Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down this wall!” As Donald Trump goes about walling America in and shutting out the world, those prophetic words of Ronald Reagan, deified by the Republicans as the greatest US president since Abe Lincoln, ring in my ears.
Reagan’s words, delivered as part of his historic speech on June 12, 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate near the wall that divided Berlin and Germany down the middle and became the most powerful symbol of the Cold War, have been an iconic part of our history.
Those words were like a call to arms for the divided people of Germany, and the silently suffering multitudes beyond the Iron Curtain to throw out the yoke of tyranny around their necks. Sure enough, the rumblings of discontent on the eastern side of the Wall turned into a groundswell that swept away the Iron Curtain and with it the Eastern bloc and Soviet Union itself.
Under the benign gaze of Gorbachev, the last president of Soviet Union who only wanted reforms and openness, the “evil empire” unraveled and collapsed like a house of cards. But it couldn’t have happened without the active ‘encouragement’ and support of Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush.
Trump calls himself a follower of Reagan and other Republican greats. Yet by erecting walls around America, openly targeting Muslims and shutting out refugees and all the huddled, oppressed masses that the Lady Liberty offers to take in, he is not just betraying that proud legacy, he is turning away from the traditions of America’s founding fathers.
As Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Sunder Pichai, and a hundred other US giants have reminded Trump, theirs is after all a nation of immigrants and had been built by refugees from around the world.
More important, not a single person from the seven blacklisted Muslim countries has ever been involved in an attack on the US. Besides, if immigrants from around the world, especially those from Muslim lands, are kept out, it’s not just their loss and end of their dream for they would go elsewhere; it would be the end of American dream too. For what is America without its openness and the nervous energy and can-do spirit of its immigrants and dreamers?
Is this why Trump was voted to power? I wouldn’t think so. After eight years of the Democrats, the voters just wanted change. It’s not just on the immigration front and in relations with the world’s Muslims that confusion reigns; the first couple of weeks of the administration have left a long and wide trail of chaos virtually everywhere.
Trump has turned the US foreign policy itself and the most strategic partnership with Europe, including NATO, the most powerful military alliance that was born of this relationship in 1949, on its head. And he has gone ahead and embraced the very enemy that the US-NATO alliance was supposed to guard against.
The US and Russia spent hundreds of billions of dollars on devising deadliest of arms against each other and nearly came to wipe out each other during the long and bitter Cold War. Yet Trump cannot stop singing paeans to Putin despite the damning disclosures made by his own intelligence agencies about the Russian involvement in hacking US polls.
Trump has already declared the NATO “obsolete” and believes that most members are enjoying the party at Uncle Sam’s expense. He doesn’t think too highly of European Union either, once the most potent symbol of laissez faire capitalism and globalization. Trump has repeatedly cheered Brexit and has welcomed more such departures from the EU.
Of all the changes in Washington though, what’s singularly most disturbing is the all-pervasive influence of the J Street. As if the stranglehold of the Israeli lobby over the US establishment, media and government wasn’t already strong enough, this administration virtually eats out of Israel’s hands.
With Trump’s powerful Jewish son-in-law and architect of his campaign Jared Kushner now being his key adviser and the top administration positions being manned by you know who, no administration in history has been closer to Israel. The excessive influence of the Lobby also manifests itself in various appointments and pronouncements of the administration, including the disastrous decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We have now reached the point where envoys from one country to the other could almost switch places,” wrote Palestinian American Professor Rashid Khalidi in the New Yorker. “The Israeli ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who grew up in Florida, could just as easily be the US Ambassador to Israel, while Trump’s Ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, who has intimate ties to the Israeli colony movement, would make a fine ambassador in Washington for the pro-colony government of Netanyahu.”
No wonder Israel has done away with all diplomatic niceties, announcing thousands of new Jewish homes on stolen Palestinian land almost on a daily basis. It has even passed a new apartheid law to legalize all settlement colonies!
Amid this gathering darkness, the only ray of hope is the stiff resistance put up by the vibrant US civil society, media and courts. Angry marches and protests across the country against what is clearly the gravest challenge yet to the American dream have been fierce and getting progressively more powerful.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators spontaneously turned up at US airports to protest the “Muslim ban”. These brave voices of conscience are not only a testament to the tenacity of US democracy; they are its best hope.
Doubtless, these are testing times for the faithful in US and across Europe. However, they cannot afford to give up their hopes and aspirations, nor give in. They must resist by building alliances with other communities and respond to hate with love. It is time to present the best side of their faith and traditions, hoping and praying America would emerge stronger out of this trial by fire. Love trumps all hate.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org