Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Islam vs The West: Trump vs. Obama

In this post I want to present my understanding of the position that the Obama administration takes on the use of rhetoric regarding the conflict against ISIL and al-Quida.

First, Obama asserts that ISIL and al-Quida wish to frame the conflict as a battle between Islam and The West.

To the degree that they are able to accomplish this, to that degree they can an increasing portion of 1.6 billion Muslims to participate in the conflict on their side. They will obtain access not only to potential volunteer soldiers, but to the money and the resources that its portion of these 1.6 billion people have access to.

If ISIL is completely successful, they would control a force capable of fighting a world war on multiple fronts.

Furthermore, many of these potential soldiers are living among us - those that ISIL says is the enemy. These people could inflict significant harm if they could be recruited.

Second, anything said on our side that suggests that our enemy is Islam and that targets all Muslims supports the enemy claim that this is a battle between America and The West on one side and Islam on the other. The winner will continue to exist, and the loser will be eliminated; in other words, either America or Islam must perish.

Consequently, such statements aid ISIL in its goal to unite Muslims in a war to defend their religion.

To block ISIL in this attempt, Obama argues that we must make it clear that America and Islam can co-exist - that this is not a battle for the survival of Islam. It is only a battle against a faction within Islam that refuses to live in peace with others.

That, then, are the two main points of Obama's argument. ISIL wishes to frame the conflict as one in which either Islam or America must perish, and Obama wishes to frame the conflict as one in which America and Islam can co-exist peacefully, though we must work together to eliminate those who cannot accept peaceful co-existence.

That is Obama's argument, as I understand it. As a moral philosopher, I would like to add a bit more.

The moral principle at play here says that those who do nothing wrong shall not be subject to any burdens not imposed equally on all other free and morally responsible individuals. Only those with murderous intent (in this case) or who provide direct aid to those with murderous intent will be dealt with as enemies.

In contrast, Donald Trump's moral message is, "I care nothing about your actions or attitudes as individuals. I will treat you as guilty merely because I know you are Muslim."

Obama warns of the consequences of inflicting harms on all Muslims around the world, even those in the United States, regardless of who they are as individuals. Here, we must imagine creating or encouraging pockets of anti-American Muslims anywhere that there are Muslims - from Morocco to the Philippines and from California to Florida. The whole Muslim world will have stories to tell about people suffering harms merely because they are known to be Muslim - stories of innocent people being treated unjustly - if Trump's policies are adopted. Those stories will provide reason for anger, and specifically anger directed at America because of its injustices.

On the subject of morality, "injustice" is an appropriate term here. To prejudge a person as guilty and treat that person as guilty without evidence against them is unjust. If America were to adopt policies that harm innocent Muslims as if they are guilty, regardless of whether they are guilty, then it would be perpetrating injustices. Regardless of whether these injustices result in the types of anger that Obama warns about, it is still accurate to call them unjust.

Insofar as America and Americans value justice - in order for America to be deserving of the support of those who value justice - we would condemn harming the innocent or prejudging individuals as guilty. Insofar as we wish to be treated justly by others - and not to be prejudged ourselves - it seems practical to cultivate the aid and cooperation of those who love justice and who have formed an aversion to injustice. Yet, this is only possible - among those who love justice - to the degree that America is a just nation with just policies.

In addition to earning the anger of otherwise potentially friendly Muslims for our unjust actions, and weakening the support of those who value justice and are averse to injustice, there is a third cost associated with this policy.

To the degree that America promotes injustice and condemns and, in a sense, spits upon justice and those who defend it, to that degree America will be teaching the rest of the world a moral lesson. We cannot perform injustice without asserting to the world that it is good and that it is something that they may - perhaps should - do themselves. We cannot spit upon justice without sending a message to the world that everybody should spit upon justice and hold the defenders of justice in contempt.

This is the nature of morality. We - all of us - teach by our example. That which we do, we teach others that they may do. That which we condemn, we teach others to condemn. With Trump, what commit acts of injustice - and teach the world to be unjust. We condemn and belittle those who defend justice, and teach a contempt for justice to the rest of the world as well.

That is the situation as I understand it.

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