How to Start a War of Civilizations

It’s remarkable how much easier it is to say things about Canada that apply more fully to ourselves. For example, this appears in today’s New York Times in an article about the recent shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that killed six and injured eight.

Canada is a remarkably open society, a legacy of liberal politicians who set the thinly populated country on the path of aggressive multiculturalism decades ago. Last week, Statistics Canada reported that by 2036, nearly half of all Canadians would be immigrants or the children of immigrants — most of them what the country calls “visible minorities,” which means nonwhite.

That rapid transformation is stirring the most conservative elements of the white Canadian population, who see the country as their own, despite the fact that Europeans took the land from a patchwork of indigenous peoples who had long existed there.

The article notes that this sentiment is “moderate by American standards,” which is putting it mildly when you consider that the sentiment in our country is held by the people sitting in the White House.

The concern among Trump officials is not that nonwhites will inspire a violent backlash but that they will become the perpetrators of violence against whites.

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society…

…The chief architects of Trump’s order, [Steve] Bannon, [Stephen] Miller and National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, forged strong bonds during the presidential campaign.

The trio, who make up part of Trump’s inner circle, have a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim countries, believing that if large numbers of Muslims are allowed to enter the U.S., parts of American cities will begin to replicate disaffected and disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods in France, Germany and Belgium that have been home to perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years.

Within decades, Americans would have “the kind of large and permanent domestic terror threat that becomes multidimensional and multigenerational and becomes sort of a permanent feature,” one senior administration official argued.

“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.

It’s hard to say that these fears aren’t genuinely held by these individuals, although it does seem like a convenient way to rationalize immigration policies that disfavor nonwhites. And, to be clear, I don’t want this country to develop “disaffected and disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods” that breed domestic unrest and terrorism. If I thought Trump’s policies were the only thing standing between us and that dystopian future, I would consider them more on their merits and constitutionality than on their mean-spiritedness and ethno-religious bigotry.

I also can’t tell the future, so there’s no way for me to assure people that their vision won’t come to pass. It does seem to me, however, that we already have large diverse metropolitan areas with nonwhite majorities and lots of Muslims, including Muslim immigrants both from countries that are on the ban-list and from countries that have actually bred terrorists who have attacked our country and our country’s interests. The populations of these cities have not demonstrated anything like the disaffection we see in some European cities and suburbs.

Obviously, that could change. But if I were to draw up a list of what would change it, it would include much of what the Trump administration is doing and planning to do. Attacking their voting rights, using them as scapegoats and whipping boys for partisan advantage, questioning their patriotism and right to be here, adopting an aggressively pro-settler policy with Israel, having the president talk about the effectiveness of torturing them, having the president recommend collective punishment for terrorist attacks, having the president talk about stealing oil from Muslim-majority countries, and treating Muslims as a second-class category for the purposes of immigration and travel…these are all things that might arouse unrest where almost none exists today.

People are people, and they don’t respond well when they’re ill-treated, disrespected, and their rights are violated.

Clearly, my view on this isn’t unique. Nearly 1,000 State Department employees have signed a letter dissenting from Trump’s immigration policies, and their reasoning is that it will poison our relationships in the Muslim world and increase the threat of terrorism. It seems obvious to me that the best way to poison domestic Muslim relationships and to inspire domestic Muslim unrest is to do things that first accomplish these things abroad. In other words, Trump’s policies and rhetoric seem well-suited to creating a threat that didn’t previously exist, thereby achieving a self-fulfilling prophesy for their dystopian future that would seemingly justify their actions.

In that case, though, their policies will have failed to prevent what they feared and therefore would not be justified in retrospect even if they might look that way.

The Trumpistas sound like they want a war of civilizations but they’ll argue that we’re already in just such a war. Their actions are designed in such a way to erase any debate about the issue. The risk is that they will behave as if we’re in a war until we actually are.

In the meantime, the actual unrest and the actual terrorist threat that’s growing is coming from stirred up conservative elements of the white population (both here and in Canada). The most powerful element of that stirred up population is currently running the Executive Branch of our government.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.