Is an executive order in a secular state like a fatwa in an Islamic theocracy? Of course it is not in the sense that a fatwa, or clerical decree on a given subject, is the last word while a directive from the top in a secular democracy is only the first word. It must stand up to the laws and the Constitution, not to speak of citizen protests. But in the larger sense, if recognized authorities legitimate fear of others unlike them, might the extremist fringe regard such official guidance as the psychological permission to act?
Canada’s famous philosopher of secularism and religion, Charles Taylor, approaches the thought in an interview about the attack on a Quebec City mosque earlier this week that killed six people. An ultranationalist is suspected of carrying out that shooting. “Whenever political leaders propose to limit the rights of Muslims,” says Taylor, “they encourage Islamophobic sentiment and disinhibit hostile acts. If highly respected leaders share that hostility, why shouldn’t people who hold the same views act on them? U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent actions to limit travel visas from a list of Muslim-majority countries will ramp this up throughout the Western world. His irresponsibility and unconsciousness of what his action entails is unprecedented.” Rowaida Abdelaziz reports on how American Muslims are troubled over Trump’s total silence and lack of the condolences that the White House would normally issue over a terrorist attack like the one at the Quebec mosque.
With respect to the broader issue of immigration, Taylor does note, however, that while Canada is generous in accepting refugees, its immigration laws are much stricter than those of the U.S. or Europe. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the feminist Islamic reformer who was once a refugee from Somalia, agrees with Trump’s views on “radical Islam” but thinks the furor caused by his mishandled travel ban distracts from the real issue of the threat within U.S. borders. Picking up on Canada’s approach, she writes that “contrary to some of the president’s more strident critics, restrictions on foreign immigration are not immoral per se. Canada, for example, accepts only whole families, single women or children from Syria but excludes single men as a possible security threat. Most countries have such rules. Recent terrorist cases suggest that the U.S. could do with tightening its rules or applying them more rigorously.” Over time, she continues, many Muslim immigrants have adapted by adopting the core values of the West. It is those who don’t ― such as the San Bernardino terrorist couple or the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris in 2015, who believed it their duty to strike out at apostates and blasphemers ― that worry her most.
Dean Obeidallah opines, “It truly seems Trump is trying to create a religious sectarian divide in this country.” U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is regarded by many as the spearhead of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the White House. As Jack Miles, author of the forthcoming God and the Qu’ran, writes, Flynn sees Iran, whose former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued the original fatwa against Salman Rushdie, as the “linchpin” of an “international alliance of evil countries and movements” from which America must be defended. Miles fears that, unchecked, Flynn could take the U.S. to war with Iran.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who formerly headed the Foreign Affairs Committee of Iran’s National Security Council, strikes back at the Flynn doctrine. He sees the travel ban as “self-defeating” and damaging the potential for cooperation in a “region on the verge of total collapse.” He also warns that the so-called Islamic State, especially in Syria, cannot be defeated without Iran’s help. In his reflections on the renewed tension with Tehran, Trita Parsi points out that “even the most inexperienced commander knows not to escalate without having de-escalatory options at hand.”
Though the flurry of controversial directives and appointments by the new American president makes last week’s headlines about the wall with Mexico almost seem old news, it is just beginning to sink in south of the border. Writing from Mexico City, Hector Aguilar Camin worries that a virulent nationalism is being stoked in his country that could lead to unrest and instability. Further, he says, a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would backfire by sending more migrants north looking for work. The country’s most sober-minded statesman, former President Ernesto Zedillo, is preparing for the worst. As he has put it forthrightly: “The prudent thing would be to assume that President Trump will kill NAFTA.”
Having already ignited new conflicts with Iran and Mexico, China may be next on the White House agenda. Shi Jiangtao reports from Hong Kong that a “major storm” in U.S.-China relations is rapidly brewing. He quotes one expert as saying that the two countries “are more suspicious of each other than ever before.”
Russian relations with the new U.S. administration are uncertain. While Trump has telegraphed warming tones, his U.N. ambassador called out Russia this week for stirring violence in eastern Ukraine. Surveying opinions among Russians, Maria Snegovaya reports that, though doubts still hang in the air, “most Russians at home and in the U.S. support Trump. Russia quite uniformly celebrated the new U.S. president’s inauguration on a grand scale.”
Trump’s travel ban troubles not only Muslims but Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as well who rely on foreign workers to power their engineering prowess. On this subject, Norm Matloff agrees with Trump. Silicon Valley, he says, is using the H1-B program to hire foreign workers at lower wages than they’d have to pay similarly qualified Americans. Hassan Majeed, an international medical graduate from Pakistan working in the U.S., worries that Trump’s ban could result in vulnerable Americans losing access to health care since many international doctors work in underserved communities.
Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky worries that we are headed toward a constitutional crisis if Trump refuses to comply with court orders relating to conflicts of interests over his businesses, the travel ban on immigrants and his declared aim to punish sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding.
In an interview, top Bloomberg editor John Micklethwait discusses how journalists should operate in the Trump era of “alternative facts.” From the point of view of the press, he says, “We should not treat him as different, or set special standards for dealing with him.”
In our Singularity series this week, we look at a startup founded by a Stanford team that is controversially testing young blood as a potential anti-aging therapy.
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