Tag: Islam

Will Dutch immigrant voters fight back at the ballot box?

The recent dispute between Turkish President Recip Tayepp Erdoğan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, concerning Rutte’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign abroad, has only made life worse for Turks in the Netherlands.

People from a Turkish background in the Netherlands are being forced to take a side in an unpalatable diplomatic dispute in which they have nothing to win and everything to lose. Erdoğan uses them to strengthen his position ahead of a referendum to increase his own powers, and Dutch politicians use them to show voters how tough they are on immigrants refusing to integrate.

The person who benefits, of course, is Geert Wilders: the most famous man in Dutch politics right now.

Wilders has had an enormous influence on the Dutch political debate. His harsh anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric has completely transformed the Dutch integration debate. Because of Wilders, all mainstream parties have shifted to the right on immigration, Islam and integration.

This means that Dutch voters with an immigrant background, especially Muslims, are increasingly less represented by secular progressive parties, such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, which have traditionally received the most support from immigrant voters.

An open system for minority representation

Almost 20% of the Dutch population is from a first-generation or second-generation immigrant background; around 12%, or two million people, have a “non-Western” background. This group is the main target of Wilders and his Freedom Party.

The Dutch political system of proportionality generally favors the representation of minorities in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. Elections in the Netherlands use a party list system with pure proportionality, very low thresholds, and the ability to cast preferential votes.

Party lists compete in elections. The order of candidates is decided upon by each party, though voters can select a listed candidate who will independently earn a seat upon getting enough votes. Parties only need about 60,000 votes (in a country of almost 17 million) to win one of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.

As a result of this open political system, the percentage of politicians with an immigrant background in the Dutch parliament is among the highest in Europe.

The birth of DENK

As mainstream parties moved further to the right in order to defend themselves against Wilders, these politicians and their constituencies have become increasingly frustrated.

Two politicians of Turkish descent, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who have strong ties to the conservative religious part of the Turkish-Dutch community, left the Social Democratic Party after intense internal fights about the extent to which Turkish religious organizations are an obstacle for integration and should be monitored and perhaps even forbidden. Kuzu and Öztürk started their own party, DENK, meaning “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish.

Our research shows support for secular progressive parties among immigrant communities has decreased rapidly, and their trust and interest in Dutch politics has further decreased, affecting participation rates significantly.

Studies of young people from an immigrant background illustrate that an ever-increasing proportion of this group does not identify with Dutch society or politics any more, feels frustrated and stigmatized and believes that their interests are not represented by the mainstream political parties.

DENK is projected to win two seats in parliament. Considering that the conservative Turkish-Dutch community is relatively large, well-organized and politically active, this does not seem unreasonable.

But whether this will signal a process of emancipation of voters with an immigrant background, and whether DENK will be able to represent their interest successfully, remains an open question.

Although the main message of the DENK party program is “connection”, their campaign strategy so far is to aggressively attack political rivals (especially if these rivals have an immigrant background themselves), along with the media and Wilders’s supporters.

In the short term, this tactic may fulfill their constituents’ need to voice anger and frustration. But in the long term it will further fuel polarization and possibly segregation, two things that are certainly not in the interest of this group.

The future of Dutch integration

Voters with an immigrant background both need to believe that it still matters to fight for something and to receive some commitment from and connection to their country of settlement, our studies illustrate.

Current political debates tend to focus whether immigrants are assimilating to Dutch culture. This approach portrays a connection with migrants’ origin country as a problem, leaving no room for dual identification. It will only lead to further polarization and segregation rather than create a political discourse that allows everyone to participate.

Who will take the first step to build bridges between the Netherlands’ different groups and constituencies? The longer we wait, the more difficult it will get.

Floris Vermeulen, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam and Maria Kranendonk, Phd Candidate, University of Amsterdam

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Media and liberals: Changing words to change the narrative

By Robert J. Garrison 

The biggest news story the past few days has been President Trump’s signing of an executive order banning immigration from seven middle eastern countries.

I want to make the record clear this is NOT a Muslim ban, it is an immigration pause! Yet every protester and media outlet is calling it a Muslim ban. It’s a small yet significant change. It is also a popular psychological tactic. This is a psychological tactic is used by an opposing faction to gain control of the narrative. Also, this is only a temporary ban imposed for 90 days.

So many people are talking about an issue that they don’t even have a clue about. They believe the talking points of the MSM like MSNBC, CNN, or the Huffington Post. So many protesters and media outlets haven’t even read the text of the executive order.

For my readers, here is the text of the executive order.

