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Leaders must shun conflict-provoking language to preserve peace.

Updated on December 31, 2016

In 2001, immediately after the World Trade Centre attacks, the then US President, George W. Bush, made a very significant statement, saying "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while."

Now, the US president-elect, Donald J. Trump, in the aftermath of the Berlin Christmas market attacks, made another significant statement.

“Islamic State and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth.”

There are many similarities between the two statements, though the word “crusade” is conspicuous by its absence in Trump’s statement. The word “crusade” used by Bush brought back the bitter memories of religious conflict which resulted in the mass slaughter during the medieval period. However, given the Trump's pre-election rhetoric, and the presence of the words "Islamist" and "Christians" in his statement, people easily come to the conclusion that Trump is also referring to a religious war. The incumbent president, Barack Obama, and for that matter the state heads all across the world, consciously avoid the explicit phrase "Islamist Terrorists" and use vague language to condemn the terrorist activities carried out by the radical Islamists. However, Trump, perhaps for the first time, used explicit language and condemned the Berlin terror attack in strong and unequivocal terms. This is a very perceptible and major change.

As far as the usage of the phrase "Islamist Terror" is concerned, there may be a difference of opinion. People who lean towards the populist right-wing ideology perceived it a welcome change and the liberals, as usual, strongly denounced his statement. However, there are many people who increasingly feel that the well-intentioned liberals, in their enthusiasm to defend the exalted ideals such as liberty, freedom, democracy and pluralism, often end up sounding like the apologists for Islamist terror. While the usage of the expression "Islamist Terror" could, to some extent, be justified as the terror related violence is undoubtedly inspired by religious bigotry, the reference to Christians as the only victims of the terror is factually incorrect. Islamic world, for various reasons, is passing through chaos and unceasing violence. The extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIL and Boko Haram, who follow the ultra-conservative Salafist Islam, are claiming themselves to be the true Muslims. They brand all others, including non-Salafi Muslims, as infidels (Kafirs) and target them. The victims of their heinous crimes include the followers of all religions including Muslims. Therefore, Trump's statement, which pointed towards pitting Muslims and Christians against each other, is not only factually incorrect but also dangerous. This kind of avoidable rhetoric has the potential to push the humanity towards the dreaded "Clash of Civilizations" put forth by the well-known thinker Samuel Huntington.

Trump, though rode the populist wave by promising Americans of better future by building walls and imposing curbs, has to be very careful to avoid any direct confrontation with the entire Muslim community and pay attention only to eradicating the scourge of terrorism perpetrated by the ultra-conservative Wahhabist groups such as the Islamic State.

While making statements laced with conflict-provoking words, Bush and Trump might have been guided by the spirit of their Puritan forefathers who founded America. Puritans, if we look back into history, felt that the then newly established Anglican Church in England was not fully reformed and still followed many of the Catholic practices. In their over enthusiasm to force further reformation they caused a civil war in the UK which resulted in the regicide of Charles I. And the same puritans, driven by their eagerness to establish ultra-puritan society, founded America. Trump, though inherited the legacy of the Puritan founders of America, should not forget the fact that a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and America no longer stands for the Puritanical bigotry but for the enduring values of religious freedom and pluralism.

Reformation in any religion, including Islam, is bound to face resistance and, as a result, happens at a glacial pace. However, that reform has to be encouraged from within the Muslim community and it can't certainly be forced by external elements. History also says that when one dreaded terrorist organization loses steam it only gets replaced by another but much more ruthless and dreaded organization. We all know how Al-Qaeda gave place to much more barbarian organization called ISIS. Even if the world community manages to neutralize ISIS, there is a likelihood of it getting replaced by a much more barbarian terror cult. Therefore, making conflict provoking statements and issuing threats is only going to aggravate the problem.

Salafist terror, no doubt, poses a major threat to the world peace and it should be dealt with a lot of tact and statesmanship. Any attempt to link it to the larger Islamic society and pit Muslims and Christians against each other will have disastrous consequences. In fact, many experts opine that bad blood among various religious communities and the resultant conflict situation is exactly the kind of environment the Wahhabi extremist groups want to create so that they can drive the humanity back to the Stone Age.

Leaders, while they are in an election mode, often resort to populism and sabre-rattling against the supposed enemies of their nation states. However, after occupying the seats of power they realize the importance of toning down their rhetoric and falling in line. After all, the state heads, irrespective of their personal beliefs and preferences, have the responsibility of following the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of the institutions and the ideals their nation states stand for. Therefore, we hope that Trump will also become sober and stable while dealing with the pressing problems the humanity is facing such as terrorism, climate change and poverty. After all, he is the leader-in-waiting for the strongest nation on the earth and we can’t afford to have a narrow-minded and unaccommodating person in that position.


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