In his latest — and most provocative — statement, Trump has called for a ban on all Muslim immigration. I was hoping he would backtrack in the recent GOP debate, but he doubled down instead. Other politicians appeasing America’s far right have voiced similar bigotry in the past, but the fact that a presidential candidate is bagging more influence with his escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric is unprecedented in modern-day American politics. It is very disconcerting. The celebratory tone of his swelling vote-bank is a sign that the problem is deep-rooted, and is far greater than Trump himself.
Already, we are seeing record high anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Studies suggest an already threefold rise in vandalism, harassment and anti-Muslim hate crimes from last year. This trend is dangerous, and is pointing to a remote — but real — possibility that America could be headed down the path of a Trumpistan.
I know because I have lived in one.
I am a Pakistani who immigrated to the United States seven years ago in search of security – and education. I came to flee the horrid persecution that Muslims from my faith community – the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – face back home in Pakistan.
Like America, Pakistan was founded on the ideals of equality, pluralism, liberty and justice for all. Early in its course, extremist clerics who espoused a theocratic vision started to agitate the secular establishment. Headed by Abul Ala Maududi – the father of violent Jihad in Pakistan – these extremist elements entered mainstream politics and began to exploit religion for their political ideals.
Maududi made fiery speeches across the country and spread his politically charged global Jihadist narrative through vigorous publications – at least one of which was also found in the San Bernardino shooters’ home. Extremist clerics began demanding Saudi-style Shariah laws be imposed across Pakistan. Because Ahmadiyya Muslims reject a supremacist and violent Jihadi narrative on Islam, and because their spiritual reformist ideology was fast growing in influence, the radical right saw them as a primary threat.
Maududi, therefore, spearheaded a malicious propaganda campaign against the Ahmadi Muslims and incited violent countrywide anti-Ahmadi riots in 1953. The State handed him down the maximum penalty for this agitation and made it clear that it would not tolerate fascists and demagogues.
Fast-forward 20 years. Times changed. Maududi had been set free and was preaching his extremist message with impunity. His influence grew and gradually seeped into the country’s mainstream political discourse. Politicians started pandering to the extremist cause. In 1974, the State gave in to their demands and declared the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community a ‘non-Muslim’ minority through a Constitutional amendment. The voices that stood up for Pakistan’s founding values of separation of mosque and state were quickly drowned out. Ten years later, then president Zia ul-Haq passed an ordinance curtailing the religious freedom of Ahmadi Muslims. Thousands – including three of my uncles — were rounded up from across the country for identifying as Muslim, praying like Muslims or reading the Quran.
Since then, violence has only escalated. Talibani militants have killed hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims. Mobs have torched thousands of Ahmadi Mosques, homes, and businesses, most recently three weeks ago. And millions of Ahmadi Muslims remain disenfranchised with no representation in government. To escape this brutal persecution, I decided to move to the United States. And after finding a new home in this great country, I am suddenly – for the first time – experiencing a déjà vu.
Will Trump be the Zia ul-Haq of America?
For quite some time, anti-Muslim sentiment has been systematically nurtured in America. There has been a whole network of propagandists and fear-mongers that have – like Maududi — laid the foundation for this rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. They have craftily convinced a large faction of America that Islam is evil and that Muslims are to be feared and suspected. The fear mongering of the likes of Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller on the far right and the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris of the new atheist movement has, over the years, radicalized many American minds.
And now, this bigoted narrative has sadly crept into mainstream politics. Politicians like Trump are capitalizing on the fear, and ushering in an epidemic of hate.
This is exactly how Pakistan started to drift away from its founding values. Will we also reach a tipping point where the prevailing climate of anti-Muslim animus will translate into national anti-Muslim policies and laws? Will I one day be an outcast in my new home just as I was forced to be in my first? As Trump now enjoys his largest lead in the polls mere days after his “Muslim ban” proposal, I shudder to think so.
This is not just about American Muslims. It is the very social fabric of America that is at stake. As a country founded on the principles of religious freedom and liberty for all, the last thing we can afford is giving it up for Trumpistan.