I understand that we are busy with work, texting, posting on social media or running out to protest but let us stop and take the time to actually read the text without viewing it through the filter of news commentators and writers.

I also implore that we all take the time to actually study the topic or issue rather than allow our emotions whip us into a frenzy. For instance, this is not a permanent ban. It is a temporary one, so the new administration can review the vetting process and make tweaks to the vetting process if needed. Also, the government is not stopping everyone from coming in, they are granting waivers to those that were in transit or have already been cleared. Now that we have cut through the hysteria a little, let us look at the premise of the executive order.

So what’s the big deal with these seven countries that President Trump banned immigration for 90-120 days? Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government.

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Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government. These countries are known as hotbeds of terrorism and since they do not have a strong centralized government it is hard to nearly impossible to get reliable intelligence on those wishing to come into the US. Let us not forget that ISIS has stated that they will use the refugee crisis to infiltrate the West. Places like France and Germany have felt the impact of ISIS’ plan to infiltrate the refugees and President Trump is taking measures to make sure that the US doesn’t. It is not like he made that decision on a whim.

The State Department reported last summer that ISIS tried to enter the US posing as refugees. Also, ISIS bragged back in 2015 that it has successfully infiltrated 1000s of terrorist among the refugees entering Europe. Since ISIS knows that they couldn’t possibly get to the US from countries like Syria, Iraq, or Libya they need to get into Europe and try to get into the US from there. This is the heart of what the executive order is trying to prevent. Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Some suggest that it is because of Trumps business ties with Saudi Arabia as to why it wasn’t on the list. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied that accusation on Meet the Press by explaining how they came up with those seven countries:

“Just like I said very clearly, the countries that were chosen in the executive order to protect Americans from terrorists were the countries that have already been identified by Congress and the Obama administration,”

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer on Monday also suggested that other countries could be added to the list at a later date.

Saudi Arabia should be added to the list, not only because 15 of the 9-11 hijackers were from there but because of their government sponsor of Wahhabism, which is a very extreme form of Islam. Also, Saudi Arabia sponsors 100s of madrasas (Islamic education institutions such as elementary/high schools or colleges) that teach this extreme form of Islam here in the US!

So, are Trump’s business ties the reason why Saudi Arabia wasn’t added to the list? I don’t think so and here’s why. What is more likely the reason why and fits the Trump method is leverage.

The reason that more likely fits the Trump method of doing deals, is leverage. President Trump last weekend made calls to many major world leaders, one of them being the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman. During this call, King Salman agreed to provide safe zones in Syria and Yemen and to provide help for displaced refugees. President Trump during the election campaign has always called on the Arab world to step up and help the refugees themselves and not leaving only the West to deal with it. So, the leverage theory is more in line with what President Trump has stated before and his political tactics than the business dealing ties.

While the implementation of the executive order was not perfect nor was the list of countries, the reasoning behind the order was. The Trump administration is erring on the side of caution when it comes to the nation’s security and for that, we should be grateful.

While some might be inconvenienced because of this order isn’t that better than being inconvenienced by an attack on US soil?

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Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives.

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Terrorism, the far-right and Russian meddling: the biggest threats to Europe in 2017

The European Union endured a series of political shocks and strains in 2016 that threatened to tear the bloc apart: an ongoing migration crisis; the United Kingdom’s vote in June to exit the union; lackluster growth and stubbornly high unemployment in the euro zone; terrorist attacks that killed and injured scores; and surging support for populist and anti-EU political parties.

Against this recent history, there can be no doubt that 2017 will be one of the most important and fateful years in the EU’s six-decade history.

There are five acute dangers facing the EU in 2017. These are not isolated challenges. Instead, they are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Addressing one of them would be a formidable test. That all five are happening simultaneously presents an unparalleled trial for European leaders.

The rise of the far-right

Voters in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and possibly Italy will vote in national elections in 2017. Populist, anti-EU parties are expected to perform strongly in all four contests.

France’s presidential election is likely to pit former prime minister François Fillon and nominee of the center-right Republicans against Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, in the second round of voting in May.

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Marine Le Pen- Far Right leader in France-Wikipedia

Support for the National Front has surged in recent years. In the 2012 presidential election, Le Pen received less than 18% of the vote, failing to make it to the second round runoff. But recent polls show her receiving as much as 24% of the vote in the first round this year.

While polls suggest that a Le Pen victory is unlikely (current forecasts show Fillon getting 65% of the votes to Le Pen’s 35% in the second round), following a year of electoral surprises — from Brexit to Donald Trump’s triumph in the US presidential election – it would be foolish to write Le Pen off completely.

