sectarian heavy-handed practices of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government, a new nemesis – Daesh (more commonly called ISIS/ISIL), an un-Islamic terrorist outfit – has emerged in the scene, which seems to be more dangerous and determined to not only take over the ownership of Iraq and Syria but also to encourage terrorism in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their mindless nihilism has killed and injured mostly Muslims; a much smaller number of Europeans and Americans has also been victimized by their brainwashed comrades. Daesh has recruited thousands – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – to join the rank and file to kill and be killed in an imbalanced war with the West. They remain a formidable force unless they are defeated both ideologically and materially.
As a result of continuing wars in vast territories of Asia and Africa, tens of millions of affected people are on the move now. While a vast majority of these refugees have found temporary shelters in nearby Muslim countries, a much smaller fraction of the refugees has also poured into Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA, which are overwhelmingly Christian countries, where the old racism of the past has resurfaced under the new insignia of anti-immigration movement. Not surprisingly, in the hands of racists and bigots the fear of ISIS and immigration has filled the vacuum left over by communism in many parts of Europe, Australia and the USA.
As psychologists would tell us anxiety and fear are what often draws people to leaders. Many astute political leaders, including Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other neo-fascists know this truth too well to turn people to their respective platform. They continuously remind their audience that they are under attack by these outsiders who are trying to steal their jobs, by murderers and rapists, by terrorists (coming as immigrants), and by the liberal media (feeding ‘fake’ news). And, then, if you trust them as your protectors, they would make their country ‘great’ again; you will be safe and secure to pursue your goals freely without any worry. To put succinctly, they are master manipulators of the human anxiety response.
Like the fascism of the past, while the perceived enemy’s face has changed, the new fascism glorifies war (by suggesting that if ‘we’ don’t defeat and crush ‘them’ ‘they’ will make ‘us’ inferior and force ‘us’ to alter our lifestyle) and promotes authoritarianism. It is populist. It is opposed to the free press and sees its function only as a vehicle to promote and propagate its agenda.
It is no accident that Senator McCain, an old guard of the Republican Party, sees fascist leanings in President Trump’s attacks against the media.
Like Mussolini and Hitler – Donald Trump has been able to exploit the dissatisfaction among the jobless White Americans, the fear of illegal Latinos and Muslim immigrants (from war-torn countries), let alone the so-called Islamic radicals and the ISIS, an erosion of conservative values, a divided Congress with a ‘rigged’ political system, the wounded pride of the Americans and the anger of the returning veterans to his advantage. His toxic formula to present himself as a populist leader, albeit an outsider, succeeded so well that in spite of his brazen and offensive utterings about women, many White Americans (including women) voted for him.
Many political observers imagined that once elected, and with time, Trump’s behavior would modify. But so far he has proven them wrong. He has also surrounded himself in the White House with advisers who are known more for espousing their despicable hatred and intolerance against ‘others’ than anything either noble or good, except probably the inclusion of two generals – one (retired) ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and the other (a serving general) McMaster. Both the latter individuals are level-headed, honest and visionary leaders. Only time would show whether they would have a sobering effect on Trump to modulate his allegedly fascist-like behavior or become a casualty themselves.
There is no doubt that the USA is going through an unusual time under a new president whose rhetoric has made the world leaders jittery and wary of his intentions. There are many tasks ahead for Mr. Trump to deliver fast. He has to be careful what he says and what he tweets, esp. in this age of social media. Whatever his personal likings or leaning may be, he ought to know that what was possible for Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s is almost impossible to replicate in this digital age of alternative media.
Mr. Trump claims to know how to defeat Daesh. Still, let me lend him a free advice.
As I have noted in the past, history has repeatedly shown that it’s very difficult to defeat neo-Khawariz organizations like today’s Daesh, and yesterday’s Hashishyyin (Assassins). Even after their political defeat, they continue(d) to wreak havoc. Their task has become very easy in this era of social media; with a laptop computer they can continue to recruit ‘loan wolves’ anywhere to do their evil. The prudent way is to defeat them ideologically. It is there that the Muslim community can be an unmatched asset to mortally defeat them. [Sadly, the ‘travel ban’ plus hateful rhetoric against Muslims by the fascist-leaning leaders in many parts of the world (esp. Europe and the USA) is not helpful at all.] I am glad to note that this age-old wisdom is understood quite well by Generals McMaster and Mattis who are smart students of world history.
Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster told the staff of the National Security Council last Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic.” [He’s right. Truly, a terrorist cannot be Islamic. The phrase “Islamic terrorists” is an oxymoron. Muslims find the phrase very offensive.] That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat. It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Flynn. If he succeeds, this would be a great victory for all – here inside the USA and abroad.
Perhaps not everything is moving in the wrong direction in the USA. May be that common sense would prevail and the wiser few within the Trump administration would act as a deterrent force against the dark forces of fascism that surrounds Mr. Trump!
In order to stop fascism from becoming a reality in the USA, the media has a vital duty. It must be authentic and fair. It cannot afford either ‘yellow’ journalism or ‘embedded’ journalism -serving causes that make our world less safe, less peaceful and less inclusive. It must report on the threats by white supremacists and Christian radicals plotting to kill Muslim Americans and other religious minorities with the same intensity as when a Muslim suspect is involved. Otherwise, it won’t be too late when we shall all fall prey to an emerging fascism that the USA has never seen before. That would be a catastrophe for everyone everywhere in this small planet of ours!