According to Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, Washington Post, President-Elect, Donald Trump, is about to lead the West into the third and darkest phase of its 15-year quest to neutralise the threat of Islamic extremism.

The first was George W. Bush’s freedom initiative, which posited that political liberalisation in the Middle East’s rotting autocracies would dry up terrorist recruiting. The second was the engagement policy of Barack Obama, who bet that respectful dialogue and attention to Muslim demands for justice — above all for the Palestinians — would make the West a less compelling target.

Both were widely judged to be failures. Now the new president will embrace the approach that both Bush and Obama explicitly ruled out as morally wrong and practically counterproductive: civilisational conflict.

The outlines of what might well be called the Trump crusade are easily located in the rhetoric of Stephen K. Bannon, Michael T. Flynn, Jeff Sessions and other Trump appointees. They describe a “long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam,” as Bannon put it, or “a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people,” as Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, has written.

Bush and Obama were careful to distinguish the terrorists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State from Islam itself, which they described as a great religion worthy of respect. Not Flynn. Islam, he has said, is a cancer, a political movement masquerading as a religion and the product of an inferior culture. “I don’t believe that all cultures are morally equivalent, and I think the West, and especially America, is far more civilised, far more ethical and moral,” he argued in a book published this year.

What might this mean in practice? On the battlefields of the Middle East, very little, as Trump’s team is certain to continue the ongoing offensives against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Given that they appear to be slowly succeeding, Flynn and incoming defence secretary James N. Mattis are unlikely to alter Obama’s approach of backing local forces rather than committing large numbers of US troops.

The new administration will look for showy ways to challenge Iran, but it is unlikely to do so in the place where it would matter most. President-elect Donald Trump named retired Lt-Gen Michael Flynn as his national security adviser on Nov 18, but Flynn has a history of making incendiary and Islamophobic statements that have drawn criticism from many including some of his military peers.

The impact of Trump’s civilisational conflict will be experienced not only by Shiite militias or Sunni terrorists — who will surely welcome it — but also by average citizens across the Muslim world. They will see it in the form of being subjected to “extreme vetting,” if not an outright ban when, they try to seek entry into the United States. And they will feel it in the ramping up of US support for dictators and monarchs who are judged by Trump to be tactical allies in the civilisational war.

First among these will be Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who has been lionised by Trump and his aides for supposedly battling jihadists while seeking the “reform” of Islam. In three years of the harshest rule Egypt has known in at least half a century, Sissi has wrecked the economy and all but destroyed a once-vibrant secular civil society.

Yet the increasingly unpopular dictator is quickly emerging as the foremost Trump ally in the region, already invited for the White House visit that Obama denied him. Other autocratic regimes may quietly fall in behind Trump’s strategy, despite its anti-Islamic cast.

Saudi Arabia and other monarchies will welcome heightened US hostility to Iran as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood; Bahrain, the base for the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, quickly signalled its obeisance by staging a national day celebration in Trump’s new Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.

Europeans, too, will follow along. Rightist governments in Hungary and Poland are already cheering Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric; the more moderate of the two leading candidates to become France’s next president, François Fillon, authored a book titled “Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism.”

Even Germany’s Angela Merkel, the most prominent remaining defender of liberal democratic values, felt obliged to strike an anti-Islamic pose last week, proposing a crackdown on the minuscule number of German women who wear a burqa.

It’s not hard to foresee the consequences of this movement. Muslims who despise jihadists and long to modernise their countries with free markets and democratic institutions will be alienated from their potential Western partners.

While some are of the opinion that the President-elect is a liar, narcissist and agitator and as president, he would be a danger for the whole world, because his entire campaign had been based on selling his followers a concoction of falsehoods, conspiracy and utter nonsense.

His appointments of heads of various senior positions in his administration and selection of advisers have been controversial and have raised serious concerns, including his policies to start a trade war with China and reigniting a nuclear arms race.

At the same time, his bragging has been unceasing and the greater the cheering he gets with his obscenities, the more over-the-top he becomes. He is an agitator who famously referred to Mexicans as rapists and said he wanted to refuse Muslims entry into the United States.

The past conflicts in the Middle East have destroyed Libya and Iraq, while the ongoing conflict in Syria has shown us the destruction of cities and the suffering of thousands of innocent men, women and children. The US, Russia and the West must take the initiative to resolve this conflict, otherwise the suffering will spread to other cities and many more innocent lives will be lost.

 

–(trust@helplinetrust.org.pk).