By Harshit Rai
Harshit Rai is a third year student at the Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
The presidential election in United States, last year was charged with divisive politics, with Trump’s focus on the elimination of “radical Islamic terrorism” at all costs. His pre-poll promise included taking radical measures against immigration and ending terrorism. In this context Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia gained more importance. It tested the anti-radical Islam rhetoric of president Trump on practical grounds of diplomacy and set the tone at which the policy of Trump administration will operate in continuation of his election promise.
Trump on his maiden visit to Saudi Arabia exhorted leaders to get rid of extremists asking them to “drive them (extremists) out of places of worship, drive them out of communities and drive them out of this earth.” Even as he expressed United States interest in working with Middle Eastern Nations in partnership, he put the responsibility on countries to eradicate terror.  This address is significant, as it not only draws the outline of the future partnership between the countries in Trump administration, but also marks a departure from the policy of United States during the Obama years. Democracy and Human Rights found no mention in Trump’s address.
“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, how to be or how to worship”, he said.  Though Obama in his speech in Cairo acknowledged that United States could not claim to know what is best for everyone, he reposed his faith in democratically elected governments and protection of Human Rights. He underscored the need for increased co-operation with countries to build educational and medical infrastructure. Obama’s speech was a milestone in the history of American diplomacy. It acknowledged that 9/11 triggered certain acts by the government which were regrettable. He expressed that torture practices in Guantanamo bay had to be stopped and forces returned. Engagement with Iran and the culmination of a nuclear deal was a remarkable achievement of the Obama tenure.  Trump, however made his stance clear in Riyadh while bashing Iran declaring it to be “ungrateful” towards the US government.
At this juncture perhaps it is important to recognise that terrorist activities are also rooted in deprivation and discontentment amongst people. It is stimulated by lack of opportunities, frustration and lack of alternatives. All this cannot be curbed by a single strategy. It requires co-operation and concerted efforts at multiple levels. Most countries are not capable of doing this on their own.
While it is important that effected countries play a larger role and do not let their territory become a safe haven for terrorists, the problem has now taken a global form incapable of being dealt individually. Terrorist networks are now less centralised, more dispersed and operational in several pockets around the world. The focus in now on carrying out multiple small scale attacks spread across several areas.
Trump’s resolve to end “radical Islamic terrorism” seems to focus more on the radicalisation of Islam rather than proliferation of terror which according to critics, indicates islamophobia. Though he refrained from using the term in his address in Riyadh.
In congruity with his promise, Trump appears to be tougher on the issue of terrorism. Intelligence infrastructure is increasingly being relied on along with deployment of special operation forces by USA, in terrorist pockets such as Chad and Somalia. He is expected to approve a Special Operation airstrike in Somalia to tackle Shabab, another terrorist outfit linked with Al-Quaeda. However critics believe this will happen at the cost of bypassing rules made to prevent civilian casualties from drone attacks and commando operations.
Radical Islam and terrorism have been linked together for decades now owing to the role of Islamic extremist groups in terrorist activities all over the world. In the backdrop of these attacks there has been a constant appeal to peaceful Muslims all over the world to rise to the occasion and condemn the attacks. This is marked by a constant need for Islamic groups to disassociate themselves from those causing terror and justify that Islam stands for peace and tranquillity and not war and hatred. This burden of justification is immense. It is oblivious of the fact that terrorism has no religion. The immigration ban, disallowing citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, was a perpetuation of a similar mind-set.
Terrorism is a menace and it will take everything we have to fully eliminate it from the world. It has affected the developed and the underdeveloped world alike. However it is important to realise that a huge proportion of the Muslim population has nothing to do with terrorism and is yet made to bear the brunt of what a miniscule section of people who identify with the same religion, do. Moreover, Muslims are affected from terrorism more than anyone else. Most terrorist attacks are carried out in countries like Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have a predominantly Muslim population.
Thousands of innocent civilians have lost their lives and continue to do so due to terrorist strikes. These civilians are of all religions, including Islam. Thus in this context it becomes important to also look beyond the radicalisation of religion. Radical Islam is not an end in itself but a means to a larger end. It is a weapon exploited to spread terror and violence. While armed combat is necessary to tackle the threat in its violent manifestations, one has to strike at the root of the problem which lies in human misery and agony. In the end one has to place their faith in humanity, believe that humans inherently preserve, not kill and that our sustained efforts in improving lives can help us make the world a better place to live.
1. Donald Trump says Muslim countries must take the lead in fighting extremism http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/21/donald-trump-rally-muslim-leaders-battle-good-evil-saudi-speech/
2. Trump puts the onus on Muslim world to combat terrorism http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/trump-puts-the-onus-on-muslim-world-to-combat-terrorism/article18520288.ece
3. Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html
4. Charlie savage and Eric Schmitt Trump Administration Is Said to Be Working to Loosen Counterterrorism Rules https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/12/us/politics/trump-loosen-counterterrorism-rules.html
5. Ruth Alexander and Hannah Moore Are most victims of terrorism Muslim? http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30883058
Photo Credit Flickr User: The White House
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.