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Trump’s Islamophobia is just populist rhetoric

Opinion
What President Trump proved this week is that he has no qualms in rolling out the red carpet for his Saudi Muslim allies, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

Johannesburg - We ARE living in strange times. On the one hand we have US President Donald Trump frustrated that his second Muslim travel ban was blocked by two federal judges, and he continues to characterise the Muslim world as a threat to American society, values and culture.

On the other hand we witnessed the cordial meeting in the Oval Office this week between Trump and the Saudi King’s son Mohammad bin Salman, which the Saudis dubbed "a turning point in US-Saudi relations".

Despite all his rhetoric, Trump has consolidated US relations with Saudi Arabia - the one Muslim country which has produced extremists that committed terror attacks on US soil. But not only that, 29 pages of the US Congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks were devoted to Saudi involvement.

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President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Picture: Evan Vucci/AP

While Trump and Salman agreed this week to elevate the US-Saudi strategic partnership in a ranges of spheres - political, military, security, economic, cultural, social, trade and investment - nationals from six other Muslim countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) have been banned from the US. No nationals from these countries have been involved in a terrorist attack on US soil. Refugees from many of these countries are fleeing war and human rights abuses and seeking safe haven in the US.

Saudi Arabia and the US make strange bedfellows. If the US purports to value human rights and gender equality, according to Human Rights Watch, those are sorely lacking in Saudi Arabia.

Among human rights violations listed in the HRW 2016 report on Saudi Arabia, one that stands out is: Saudi authorities publicly lashed prominent blogger Raif Badawi 50 times on January 9, 2015 as part of his sentence for setting up a liberal website allegedly insulting religious authorities. On June 7 last year the Supreme Court upheld Badawi’s sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. The European parliament called for his immediate release, and for EU states to reconsider their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

As for gender equality, in Saudi Arabia women are forbidden from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian. There is also a ban on women driving. As for freedom of religion, Saudi Arabia does not tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam.

What is driving the Trump administration’s relationship with the Saudis? It might be the promise of $200 billion (R2.5trillion) in investment over four years that could create a million US jobs. It might also be expanded co-operation in the energy sector.

Even more ironic is Trump’s involvement in Yemen, backing the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign of the poorest country in the Middle East. What happened to Trump’s "The US will avoid getting involved in foreign wars"?

The US Congress is expanding its military operations in a civil war without congressional approval, which will ultimately have a backlash against the US in the long term. Trump’s Yemen policy seems to serve the Saudi royals more than it does the American people, unless one takes into account the benefit to the US military-industrial-complex.

What the US, Britain, and the Saudi-led coalition have done to Yemen will surely ratchet up the number of recruits to Islamic militant groups that seek revenge on the US and its people.

The blockade of Yemen has prevented food and medicine from reaching the people in a country that even prior to the war was 90% dependent on food imports. The executive director of the World Food Programme says that it is a race against time to prevent widespread famine in Yemen.

The illegal cluster munitions that Amnesty International says are being dropped on residential areas are supplied by the US and Britain, as are the bombs and missiles being dropped on clinics, hospitals, markets, mosques, schools, weddings and funerals. According to Doctors Without Borders, 80% of the country is without functioning health care. US State Department lawyers have acknowledged the possibility of the US being held responsible for Saudi war crimes.

What Trump has proved since entering office is that he is more than willing to back Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. What he proved this week is that he has no qualms in rolling out the red carpet for his Saudi Muslim allies. Where does this leave his Islamophobic message on the threat posed by Muslims to the US? It makes it meaningless fear-mongering rhetoric to whip up populist support.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foriegn editor.

The Sunday Independent

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