Trump’s Toxic Rhetoric Is Not Making America Great Again

Asad Khan Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Font Size:

I am a retired U.S. Marine who served for over twenty years. I also happen to be an “American Muslim.” My son is also a U.S. Marine. We strongly believe in serving our Nation and both of us have served in combat — fighting radical Islamic extremists. I never found any conflict with being a Muslim and fighting against those who desire to harm America, my family and my fellow Marines.   

I take great pride in the fact that the first country to recognize the United States after our independence was Morocco, and the oldest standing treaty the U.S. has with a foreign country, is also with Morocco — since 1786! Morocco happens to be a “Muslim” country.

I agree with Donald Trump (and other presidential candidates) that radical Islam is a problem. It is a virus similar to Ebola and should be dealt with swiftly and with impunity. However, in attempts to draw political attention, I strongly disagree with Trump’s reckless, divisive and anti-Semitic rhetoric — which not only reinforces ISIS’ wrong message that the U.S. is at war with Islam but also fuels radicalism and vigilantism at home.

Trump is playing with the facts while fueling xenophobia and bigotry. In my 20 years as a Marine and having spent the last decade working in the Middle East, I have observed the following:

The jihadists’ purpose is to radicalize Islam and subjugate the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims on our planet by imposing their medieval theology. This is unacceptable, as the over-whelming majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims do not adhere to this radical belief. Moreover, these Muslims are on the front lines of this war against the jihadists. These Muslims are caught in the middle, on one side they are being attacked by the jihadists while on the other side by politicians and pundits with their own agendas.

More Muslims are fighting the jihadists than anyone else. Saudi Arabia recently announced a coalition of 34 Muslim nations to fight terrorism and established a Joint Operations Center in Riyadh to coordinate activities and share intelligence. There are more than two million Muslims in the militaries of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who are actively involved in the war against Islamic terrorists. In Afghanistan, since 2013 over 15,000 Afghan military and police have been killed in fighting the jihadists. In comparison, over the last 14 years, the U.S. military has lost 2,326 service members in Afghanistan.  

Madrassas (religious schools) provide a recruiting pipeline for jihadists. In the 1970’s madrassas were heavily funded by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to provide recruits for the Jihad against the Soviets. Today, by some estimates there are approximately 20,000 madrassas just in Pakistan and Afghanistan providing education to over two million students. In the absence of modern public schooling, many of these madrassas serve a useful purpose similar to Christian schools in the West; however, the lack of modern education standards and government oversight, there are many madrassas, which are a conduit for radicalism. Over the last decade, our focus has been on providing aid to primarily secular schools, which model their education on western school systems. This is the wrong approach; ignoring the radical madrassas is not going to make them go away. At the end of the day, this is an ideological fight; so we need to focus our efforts on the madrassas to connect with the next generation. We will never bomb an ideology into submission; we need to compete with better ideas. If we do not address how to deal with the madrassas teaching hatred for the West due to military operations in predominately Muslim countries, any strategy or troop surge will ultimately fail because the enemy will continue to have an endless supply of radicalized recruits.

Lack of employment and opportunities. By some estimates, 60 percent of the population across the Muslim countries is under the age of 30. Despite great resources in oil, gas and minerals, 25 percent of this segment of the population is unemployed. Many young Muslims blame their own governments for the lack of opportunities. The radical Islamists, use social media, mosques and madrassas, to capitalize on this disenfranchisement by claiming that these governments are puppets of the West and against Islam. Rather than counter this radical ideology with an alternative ideology and better ideas which promote opportunities, our political response is generally bombastic, further alienating the very people whose support we need to win this war. Our presidential candidates forget that aside from garnering the support of their party to become the President of the United States, they also need to win the support of people from other nations, religions, genders and ethnicities to become the legitimate leader of the free world. Therefore, we need to be careful in what we say and how we say it. Leaders should not be divisive but rather be a unifying force to achieve a common greater good.

Stop the radicals from using mosques, madrassas and media. When a terrorist incident happens, Muslims routinely defend and distance Islam from radicalism — yet allow radicals to preach and teach in the mosques, madrassas and use social media in name of Islam. It is time that Muslims treat these radicals as a virus and don’t allow it to mutate and infect future generations. Muslims must do more and stop the radicals from using mosques, madrassas and social media as means of spreading their hatred and intolerance!

Sunni – Shia sectarian rivalry is fueling radicalism. The Sunni-Shia rivalry is similar to the religious wars that the Catholics and Protestants fought from 1524 – 1648. If Muslims truly believe, that Islam is a religion of peace, then our actions must reflect as such. Muslims need to learn to coexist between Sunni’s and Shia’s otherwise this internal conflict within Islam will continue to boil over and destabilize the Middle East and South Asia – thereby creating more lost opportunities for future generations.

