Donald Trump’s recent statements about banning Muslims from the States has met with a wide array of reactions—from total support to outright disgust.
Some fear that Trump’s stance is counterproductive and will only benefit ISIS propaganda that the States and the West as a whole are anti-Muslim. Tribalism only intensifies conflicts rather than reduces them, as Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. While some dispute Pinker’s view that violence is on decline in the contemporary world, it never helps to reduce conflict if we ban all people in a given tradition based on the actions of some. We must go in search of the better angels of our human nature, while not discounting that fallen angels exist—and to some degree in each of us. Therefore, we must guard against tribal nastiness and turf wars on the one hand. But we must also guard against naiveté on the other hand, accounting for the dark side of our humanity given our complex and often conflicted human condition.
I have Muslim friends who are model U.S. citizens, and who shun ISIS. They also dismiss Trump’s statements as anti-American, not simply anti-Muslim (See, for example, my friend Harris Zafar’s interview with local Portland news). Trump’s statements are also anti-human, and definitely very tribal. I fear for my Muslim friends’ safety and rights, just as I am concerned for all Americans’ safety and rights. Certainly, we need to make sure we do everything possible as Americans to screen well those people of whatever background who seek to travel and live in the United States, while also preserving the freedoms of all Americans and those who have awarded residency here.
To be sure, a multi-faceted strategy is critically important in defeating extremist forces like ISIS. However, extreme reactions such as banning all Muslims from Americans only intensifies the conflict and leads to further extreme measures from various sides. As Americans, including Muslim and Christian Americans, we must work together to ban nastiness and naiveté from our country so that the world at large sees America as a leader in the free world, and not enslaved to fear.