An open letter to Asra Nomani

Published: November 19, 2016
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Apart from a liberal, you are also a woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, and a person of colour. PHOTO: TWITTER.

Dear Ms Asra,

I am a student who has been living in the United States of America (USA) for the past five years. I did my Masters from here and right now I am in my third year of PhD. As someone deeply interested in politics (my degree is in Political Science) I have read your previous work. I have also seen you on TV and deeply respect your liberal values and understanding regarding what plagues the Muslim world. However, I was surprised when I read your letter justifying your rationale for voting Trump.

That letter is being shared by many who have voted for Trump as a justification for their choice. Apparently it is a brave move for any person claiming to be a liberal to vote for a person like Trump. I would however, go a step further and say it is a strange move for a liberal to vote for someone who is such an antithesis to liberal values.

To be honest, voting is a personal choice. No one has the right to stop, or even judge you for your choice. Here I would condemn the behaviour of the online lynch mob which has been constantly vilifying you on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/monaeltahawy/status/796806998889287685

https://twitter.com/undergradwoman/status/798308085764882432

https://twitter.com/HiggS_b0soN/status/797100317485600768

I think disagreements can be made in a polite manner. My effort, henceforth, is to disagree with you in a courteous and yet engaging manner.

I am writing this letter because you did not stop at voting for him, but decided to go public and justify your choice while also claiming to be a liberal. When we go public, we are articulating a narrative which we want people to agree with. And I think your rationale to vote for Trump is extremely weak given the assertion that you are a liberal person. Apart from a liberal, you are also a woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, and a person of colour, groups that Trump constantly demonised during his election campaign. If a person like you votes for Trump and justifies it publicly then it does trivialise the problem.

Your reason for voting for Trump is that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are skirting around the issue of radical Islam and that Qatar and Saudi Arabia would have had some “influence” over Clinton owing to their donations to the Clinton Foundation. So this ‘fear’ is the only reason you were willing to ignore every illiberal thing Trump has said or promised to his supporters?

Now you have reduced this complex election to just one issue and even here, your rationale is not very convincing. However, before deconstructing your stance, I would like to first admit where I believe you are correct.

I agree with your general implied thesis that, at times, the liberal left, in order to be politically correct, is guilty of coming up with an apologetic defence of Islamic extremism. In fact, at times it becomes frustrating when some liberals, despite clear evidence that a terrorist act is religiously motivated, are unable to condemn it properly. Even worse, is that some of the liberals, instead of supporting Islamic reformers, actually end up opposing them.

You are right that Muslim extremism is something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. I come from a Muslim country and in fact have seen the ugly face of extremism first hand. My close friend and mentor, Raza Rumi was almost killed by religious extremists in Pakistan. Since I work with Pak Tea House as an editor, a liberal blog founded by Raza Rumi, I have also received threatening emails.

There is absolutely no doubt that Islamic extremism needs to be taken seriously and to some extent, it is fair to argue that some liberals have been guilty of obfuscating the discourse.

However, while it is easy to condemn liberals for often avoiding the problem, we need to understand the nuance here. Many on the left side of the political spectrum are cognisant of the problem. However, the reason as to why they go overboard in defending Muslims in the wake of a terrorist attack is due to fear that backlash would also target those Muslim individuals who have absolutely nothing to do with the act. Even their refusal to criticise radical Islam (which is qualitatively distinct from their defence of Muslims) is at times undertaken out of fear that criticising it feeds into the narrative of right wing lobby which often uses it to justify bigotry against Muslims. It is this fear that prevents some liberals from taking an open stance.

Many leap to the excessive defence, not because they are foolish but to show solidarity to ordinary Muslims who feel vulnerable. Yes, it goes overboard at times, but there is a rationale behind their behaviour. Yes, their behaviour needs to be corrected, but blanketing bigotry espoused by Trump is not the answer.

In your case, you have accused President Obama for skirting around the issue and Hillary Clinton, as being influenced by the Arab regressive regimes. But, how did that make you conclude that what Trump is suggesting is the right approach?

You think that some donation from Saudi Arabia to the Clinton Foundation is reason enough to mistrust Hillary and yet you have nothing to say about his suggestion that Saudi Arabia should be allowed to have nuclear weapons!

Moreover, the only “solution” to terrorism he is offering is to ban all Muslims from entering USA, with which you yourself disagree. Apart from that, what exactly is his solution?

If anything, his rhetoric is aiding Islamic militant organisations in their recruitment and some of them have even been featuring him in their recruitment videos.

The problems with your decision to support Trump become even more pronounced when we move from the issue of Islamic extremism to host other issues.

What’s your opinion about Planned Parenthood? The entire GOP, including Trump is against giving women birth control rights. In fact, Trump went as far as to say that a woman should be jailed for opting for an abortion. With GOP now in control of all branches of government, including having the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, there is a huge likelihood that birth control rights will suffer. Do you seriously think that voting for such a candidate and party is “liberal”?

Since, you claim to be a liberal, how do you justify GOP’s stance over gun control? You actually voted for a person who has courted gun lobby and went to the extent of even implicitly suggesting that Second Amendment people should do something about Hillary Clinton?

A liberal is against authoritarianism and with the election of Trump, there is a genuine fear that it is on the rise. Yes, there are checks and balances in American democracy but the president, as an executive, enjoys substantial authority. With GOP in control of all the branches, this authority is likely to be used in excess; something which literally all political analysts are justifiably worried about.

I won’t dwell on his racist and sexist comments, as already so much has been written and said about them. It is believed that the Trump campaign was just a Machiavellian exercise to get votes and he did not mean it. Yes, it is a possibility. But when you try to be Machiavellian to get votes, some extreme sections develop expectations and once you win, they feel entitled to indulge in open bigotry. This is not something which you can just control and switch on and off at will, without any problem.

You claim that it is unfair to attach labels like ‘racist’ and ‘misogynist’ to Trump supporters, and I agree with you there. However, I would argue that his election has unfortunately ended up emboldening some fringe elements who now feel that they have some kind of democratic legitimacy behind them. If David Duke is expressing his delight, then frankly something is wrong.

You claim that Muslims have an enlarged sense of “victimhood” but even assuming that you are correct (which to some extent you are ), they are not the only demographic who are feeling afraid. Blacks are feeling afraid, various immigrants from Asian countries are feeling afraid and many young women are feeling disgusted. An environment of fear has developed due to the way he conducted his campaign. You can blame liberal media for hyping it up, but the reality is that it was a campaign unlike any other campaigns of the past. All across the globe, the impression was unanimous that his campaign was ugly.

You, as a Muslim woman, are not afraid at all. But how many actually share your opinion? Constitutional checks and balances restrict those in government; they can’t stop bigotry on the roads. As I write these sentences, incidents against minorities have already started to rise. Moreover, Stephen Bannon, an alt-right person has also been appointed as an advisor, raising fears that white nationalism will experience a boost.

You have made your choice and also tried to justify it while claiming to be a liberal. While I do think that you are a courageous person with liberal values, here you have gotten it wrong.

With respect and regards.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.