I normally would not comment on recent events, because I don't like to post emotional responses. I normally would wait for the events to sink in, then I would only comment if I have rational thoughts to share.
However, I feel compelled to express some views about the cataclysmic election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. To be sure, I will not try in this post to analyse the causes and consequences, as any such analysis would be clouded by my very strong emotions at the moment. I will therefore limit my comments to a number of thoughts that would illustrate my state of mind without pretending that they have been fully thought through.
Is there a global rise in xenophobic sentiments ?
I am not sure there is, per se, a rise in xenophobia. However, there most certainly is a rise in "patriotic" and "Identity" based sentiments. Most of the people around the world, including the West and the Muslim world, have been made to feel attacked in their culture. The reaction to such perceived attack is always defensive, and take the form defiant actions and opinions, even from those that normally would be extremely critical of the what is being attacked.
So, is the western culture or the dominant culture in the Muslim world really being attacked ? It is extremely difficult to answer the question, as the perception has been building up and escalating for well over a decade. The only thing that is clear is that it is perceived from both sides as a blatant attack.
Looking around me, I see a large number of open minded, well educated people which would normally have very nuanced views about most subjects, becoming much more defensive and single minded, adopting along the way views they would normally have found repulsive. People that would normally be very critical of the patriarchal male dominated traditions and behaviors progressively adopting the defense of those same views and behaviors. People that would normally champion civil rights especially religious rights, the rights of Women and racial minorities, tolerance of difference in sexual orientation, and the values of human decency becoming more attached to preserving outdated traditions and rejecting differences.
SO, what is causing such radicalisation of views and opinions ? trying to isolate causes from effects is becoming a chicken and egg dilemma. When people are on the defensive, the worst thing to do is to challenge the basis of their views, as they perceive it as a challenge to their "Identity", and they react by defending those views even more, resulting in even more radicalisation. I believe the same goes for both sides, taking them further apart by the day. Without breaking the process and looking for unifying shared values instead of attacking the differences, it would only get worse.
Back to Trump and his divisive platform
Instead of attacking the basis of the platform that got Trump elected, I prefer to discuss some of the proposed policies from an angle that stresses the practicality and effects rather than the philosophy underlying it.
Banning Muslims from entering the US
The initial proposal of banning Muslims from entering the US is quite ridiculous, regardless of its morality. How would anyone determine if someone else is a Muslim? Or even, what is a Muslim? I have yet to find two people that believe the exact same thing. Even if one was to look only as subset of beliefs that seem to be shared by many Muslims, when one digs a little farther into how they interpret those beliefs, it is extremely difficult to find two persons that have similar, let alone identical interpretations. Even if it were possible to define what a Muslim is, how would one go about identifying one. Beliefs are not, at least with the current state of neuro-science, probable. There is no process or machine that would explore what someone’s beliefs are. Questioning people would not do the job, as their responses will always adapt to their objectives, and those that such a probe tries to find are the ones that would adapt their responses the most, as they have more clarity on what they want to hide.
Trump himself has back paddled, and is now speaking of “extreme vetting”. I do not see how this changes anything. Vetting people based on their views and beliefs is the issue. The targeted people are the ones that have the best ability to hide information and to slip through the cracks of the vetting process.
Also, extreme vetting supposes that risks would be detected through incoherence or contradictions in one’s story. But people do not live their lives without contradictions, nor do they hold beliefs and views that are fully coherent. Detecting incoherencies or contradictions only amounts to detecting whether the person is human. If contradictions are considered a risk, then only those that have a made-up personality and story would succeed through the vetting process. The effect is to only accept those the process is supposed to reject.
Also, one of the most basic ways one can decide if an opinion or belief is good or bad is to think of how he would feel if it was applied to himself. Let us for a second imagine that my country would apply “extreme vetting” to decide on whether Donald Trump should be allowed to enter Morocco. I believe of that was to occur, it would not take a few seconds before rejecting him, as what he said about getting away with assaulting women immediately raises a flag about protecting Moroccan women’s rights. Did he actually commit any such act, or would he ever commit any such act? we cannot know, and the main thing about vetting is that it doesn’t have to be fair. It is supposed to remove risks rather than be fair.
Building a Wall
One other hallmark of the policies proposed by Donald Trump is "Building a Wall between the US and Mexico". The intent being to stop Mexicans to enter the US illegally.
There are very few countries whose people are as welcomed everywhere around the world as the US citizens. Most countries do not impose Visas or any other vetting process on them. I have seen, in so many countries, Americans that came in as visitors and decided to stay for some period of time. Many of them worked illegally during those stays. While those countries do not view the illegal American immigrants as a danger to their economies, there are nonetheless American immigrants that commit crimes, and there are radicalized people among them that may commit acts of terror. Yet, the US would defend any of its citizens caught in illegal activity in those countries. How is that any different from Mexicans illegally entering the US? Is the US a bully that would do whatever it wants around the world, and everyone else just has to bow down?
It is much more reasonable to deal with immigration problems through basic human decency and fairness. To curb immigration that affects one's economy, the best course of action is to work towards a world where people benefit from the same rights, and where the value of work becomes much more uniform. If Mexicans could earn good living while staying close their family and friends, very few would migrate to the United States. Only those that have skills that are more abundant in Mexico than in the United Stated would still migrate, and they would benefit both economies.
Isolationist tendencies and the direction of history
The rhetoric about nationalism goes against history, and is trying to resist a change that is absolutely inevitable in the social media era. People are connecting with each others regardless of national borders. Most Millennials do not see people from other countries as strange or distant. They see friends that share the same human values. Trying to prevent people from crossing borders to preserve one's culture is completely misguided, as it would only take a generation to loose any significance of the borders in the first place. The only pragmatic course of action is to adopt globalisation and work towards easing any disruptions along to way to achieving a global citizenship. Free Trade and free movement is bound to become reality. It is the responsibility of leadership to help their people gain the required competencies to compete in a global market, taking advantage from their assets and ecosystems, and allowing the slow opening up to play out and progressively align earnings and value of work to a global standard.