Trump coun­try con­founds Big Me­dia

Qu­ran's mes­sage to leader in trou­bled times — pur­sue jus­tice

Tulsa World - - Opinion - BY DR. YAMEEN KHALIL Dr. Yameen Khalil, MD, is chair­man of Mus­lim Writer's Guild of Amer­ica. BY GARY ABERNATHY Gary Abernathy is pub­lisher and ed­i­tor of the (Hills­boro, Ohio) TimesGazette.

In the last few months this coun­try has faced mul­ti­ple nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, mass shoot­ings, protests and charges of sex­ual mis­con­duct against those in power. While we are still in a daze from an on­slaught of events over a very short pe­riod time, our re­sponse will de­ter­mine if our al­ready frac­tured na­tion will be­come even fur­ther di­vided, or pave a path of re­cov­ery and unity. This is my plea, as a Mus­lim, to our lead­er­ship to move us to­ward healing by heed­ing a prin­ci­ple em­pha­sized in Is­lam as foun­da­tional for those in power: that of ab­so­lute jus­tice. In­deed, a pri­mary cause, per­haps the root cause be­hind th­ese chasms might be that we have steered far from this ba­sic prin­ci­ple.

The Qu­ran sum­ma­rizes this con­cept in the fol­low­ing verse, “…Be stead­fast in the cause of God bear­ing wit­ness in eq­uity; and let not a peo­ple's en­mity in­cite you to act oth­er­wise than with jus­tice. Be al­ways just, that is nearer to right­eous­ness. And fear God. Surely God is aware of what you do.” (Chap­ter 5, Verse 9)

You may won­der how this ap­plies to the ter­ri­ble trau­mas that we are suf­fer­ing through. Ex­am­in­ing th­ese events and look­ing for root causes leads to the con­clu­sion that this prin­ci­ple of un­wa­ver­ing and ab­so­lute jus­tice needs to be heeded now more than ever. The ex­am­ple of ter­ror­ism and mass shoot­ings brings home this con­clu­sion.

In just the past few weeks we have had two of the worst mass shoot­ings in our his­tory and a hor­rific ter­ror­ist at­tack. When it comes to the mass shoot­ings, the most com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is ob­vi­ous: ac­cess to high-pow­ered weapons. Rather than en­cour­ag­ing pro­duc­tive so­lu­tions such as nu­anced and in­tel­li­gent leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress this, we grav­i­tate to­ward la­bel­ing the other side as mor­tal en­e­mies of the na­tion and our dear Con­sti­tu­tion.

A sim­i­lar ap­proach is adopted when deal­ing with ter­ror­ism. We are again quick to place la­bels. In this case on a re­li­gion fol­lowed by about 1.8 bil­lion peo­ple of the world and about 3.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. We in­sist on in­sti­tut­ing broad and dis­crim­ina-


tory im­mi­gra­tion bans that will do lit­tle to stem ac­tual acts of ter­ror­ism and a lot to fuel the ter­ror­ist nar­ra­tive.

What are the in­ten­tions be­hind this vir­u­lent rhetoric that steers us so far from any progress in stop­ping the men­ace of mass vi­o­lence, whether through a gun or any other means? No doubt scor­ing po­lit­i­cal points and stok­ing un­founded fears and di­vi­sion.

This stands in sharp con­trast to the Qu­ranic in­junc­tion that states, “…be strict in ob­serv­ing jus­tice, and be wit­nesses for the sake of God, even though it be against your­selves…fol­low not low de­sires so that you may be able to act eq­ui­tably. And if you con­ceal the truth or evade it, then re­mem­ber that God is well aware of what you do.” (Chap­ter 4, Verse 136)

Jus­tice would re­quire that we rec­og­nize that it is in­cred­i­bly easy to ac­cess high-pow­ered guns for even those with a his­tory of do­mes­tic abuse. It would then re­quire us to en­act leg­is­la­tion that lim­its this ac­cess.

Jus­tice would re­quire that we rec­og­nize that ter­ror­ists who act in the name of Is­lam con­sti­tute only a minis­cule per­cent­age of Mus­lims. It would then re­quire us to sup­port the nar­ra­tive of true Is­lam, which op­poses all vi­o­lence against in­no­cents in the name of re­li­gion.

Jus­tice would re­quire that we rec­og­nize the geopo­lit­i­cal real­ity that we, as a na­tion, too of­ten sup­port op­pres­sive regimes that suit our needs, which breeds deep griev­ances against us. It would then re­quire that we take away this sup­port and act to do what is right.

I im­plore the lead­ers of our great na­tion to adopt this same prin­ci­ple of jus­tice and eq­uity when deal­ing with the dire prob­lems that face our na­tion. It might seem ide­al­is­tic but the times call for a dras­tic shift in our think­ing, one that is far re­moved from pol­i­tics as usual. Only through this lens can we take the first step to­ward un­der­stand­ing the prob­lems of gun vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ism, and be­gin the process of healing and im­prove­ment.

