Why Some Muslims Voted For Donald Trump

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Originally published on Dec 29, 2016 in “The Huffington Post

By Amer Aziz

I wasn’t all that surprised.

Even before election night, I had come across the odd Muslim boldly declaring their intention to vote for Donald Trump. And so, I thought, given Trump’s anti-Muslim image, for every openly pro-Trump Muslim there must be several hidden ones.

President-elect Donald Trump earned Muslim-angst over some of his inexcusable campaign remarks. Inexorably, such rhetoric is bound to kindle anti-Muslim sentiment and has already caused a wave of hate crimes. So why would anyone who identifies as a Muslim even nod in the direction of Donald Trump?

Muslims who voted for Donald Trump would not be endorsing his values, but rather joining other fellow Americans in, as The Washington Post put it, a loud repudiation of the status quo.

As a naturalized citizen of Pakistani origin and a member of a minority Islamic-sect (Ahmadiyya) that is banned and persecuted in most Muslim countries, I can voice my own frustration with the status-quo in U.S. foreign policy that sees Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, recipients of U.S. patronage and financial aid, as allies in the war on terror.

In 1974, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan passed the Second Amendment to its constitution declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim. Subsequently, in 1984, Pakistani dictator General Zia-ul-Haq passed Ordinance XX into law inflicting jail terms on Ahmadi-Muslims for practicing emblems of Islamic worship and traditions. Emboldened by this legislative impetus, extremists have since increasingly exacted violence on minorities and fanned terrorist outfits. Other so-called “Islamic laws” such as death-for-apostasy and death-for-blasphemy, antithetical to the true teachings of Islam, have led to mass-indoctrination in extremist ideology. There is grave risk of such laws based on errant doctrines serving as a ready-made recruitment-ground for extremist groups like ISIS who recently made claims to terrorist activity in the country.

Such ideology is deeply rooted and systemically reinforced.

One of the die-hard opponents of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was Pakistan’s celebrated father-cleric figure, Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979). Maududi espoused an errant jihadist-islamist worldview: “Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it…towards this end, Islam wishes to press into service all forces which can bring about a revolution and a composite term for the use of all these forces is ‘Jihad’” (Jihad in Islam by Abu Ala Maududi). In 1979, Maududi was awarded the Saudi Arabian King Faisal International Award.

Saudi Arabia, with its official wahhabist doctrine, has been cited by the American media and diplomats as a prime catalyst for the spread of extremist ideology. In fact, we were warned about it almost a century ago by Colonel T.E. Lawrence— the iconic British soldier enshrined in the Hollywood-classic, Lawrence of Arabia who fought alongside Arabs for their independence from Ottoman rule in the First World War. Author Scott Anderson, in his book Lawrence in Arabia, quotes the colonel— “Despite posing as Islamic reformists, with all the narrow-minded bigotry of the puritan, Ibn-Saud and his Wahhabists were hardly representative of Islam . . . In the politics of Mecca the Wahhabist sect was composed of marginal medievalists, and if it prevailed, we would have in the place of the tolerant, rather comfortable Islam of Mecca and Damascus, the fanaticism of Nejd (birthplace of Wahhabism in Egypt), intensified and swollen with success.”

Birds of a feather flock together—Pakistan’s ideological godfather,
Maulana Maududi, greets a Saudi/Wahhabi Sheikh.

However, the founder of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), who Ahmadis believe to be the Messiah and Mahdi foretold by Muhammad, claimed that these errant jihadist ideals were unfounded in Islam. He emphasized that the military engagements during the times of Muhammad had a valid defensive context and there is no jihad of aggression against colonial rulers or any power that does not persecute Muslims on the basis of their religion.

The ideologies of The Ahmadiyya movement did not sit well with Maududi and other clerics who incited riots against Ahmadis in 1953 labeling them as heretics and traitors. Hundreds reportedly died, martial law had to be imposed to quell the rioting and Maududi was tried and sentenced to death by a military court for his influence in sanctioning the violence. He was reportedly released under pressure from Saudi Arabia.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and former President George
Bush Jr. wielding the sword branded on the Saudi flag as the
symbol of the jihadist ideology that brought the Sauds to power
and proved lethal against the Russians in Afghanistan.

 

Rather than earning condemnation for their acts, under global geopolitical priorities of the cold-war era in the 1980s, the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan found favor instead. Under the auspices of US foreign policy, they effectively channeled the jihadist ideology into defeating the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. American political leaders may retain a sense of obligation to their former cold-war allies (plus big investors) and the need to tread carefully in condemning them.

Muslims who voted for Donald Trump may be hoping that his wholesale lack of a political career, being removed from the history of the cold war, would prove to be a disruptive force to the status-quo which Hillary Clinton, shackled by politics, would find little sense in challenging.

Whether Donald can get under the skin of a radical, extremist ideology and upend a century of geopolitical disposition remains to be seen.

In the Hollywood movie on the largest U.S. government covert operation to build rebellion against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan ― Charlie Wilson’s War ― is a balcony conversation-scene featuring actors Tom Hanks and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who play Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrakotos respectively. The two protagonists of the movie-plot, based on true events, argue as the cheery Charlie Wilson is keen to celebrate victory against the Russians— a win for the west with freedom and prospects restored to the Afghan people.

But Gust Avrakotos, pensive and cautious from the already lack of interest in Afghanistan’s post-war welfare, clinches the punchline: As the Zen Master said, we shall see what happens.

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