Monday, January 30, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 30, 2017

A new resistance movement Rashed Rahman One week into his presidency, Donald Trump has already shaken up the US and the world, as he had threatened to do in his election campaign rhetoric. His executive order banning the entry of people from seven Muslim majority countries adversely affected many individuals and families travelling to the US. Some were stopped from getting on flights at airports around the world and those arriving at US airports with valid travel documents were detained. It is however, a measure of the strength of rights consciousness, constitutional freedoms and an adherence to traditional American values by a considerable body of citizens that has sparked off and reinforced the continuation of a new resistance movement against the extreme, prejudiced, hate-filled worldview of Donald Trump and the policies that flow from it. First came the women’s march one day after Trump’s taking office. The depth and spread of this march over the continental US and many countries around the world was a portent of things to come. Now the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups and individuals have fired the opening shots of the campaign of resistance to Trump’s excesses. US judges in a number of states have blocked the deportation of persons from the seven countries to whom the ban applies who were detained at airports despite having validly travelled to the US. Not all of the 109 people denied entry on January 28 or the 173 not allowed to board US-bound flights could avail the relief on offer in the judges’ restraining orders. But the orders and other manifestations of protest could prove the opening salvos in what is shaping up as a protracted ‘war’ against what the Trump administration represents and stands for. Elected officials such as Virginia’s governor and attorney general made it a point to welcome Muslim visitors at US airports with flowers and balloons. They were accompanied by welcoming crowds of citizens reiterating the historical fact that the US is a land of immigrants (only the indigenous peoples of North America can claim to be the original inhabitants, and their sad fate at the hands of rapacious settler colonialism is by now well documented) that cannot go back on this traditional ethos without denying its right to exist. Trump’s order bans visitors from Iran (which has threatened retaliation against American citizens), Iraq (the US ‘ally’ has expressed muted misgivings), Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. These, according to the Trump doctrine, are countries experiencing internal conflict and from which terrorist threats emanate. Even if, for the sake of argument, this assertion is accepted, the blanket ban on citizens of these overwhelmingly Muslim majority countries on the basis of their country of origin rather than any crime or ‘sin’ they may have committed, plays directly into the hands of the real (as opposed to imagined) terrorists such as al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). They can point to this irrational ban as proof that Washington is against Muslims qua Muslims. The measure therefore is likely to achieve exactly the opposite effect of what may have been intended, i.e. stoke the fires of jihadi hatred against the US and perhaps provoke the very attacks on US soil that the executive order is meant to guard against. The mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada, that killed six people in a congregation of 40 on January 30 may or may not have any connection with the events in the US, but it could portend a violent reaction on US soil by IS and others of its ilk. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, by the way, has opened Canada’s doors to refugees and immigrants in a direct slap on the face of Trump’s policy. Protests have broken out and are continuing in many cities across the US against the ban. Reportedly, 11 countries were initially listed for the ban, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, but this was later pared to seven on the advice of US security officials. Pakistan reportedly may not be entirely off the hook yet. It is precisely this kind of lack of nuance and even knowledge on the part of Trump that is likely to cause headaches for the US and the rest of the world over the next four years. While his first week in office bodes ill for the US and its citizens, particularly minorities and immigrants, the world too has cause for concern. US membership of and contribution to multilateral platforms ranging from the UN to NATO, threats and attempted intimidation of Mexico, Iran and China, sending ‘America First!’ signals to allies such as Europe, South Korea and Japan, all this signifies a destabilisation of the world order in place since the Second World War which, despite its warts and flaws, has generally speaking determined the ground rules of international relations all these years. The US’s role in this order has been one of a powerful leader, first of the west during the Cold War, later leader of the world in a fluid and complex post-Cold War order. The relative decline of the US’s pre-eminent role in world affairs that is underway because of economic and other factors, even as it remains a military colossus (but increasingly with feet of clay), will accelerate under Trump’s isolationist stances. While the tectonic shift underway in the global power balance to Asia will be strengthened, the risk of conflict or war looms over Trump’s negativity regarding the Iranian nuclear agreement and China’s economic success and claims in the East and south China Seas. As it is, nuclear restraint experts are appalled by Trump’s ideas on South Korea and Japan acquiring nuclear weapons for their defence. It is an idea that flies in the face of decades of constructing the architecture (albeit not entirely satisfactory) of a global nuclear restraint regime. Trump has ordered his military to come up within 30 days with a strategy to defeat IS. This ‘gung-ho’ approach is likely to land the US, and the world, in an even worse mess than the one bequeathed by Trump’s predecessor/s. World leaders are increasingly adding their vocal criticism of Trump’s latest foolishness to their so far more muted concerns about alliances, multilateralism and a stable world order. The Chinese curse of living in ‘interesting times’ is truly upon us with the advent of Don Quixote Trump.

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