Donald Trump’s latest “policy” bombshell – a proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the United States – is going to be interpreted by many (if not most) Muslims as an insult, which is exactly what those responsible for America’s security do not want or need at this stage as they attempt to formulate a successful strategy for minimizing homegrown extremism among its Muslim population.
By directing a broad, sweeping and indiscriminate suspicion at all Muslims, Trump demonstrates yet again one of his biggest talents – dishonoring, humiliating and insulting people on a grand scale. This is not really surprising, considering the man’s proven career-making capacity to insult and abuse people (e.g., “You’re Fired!” as well as any number of campaign-trail slights), except this time, Mr. Trump is aiming his big insult-guns at a huge (billion+) community that counts honor and community maintenance among its core values.
If the United States stands any chance of getting to grips even partially with the danger of homegrown extremism within its Muslim community (which is only one of the communities within which this challenge exists), it is by succeeding in enlisting that very community to become the bulwark in this effort. To that end, whoever is charged with this task will have to build bridges of trust, respect and honor with these communities. Only if and when the majority of Muslim communities in the United States become fully integrated members in this counter-extremism effort does it stand a chance of success.
Mr. Trump’s world is apparently nuance-free. For him, there are only two ways to relate to other people: dominate them or grovel before them. Where most reasonable people will probably understand that insulting, alienating and angering entire communities (particularly those whose cooperation you dearly desire and need and who feel beleaguered, accused and besmirched at this time) is not the best approach, Mr. Trump chooses exactly that path.
This path is a particularly poor choice because between dominating and groveling there is a universe of possibilities that may lead to more security and better relations. One such alternative approach is called “Assertive Honoring.” It combines a clear understanding and annunciation of one’s principles and the values and actions that derive from these principles, while at the same time acting in a way that genuinely honors the interlocutor’s humanity, culture, needs and intricacies of the interface between that culture and the host culture. Such an approach enables the establishment of an eye-level dialogue with people from other cultures who may have a different perspective on the questions and challenges at hand. It by no means removes or nullifies real-life challenges that need discussing and resolving, but it creates the platforms that enable honest dealing with these challenges, without them being obscured by layers of frustration, a sense of helplessness and exclusion.
Employing such an approach requires first and foremost a familiarity with and understanding of other cultures, as well as an appreciation for the complexity of bridging cross-cultural gaps. It requires both sides in the dialogue to establish early on a simple set of common goals – to create the conditions that will help mitigate radicalization in a process that sustains the self-respect of all involved.
Coming on the heels of other jaw-dropping “policy” diamonds and other “proposals” such as building a wall between the United States and Mexico, Trump’s latest policy suggestion is not surprising – but it carries within it a great potential of actually increasing the harm done to the United States and as such it should be rejected and dismissed by all those who truly care about the safety and security of all Americans and about the civil liberties of all Americans, as prescribed in the Constitution.
Dr. Doron Pely is the Executive Director of the Sulha Research Center in Israel. Doron studies and teaches Muslim customary conflict and conflict management practices. His experience combines military (Lieutenant), police intelligence (field and analysis), business intelligence, executive duties, and academic and field research. Doron earned his PhD in Middle East Studies from King’s College, London.