Let’s cry wolf when we see one

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 27, 2016
Demonstrators participate in an anti-hate rally at a Brooklyn park, in New York City, after it was defaced with swastikas on November 20th. (AFP)

Demonstrators participate in an anti-hate rally at a Brooklyn park, in New York City, after it was defaced with swastikas on November 20th. (AFP)

The list of Americans and others suspicious and fearful of US President-elect Donald Trump’s initial and intended appointments is long. Their complaints are numerous and mostly presented alongside hard facts.

Retired Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn will be Trump’s national security adviser. He is described as Islamophobic based on his comments that Islam is a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that hides “behind what we call freedom of religion”. He has also tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL (sic)”.

Then there’s Congressman Mike Pompeo, who is slated to be nominated as CIA director in the Trump administration. He has pretty extreme views on fighting terrorism, apparently believing that reforms to US government surveil­lance have weakened the country’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks. Pompeo is also known to think it is a good idea for the administration to create an enormous database, starting with telephone numbers and phone records and going on to “publicly available financial and lifestyle information” whatever that may mean.

Kris Kobach, who may be an­other member of Trump’s cabinet (possibly at the Department of Homeland Security), is understood to have a “strategic plan” for the administration’s first 365 days that would include barring “the entry of potential terrorists”. Kobach also wants the United States to return to a reinvigorated plan first intro­duced by George W. Bush’s admin­istration after 9/11, which recorded the entry and exit of people from “high-risk areas”. The plan, created by Kobach, then at the Depart­ment of Justice, bore the official name National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. Informally, it was known as a “Muslim registry”, something the incoming Trump administration has not forsworn exactly, at least so far.

Meantime, there are signs that the Islamophobic views of some Trump aides are mixing in with the anti-Semitic and white supremacist sentiments of other supporters.

It is creating a miasma of hate around an administration that is two months away from even taking office, so much so that the Holocaust Memorial Museum has stepped in to remind the world that “the Holocaust did not begin with killings: It began with words”.

Too true. It is important to be watchful. It is crucial to speak out when there is injustice. The media have an especially important role in informing the public of the facts and of what key developments mean.

That said, it is strategically im­portant not to overdo the outrage — just yet. Let us wait to see if and when the Trump administration in­dicates it wants to undermine civil rights, constitutional freedoms and the principles of natural justice for Muslims, Arabs, Jews, black people and visually distinct immigrant groups. Let us wait to see how the administration proposes to go about it.

In other words, let us not cry wolf till we actually see one. That way, we will not weaken the argu­ment ahead of time.

To those who scoff at this, just consider the words of Charlie Sykes, a conservative anti-Trump journalist who hosts a radio talk show on WTMJ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Explaining the politi­cal rise of Trump and the fact that his fellow Republicans appeared not to have minded supporting a candidate who made bigoted and racist comments, Sykes offered the following rationale. Conservatives have been denounced as “racist” for simply everything and for so long, the term has lost impact. Previous Republican presidential nominees, not least Mitt Romney in 2012, were denounced as racist, Sykes pointed out. Republican presidents, including George W. Bush, were similarly criticised. So when a manifestly racist Repub­lican candidate such as Trump showed up, the “racist” label had no purchase.

In the end, the same sort of effect may be produced by yelling anti- Muslim about the Trump adminis­tration’s every move. Better to wait until there is an attempt to intro­duce unconstitutional or unjust anti-Muslim measures.

That will be the time to call Trump out.