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Usaid Siddiqui

Obama hands Trump a toolkit for eroding civil liberties

Police and private security personel at the counter-terrorism centre in Lower Manhattan, April 2013 [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 November, 2016

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Comment: Should Trump act on his campaign pledges as they relate to Muslims, the Obama administration would certainly have to shoulder some of the blame, writes Usaid Siddiqui.

It has been a week since Donald Trump became President-elect - yet many remain in shock over his decisive victory.

As hate crimes spiked in the aftermath of his victory, with over 200 hundred incidents reported, the prospect of a Trump administration seems to indicate a tough time ahead, especially for minorities. Muslims, who Trump suggests should be profiled in a database, are one of the many groups that remain uncertain about what a Trump administration may have in store for them.

Muslims outside the US are also waiting impatiently to see what a Trump presidency would mean for them. His threats to bring back waterboarding and killing families of Muslim terrorists has raised alarm bells across the Muslim world, and beyond.

Should Trump choose to make good on his campaign pledges as they relate to Muslims, the outgoing Obama administration would certainly have to shoulder some of the blame.

With the creation of controversial domestic anti-terrorism programmes, the expansion of the drone programme across the Muslim world, and the unwillingness to prosecute Bush era officials over the use of illegal torture techniques that overwhelmingly targeted Muslims, the Obama administration has left the Trump administration with plenty of tools and the moral leeway to do as they please.

Tackling extremism at home

Obama's first presidential campaign made civil liberties a cornerstone of his bid for the White House. He was a consistent critic in the Senate of acts like the Patriot Act that gave sweeping powers to the security agencies to arrest anyone based on mere suspicion without legal recourse.

Ratified in light of 9/11, the legislation overwhelmingly targeted Muslims and their places of worship. Yet in his past two terms, the soon to be ex-president did not live up to the expectations many Muslims had for an era of rebuilding trust and repairing old wounds.

In February 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit against the government for intense secrecy around the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program – a federal initiative set up to tackle radicalisation and potential terrorist activities. The ACLU asserts it "stigmatizes American Muslims and cast unwarranted suspicion on innocuous activity".

Obama's failure to take any meaningful action against the NSA will be another avenue for Trump officials to exploit

Of the three cities chosen as pilot cases, the targeted communities have largely been Muslim. Under the CVE umbrella, security agencies such as the FBI have begun to monitor schools for radical behaviour, which Arab and Muslim activists assert, "frames the topic heavily through the lens of Islam and will lead to profiling of Muslim youth". 

Furthermore, the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks in 2013 revealed a disturbing trend by NSA and FBI staffers of spying on prominent Muslims personalities during the Bush era. This included the Chairman of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) - the largest Muslims civil rights organisation in the country.

Though the massive NSA apparatus did not exclusively surveil Muslims, Obama's failure to take any meaningful action against the NSA will be another avenue for Trump officials to exploit in their dealings with the Muslim community.

The "War on Terror" – the fight abroad

For Muslims outside the US, Obama's presidency has hardly been a breath of fresh air. Instead of improving relations with the Muslim world as he promised early in his presidency, he has only further expanded the "War on Terror", including in non-declared areas, giving himself and by extension the executive branch, unprecedented authority and powers that have gone mostly unchallenged.

The drone programme started under Bush, but is the hallmark of the Obama administration, has seen many individuals killed - in mainly Muslim majority nations - such as Pakistan and Yemen, showing little restraint.

This guilt by association tactic has essentially been an extension of the Bush legacy of targeting innocent Muslims

The programme has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and there has been no monetary compensation or explanation provided as to why the US government chose to target their homes and families. 

From the snippets of information that have been revealed, the drone programme makes a mockery of the judicial process needed to determine guilt of individuals the US government deems a threat.

Aside from shoddy intelligence, dubious indicators such as gender, age and proximity to location formed the basis for "signature strikes" on persons (and populations) whose identity the government was unable determine in nine out of 10 cases.

This guilt by association tactic has essentially been an extension of the Bush legacy of targeting innocent Muslims without cause, yet again enforcing the idea of all Muslims as a perpetual national security threat.

Moreover, Obama's refusal to prosecute past officials under the Bush administration - over controversies like the CIA torture programme – which destroyed the lives of hundreds of Muslims - will only add to Trump's resolve to purse his stated goals of bringing back waterboarding and "a hell of a lot worse".

Though congress under Obama has declared torture as illegal, not making an example of those involved will leave the Democrats with little ground to raise a moral objection if Trump were to push ahead with his draconian ideas. 
    

Remaining defiant

While Trump's unpredictability should give people pause to see which one of his pledges he would actually follow through with, his divisive 18-month campaign has galvanized people even before his presidency officially begins.

Protests across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston speak of great dissatisfaction and genuine fear of what his policies may mean for minorities, including Muslims.

Collaboration between different minority groups has already started taking place around common goals

Former Democrat presidential candidate and US Senator Bernie Sanders has said "we would be Trump's worst nightmare," were he to turn his supporters' legitimate anger against Washington elites towards minorities. Collaboration between different minority groups has already started taking place around common goals and interests, despite notable differences.

"Regardless of who won, we as American Muslims are here to say. We aren't going anywhere," said Nihad Awad, the president of CAIR, in an interview with TIME in the aftermath of the election. "We will not be intimidated nor generalized," he added.

Asked what his goals were in the next few weeks, Awad said, "We're going to be focusing more on political and civic participation in our community. And definitely, we need to build many more bridges to the community at large and reach out to people… We need a deeper conversation, regardless of our ethnic or religious backgrounds."

With the most divisive president in modern US history set to inherent the most powerful office in the world - made even more potent over the past 15 years - resisting, and building diverse coalitions to challenge the incoming administration may just be the right start.


Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

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