As Donald Trump spoke in Arizona presenting his baffling immigration policy, another face kept popping up in my head. Of a mighty woman with a torch. What did Emma Lazarus call her in New Colossus? Mother of Exiles? I fell in love with her, the Statue of Liberty, when I first read Faiz’s following stanza when I was 10-year-old: Tere hontoon ke pholoon ki chahat main hum/Daar ki khushk tehnee pay varey gaey/Tere hathoon ki shamoon ki hasrat main hum/Neem tareek raahoon main maarey gayay (Pining for the roses that bloom on your lip/We were dangled from the shriveled bough of the scaffold/Aching for the torches in your hands/We were bludgeoned to death in the slough on the dimly lit road.)
This is just an example of the pull she has on men and women fighting for their rights around the world. She is after all no ordinary statue. She is the Statue of Liberty. And to think that her land, under Trump, would opt for extreme vetting of immigrants and ideological certification, must occasionally make Mother of Exiles think of seeking exile in Canada or somewhere else. And leave a land no more welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Don’t get me wrong. Safety of a country’s citizens is important. The message was not lost on us when Trump brought Angel moms on the stage. No one should trivialise the suffering of parents whose children were taken from them by a madman and sadly Trump did just that by reducing them to an argument. But the trouble is that you cannot make your country secure by changing its very nature. America as conceived by its founding fathers was not meant to be a police state. Otherwise the statue would have been called the Statue of Security carrying a crossbow and a shield instead of a torch and a tablet. Faith in one’s core values essentially means to remember there must always be another way. The trouble also is that the way the world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union has evolved, the US has emerged as the alpha of the pack. That means that other societies copy its example without even knowing it. A culture of intolerance has spread around the world as a result of how things were handled in the US in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Muslims in non-Muslim societies feel they have been reduced to the status of untrustworthy, second rate citizens. And Muslim societies have not been kind to their non-Muslim citizens either. Consider the plight of minorities in Pakistan, a country made for the minorities of the subcontinent. The situation here was never too sunny for minorities but their suffering grew in the post-9/11 world.
In short, the world has very effectively played into the hands of the likes of al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State. When you compromise the values you stand for, you give your enemies a virtual walkover. They spent their entire lives reducing you to a caricature and now you validate their propaganda by doing exactly what they hoped for. No, another way definitely exists. To counter your enemies, you have to take the propaganda war to their homes. I know before he left this world, Samuel Huntington sowed the seeds of doubt in our subconscious minds in such a way that we ended up interpreting his pronouncements to be about a war of religions and cultures. But that’s not true. The fundamental purpose of each faith is to improve upon the human condition. Culture is a product of man’s response to the forces of nature and history. Since it is all about human lives, no faith, no culture needs to fight with another.
Democracies, when not ensnared by pied pipers like Trump, can easily counter the propaganda of terrorists, extremists and hatemongers through their soft power. Stick to your core values, make it easy for the world to understand you, show patience, use your charm and even the conviction of used car salesmen to convince others where need be. No enemy of civilisation stands a chance against such a campaign. Let the golden door stay open for the homeless, tempest-tossed and reclaim the ground you have lost.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2016.