HILLS­BORO, Ohio — A year ago, the Times-Gazette was one of just a hand­ful of news­pa­pers around the na­tion to en­dorse Don­ald Trump for pres­i­dent. Sel­dom has a 58-word state­ment in a small ru­ral pub­li­ca­tion gar­nered such at­ten­tion, shin­ing a na­tional and even in­ter­na­tional spot­light on a news­pa­per and a com­mu­nity.

Over the past 12 months, news or­ga­ni­za­tions na­tion­ally and from around the world have dis­cov­ered Hills­boro, High­land County and south­ern Ohio in gen­eral, ex­plor­ing the peo­ple and in­ter­ests here in an ef­fort to de­ter­mine why places such as ours so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported Trump (he won 76 per­cent of the vote in this county) and why, for the most part, those peo­ple con­tinue to sup­port him.

In just the past few days, a writer from the Nikkei, one of Ja­pan's largest news­pa­pers, trav­eled here for an in­ter­view, and the BBC's “Out­side Source” news pro­gram set up shop in our newsroom for a live two-hour broad­cast. Host Nuala Mc­Gov­ern in­ter­viewed our staff, along with lo­cal party and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, about ev­ery­thing from Trump to guns to the opi­oid cri­sis.

I don't know whether most of the jour­nal­ists who come here have pre­de­ter­mined ideas about what they will find. Per­haps, if they have read some of the analysis from the left on what de­fines a Trump sup­porter — racist, misog­y­nist, un­e­d­u­cated — they ex­pect a wall of Con­fed­er­ate flags, a KKK pa­rade down Main Street and a col­lec­tion of hill­bil­lies mak­ing moon­shine on the back porch.

In­stead, they dis­cover a land­scape that is breath­tak­ing in its phys­i­cal beauty, and res­i­dents who are wel­com­ing, in­dus­tri­ous, smart, in­ter­est­ing and, yes, opin­ion­ated. Peo­ple here are well in­formed and ready to de­fend their pol­i­tics, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­spect­ing the opin­ions of vis­i­tors with dif­fer­ent view­points.

The live BBC broad­cast from our of­fice hap­pened to take place the day af­ter the tragic mas­sacre at First Bap­tist Church in Suther­land Springs, Texas, that claimed 26 lives and left at least 20 oth­ers in­jured. Nat­u­rally, Mc­Gov­ern asked about the in­ci­dent, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to gun-con­trol leg­is­la­tion. Not sur­pris­ingly, no one who was in­ter­viewed


here thought more gun laws were the an­swer, and they were well pre­pared to de­fend that po­si­tion. The schism that ex­ists be­tween the left and right on the so­lu­tion to gun vi­o­lence is deep and wide.

It was also not sur­pris­ing that lo­cal Repub­li­cans de­fended the pres­i­dent, blam­ing most pol­icy holdups or cam­paign prom­ises not yet kept on fierce me­dia and es­tab­lish­ment re­sis­tance.

One light­hearted mo­ment among many came when the some­times con­tro­ver­sial mayor of Hills­boro, Drew Hast­ings, was ca­su­ally asked whether he would seek a third term when his sec­ond one ex­pired in 2019. “No,” he replied, which was big news lo­cally. I sar­cas­ti­cally thanked the BBC for com­ing all the way from Lon­don to scoop us on a big lo­cal news story.

The best thing about the year-long “Trump Coun­try” scru­tiny on our south­west­ern Ohio ham­let, pop­u­la­tion 6,600, and the sur­round­ing re­gion is that mem­bers of the na­tional and world me­dia who would never oth­er­wise ven­ture here have been ob­li­gated to visit per­son­ally, rather than just con­duct phone in­ter­views or draw con­clu­sions based on cen­sus data or gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics.

It's very dif­fi­cult to spend time with peo­ple in an up-close-and-per­sonal way, break­ing bread, con­vers­ing about lo­cal is­sues and fam­ily events, or see­ing their homes, and con­tinue to hold neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of them.

Vis­i­tors might well re­turn home with­out chang­ing their minds about what they con­sider the mis­guided po­lit­i­cal views they en­coun­tered. But they will al­most cer­tainly find them­selves un­able to cling to what­ever an­i­mos­ity they might have held.

The same holds true whether it is a case of lib­er­als caught in a con­ser­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment or, as I know from first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence, a con­ser­va­tive thrust for a lengthy pe­riod into a lib­eral uni­verse. When you are made to feel wel­come and re­spected, it is hard to hate.

Fa­mil­iar­ity breeds con­tempt, the say­ing goes, but I think it is truer that fa­mil­iar­ity leads to un­der­stand­ing and even friend­ship, if not agree­ment. Please, Big Me­dia, con­tinue to ex­plore Hills­boro and other such com­mu­ni­ties around the na­tion — com­mu­ni­ties that sel­dom were on any­one's radar, un­til they de­cided a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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