I did not vote for Donald Trump, but now that he will be my president, I stand ready to collaborate with his administration to defeat our shared enemy — Islamism, also known as “radical Islam” or “political Islam.”
I feel this way both as an American citizen and because I am a Muslim with a duty to society. For our new president, I offer a bold prescription.
Engage with the American Muslim diaspora. President Barack Obama began his presidency with a speech in Cairo in 2009 about U.S.-Muslim engagement. Ultimately, the speech proved hollow in the wake of Obama’s subsequent insularity and disengagement from many of the problems in the Muslim-majority world, including in Iraq, Libya and Egypt, let alone Syria. Trump must avoid such impotence by engaging primarily not with the Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, but with Muslims in America.
American Muslims number around 3.3 million and are among the nation’s most socially mobile and affluent of immigrants. While about 25 percent are native born, most come from 68 different countries. We have high degrees of literacy and — precisely because many of us have come from theocracies governed by Islamism — we have a deep appreciation for U.S. freedoms of expression and worship, among others. By speaking with us of our shared values, and recognizing our citizenship as one of substance and not mere document, Trump can reassure many.
Do what Obama could not: Distinguish between Islam and Islamism. Islam is the 1,400-year-old religion practiced by diverse communities in 183 nations. In contrast, Islamism is the violent and nonviolent totalitarianism bent on creating a global Islamic caliphate centered on a novel and rabid anti-Semitism. Embarking on this distinction is a monumental task. Uninformed Muslims, Islamist Muslims and opportunist Islamophobes are ready to derail any such efforts.
Making the distinction exposes Islamists as devotees not of a constitutionally protected religion, but of a political ideology that seeks to overturn secular liberal democracies everywhere, often, but not only, through terrorism.
While attention in the presidential campaign was put on illegal immigration, focus on the extraordinary benefits of legal immigration. When I was younger, an educational visa brought me from Britain first to New York City and later to Long Island. In these years, I trained to be a physician alongside American citizens.
Later, I took that education to Saudi Arabia and London, where I treated Muslims in various communities. My medical training became a beacon of the investment the United States had made in me by granting my educational visa. Intellectual exchange is America’s greatest export and best advertisement.
Trump should increase academic visitor programs across disciplines to foster future generations’ positive engagement with the United States. Political science programs should be created in our leading universities to engage scholars, including Muslims from around the world, and focus on the study of Islamism. These programs should not be funded by current sponsors of Islamism such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Iran, even though we welcome students from these countries.
This prescription is a tall order, but as an American Muslim who combats Islamism as a matter of faith, I have every confidence in my new president and an Islamic duty to serve him. Accessing knowledgeable anti-Islamist Muslims would empower Trump to challenge radical Islam, which is among the most lethal threats not only to the United States, but the world.
Qanta A. Ahmed is an attending physician at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom.”