Just a few hours after United States President Donald Trump delivered his inauguration address in Washington, D.C., a television station in Belize broke the news that a member of a Belizean family had been killed in the Philippines. The young man was reported by that station to have been linked with ISIL – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. This was Friday, January 20, 2017.
In his inaugural address, President Trump had explicitly vowed to “eradicate” radical Islam from planet earth. This was an extremely ambitious and also frightening commitment, because he was referring to human beings. We know that Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, had dedicated himself to eliminating Jews from the world, and this is one of the reasons Hitler was considered a complete megalomaniac. In this eradication vow, then, Mr. Trump sounded Hitler-ish to me.
There is a fundamental premise you learn when you begin the study of science, and it is that matter can neither be created or destroyed. There is another fundamental scientific premise, and it is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Politicians are not people who adhere to scientific principles. Politicians, to the contrary, appeal to human emotions. This is what Trump was doing on Friday in his speech when he vowed to eradicate radical Islam, because he knew that this was something his white American audience loved to hear.
At the end of our editorial last weekend, we warned of this kind of scenario. What we wrote was as follows: “Emperor Trump has already inflamed tensions in the Muslim world because of his anti-Islamic rhetorical outbursts. This situation suggests to us that there will be an increase in terrorist acts as Trump’s America reverts to the naked, aggressive imperialism of its formative years in the nineteenth century. Soft targets in innocent parts of the world will come into play as the war between America and radical Islam escalates. There are implications here for Belize outside of the Guatemalan claim.”
In the Muslim world itself, there is a long tradition of hostility, sometimes violent hostility, between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. Because Saudi Arabia is basically a Sunni Muslim nation, and Iran is a Shiite Muslim country, these two powerful Middle Eastern nation-states are sworn enemies. In nations like Iraq and Syria, there are both Sunnis and Shiites. (Egypt is a special, special case.) The simmering instability in oil-rich Iraq derived for a long time from the fact that the Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, came from a Sunni Muslim sect, whereas the majority of Iraqi’s Muslims are Shiite. Other nations in the Middle East region which are also Muslim include Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Lebanon has many Christians. In Turkey, as in Iraq, there is a separate ethnic group who call themselves Kurds, and they contribute to the complexity and instability of the politics in these countries.
The United States has had Muslim allies in the Middle East, the most powerful of these allies now being Saudi Arabia. Jordan has consistently been an American ally, as are most of the small oil-rich kingdoms in the region, like Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and so on. The United States’ most important foe in the region, since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, has been Iran, followed by Syria and Yemen. As governments have changed in Lebanon and Iraq, the regional and international loyalties of these countries have changed.
The bottom line in all these countries is that the majorities of their populations are Muslim, and even when the governments of these countries, traditionally or from time to time, are pro-American in foreign policy, as is presently the case in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, their base populations are passionately anti-Israel, hence anti-American. Jewish Israel is the United States’ most cherished ally in the region, but Israel has driven hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Muslims out of their ancestral homelands. This is the core problem in the Middle East, and it is the core cause of the bloody violence in the region.
Herein lies the great challenge for America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Support for Israel automatically alienates the vast majority of Muslim faithful in this region of the world, but so-called “radical” Islam represents a small minority of Muslims. It is for sure that President Trump cannot destroy Islam as such, but he is now publicly committed to destroying “radical” Islam. It is sometimes a tricky judgment call to decide when Islam is becoming “radical,” but Mr. Trump does not appear to care about the line between Muslims and “radical” Muslims. Many of Mr. Trump’s base political constituency are ignorant about foreign affairs, and such Americans are both fearful and bloodthirsty where Islam, radical or otherwise, is concerned.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X changed my life when I read it in the winter of 1967 while studying at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Malcolm had been a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. He broke with the Nation and became an orthodox Muslim after making the hajj to Mecca in 1964.
After the death of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son, Wallace Deen Muhammad, the Messenger’s appointed successor, took the entire Nation into orthodox Islam, but a couple years later Minister Louis Farrakhan broke away from Wallace Deen and re-established the Nation of Islam according to Hon. Elijah’s precepts.
There is a central Muslim masjid in Belize City, established by Nuri Muhammad in 1972 after he was sent to Belize as Imam by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Imam Nuri was assisted by Ismail Omar Shabazz, who had been converted to the Nation of Islam by Charles X “Justice” Eagan. Justice had been the first Belizean to begin public preaching of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, probably in 1962 after Hurricane Hattie. Ismail Shabazz was his first convert. Both Justice and Shabazz became foundation officers of the United Black Association for Development ((UBAD) when it was founded in February of 1969. (Ismail Shabazz resigned from the UBAD executive in November of 1972 to work full time with the local masjid.)
There are now as many as four different branches of Islam in Belize City, the most recently established being the Ahmadiyya group. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in Belize, many of them being migrants from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not attend any of the Muslim services, but I consider myself a Muslim sympathizer.
The news reports are still sketchy, as they say in Belize, but it may be that the ISIL militant killed in the Philippines is a member of a prestigious, highly respected family in Belize City, a family to which I am related through their late Escarpeta matriarch. I believe the patriarch of the Muslim branch of the family, who is around my age, was converted to Islam during the time when Nuri Muhammad was the Imam.
It is impossible for Donald Trump to destroy Islam, because he would have to destroy planet earth to destroy Islam. It is nigh impossible for him to destroy “radical” Islam, because it is difficult to tell when a Muslim becomes “radical.” A Muslim does not begin his religious life as a “radical.”
In the middle of 2016, there was a ferocious police attack on the extended Muslim family to which I have referred, and the attack was no doubt in the service of the United States Embassy here. Even though a huge, vital amount of their oil comes from Muslim countries, with whose leaderships they cultivate friendly relations, the American establishment is jittery about Islam. The Americans under President Trump are now about to become hysterical about Islam.
I don’t know if there is anything that anyone can do about the present state of affairs, but I hereby publicly express solidarity with the Muslims in Belize. I respect your faith, and I have found Islam to be a positive influence on the Belizean community.
As-salaam-alaikum. Power to the people.