Bombing does not defeat a radical ideology. Aside from bravado and more bombing, Trump and others offer no solutions to solve the underlying causes of radicalism. As a result, there are now more terrorist organizations and incidents than there were in 2001. Clearly, our military approach is not working as we are dealing with the symptoms and not dealing with the root causes of radical Islam.  Bombing them is neither a strategy nor a political outcome, it is merely a technique to buy time.

Similar to the Northern Ireland, Kashmir and Palestine conflicts must be resolved politically; otherwise groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Lashkar-e-Taiba and their affiliates will continue terrorist activities similar to the Irish Republican Army which conducted bombings and assassinations to oppose British rule in Ireland.

Trump says that “We’re going to make our military … so powerful that we’re never going to have to use it.” He has made statements that he feels that he has always been in the military and that his five years at the New York Military Academy provided him with “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.” “I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.” This type of thinking is dangerous and offensive. Mr. Trump, just because you attended a military boarding school and dealt with military people does not make you an able tactician. The enemy also has a vote in the outcome of war. Having a powerful military and dropping bombs does not guarantee success. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were dropped during World War II – yet we lost. Finally, for Trump to claim that he has more military training than many in the military is insulting to the millions of Americans who served in our military and have risked their lives – I doubt Trump risked his life while attending military classes at a boarding school.

At a young age, I came to America as a refugee. At the time I did not realize it, but I personally experienced many forms of bigotry from hurtful comments such as “rag head,” “towel head”, sand n–ger” and “camel jockey.” Later on, I was denied opportunities and fair treatment. This was understandable in the 1980’s and 90’s; but to hear politicians in this day and age single out immigrants, refugees, minorities such as Mexicans and Arabs based on ethnicity or Muslims and Jews based on religion is simply unacceptable.

I am all for having surveillance of mosques that preach intolerance and hatred. To be fair, we should also do the same for the Westboro Baptist Church and other individuals and groups who preach hatred and bigotry against Jews, Muslims, minorities and LGBT. They all must be held accountable to one standard.

For Trump to suggest that I should have to register because of my faith is similar to Hitler forcing Jews to wear the Star of David. What’s next — building camps for Muslims? Hitler started out the same, stoking the fears of the Germans about Jews, people with disabilities and homosexuals. I find very little difference between intolerant people — at the end of the day they all have the same DNA.  

The outrageous and anti-Semitic suggestion calling for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S. is another page out of Hitler’s playbook. It is ironic that a country founded by immigrants fleeing religious persecution is now talking about banning members of an entire religion. I am all for greater scrutiny — especially from countries where radicalism is deep. Additional scrutiny and vetting to see if the school and or mosque the individual attended has any radical leanings, a social media check to see if the individual has any radical postings and a biometrics check are all prudent and should be done as a matter of routine regardless of religion.  

What Trump does not get is that by calling for a ban on Muslims, he just marginalized 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe and did ISIS a huge recruiting favor by reinforcing their wrong message — about the U.S. leading a crusade against Muslims. By doing this, Trump also puts our troops, diplomats and all Americans overseas at greater risk. Moreover, Trump also does not realize the concept of reciprocity. What if other countries start banning Christians or Americans? Where does this lead us and how will it ultimately affect our economy and national security? Trump’s actions also fuel hatred and vigilantism at home – there have been numerous reports of mosques desecrated and law-abiding Muslims (and Sikhs) assaulted and threatened to be killed! This is not the America we want. Today the hatred is directed at Muslims – tomorrow, against whom?

For anyone to suggest that I am responsible for the terrorist or criminal act of an extremist Islamic terrorist is absurd. Using the same logic, is every Catholic responsible for the actions of the few priests who molested minors? Is every Christian responsible for the recent shootings of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado? Jihadists are to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity.

While Trump was making his billions, hiding behind a corporate veil and declaring bankruptcies to avoid his debts in 2004, I was fighting radical Islamists in the mountains of Afghanistan. So Mr. Trump, I don’t need to register nor prove my loyalty to you or anyone else. I already have a U.S. Marine Corps ID Card – where is yours? I have proven my allegiance to America and I firmly believe in our American values, our Constitution and the principles of religious freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For Trump, or anyone else to think otherwise, harkens back to the dark days of McCarthyism, segregation and Japanese internment.

Our politicians need to realize that their reckless comments have a much broader impact beyond their immediate audience – especially in the age of social media. Divisive comments not only fuel the virus of Islamic radicalism, but are an affront to the millions of Americans and also billions across this world who still look up to America and American values. These comments are especially hurtful to the thousands of American Latinos, Arabs, Jews, Muslims and LGBT people in uniform who are faithfully serving our nation. Far worse, these comments also undermine our Constitution and the freedoms for which we fought. 

Trump has singlehandedly done more damage to U.S. prestige across the world than the Iraq invasion and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse episode. Trump is not making America great again — he is making it worse.

Lieutenant Colonel Asad Khan, USMC (Ret.) commanded an infantry battalion in combat and retired in 2005 after multiple combat tours.  At the time, he was the senior American Muslim on active duty. He works in the Middle East dealing with security matters.