In the Netherlands, polls show the anti-immigration, anti-EU Party for Freedom in the lead ahead of parliamentary elections in March. Party leader Geert Wilders proposes the closure of mosques in the Netherlands, as well as a Dutch exit from the EU.

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Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel-Wikipedia

In Germany, for the first time since the end of World War II, the far-right could make substantial electoral gains in parliamentary elections, likely to be held in September. The Alternative for Germany party is currently polling around 13%, virtually ensuring that it will clear the 5% threshold and attain representation in Germany’s federal parliament.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains popular, and her Christian Democratic Union party leads comfortably in the polls. But her decision to allow more than a million migrants into Germany last year has been attacked from all sides of the political spectrum, and her position could be weakened further if there are additional terror attacks in Germany, following the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, which killed 12 people.

Terrorism

The Christmas market attack in Berlin showed that Europe remains vulnerable to terrorist violence.

According to Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, 151 people died from terrorist attacks in the EU in 2015, and a further 360 were injured. The same year, there were more than 200 failed, foiled, or completed terrorist attacks in EU member states, and more than 1,000 people were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

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Berlin Terror Attack- The Duran

These trends continued in 2016. Scores have been killed and hundreds more injured in attacks in Belgium, France, and Germany. French police arrested five Islamic State operatives in Strasbourg and Marseilles suspected of planning an “imminent” attack.

Europol estimates that as many as 5,000 Europeans have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq, and hundreds have returned home. Many others across Europe have become radicalized online or by local recruiters. They have formed terrorist cells across the continent, lying dormant but capable of planning, financing, and executing deadly attacks.

As a result, many Europeans fear that terrorist violence in their homelands has become the new normal.

Watch out for Russia

Tensions between the West and Russia are at their highest level since the end of the Cold War. Over the past several years, Russia has emerged as a much more aggressive and unpredictable power, invading and annexing Crimea in 2014 and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

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Russian Troops in Crimea-ScrapeTV

Since 2012, Russia has been rapidly modernising its military, making it a much more formidable threat to European and NATO defense planners. Russia is building and expanding bases in the Arctic, has made big increases to its military budget, conducted several large-scale military exercises that simulate war with NATO, deployed its military in foreign conflicts such as Syria, stationed nuclear weapons in the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland and Lithuania, and upgraded its military equipment. Russian fighter planes also regularly enter or skirt the airspace of NATO countries.

European and NATO military planners worry that Russia might seek to expand its power and influence in the Baltic states. A recent war-gaming exercise from the Rand Corporation showed that Russia could seize one of the Baltic capitals within 60 hours.

Following revelations that Russia had interfered in this year’s US presidential election, signs indicate that it may try to do the same in European elections this year. In an attempt to destabilize or disorient Europe, Russia is pursuing a disinformation and propaganda campaign intended to bolster politicians and political parties sympathetic to Russia and its interests in Eastern Europe.

Russia has also cultivated a number of fringe or extremist political groups across Europe, such as the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary and the National Front in France.

A new migration crisis

Following a controversial agreement reached between the EU and Turkey last March, the number of migrants reaching Europe dropped dramatically in 2016. According to the UN refugee agency, 359,000 migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2016 — down from more than a million in 2015 – with Italy now the top destination.

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Refugee Camp in Europe – Bambinoides

But the EU deal with Turkey appears on the verge of collapse. EU-Turkish relations have become increasingly strained following July’s failed coup attempt in Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s subsequent crackdown on dissent. Following a non-binding vote by the European Parliament in November to suspend EU membership negotiations with Turkey, Erdoğan threatened to cancel the agreement and let the flow of migrants into Europe resume.

The United Nations estimates that 2.8 million refugees are currently in Turkey. A return of migration on the scale of 2015 would put significant stress on Europe’s system of open internal borders, threatening to permanently undo one of the EU’s signature achievements.

A teetering euro-zone

For almost a decade now, the euro-zone has been in a near-permanent state of crisis. Far from ushering in a period of greater political unity and economic integration in Europe, the euro has introduced new grievances and inequalities among the countries that use it.

Fed up with austerity, tepid economic growth, and an unemployment rate of just below 10% in the euro-zone, which is much higher for young workers, many Europeans have become disenchanted with the single currency. Across the 19 countries that use the euro, only 56% of respondents in a recent poll said it was “a good thing” for their country, down five points from last year. Only 41% of Italians polled thought the euro was good for Italy.

The European Commission’s Autumn 2016 economic forecast warned that “uncertainties and vulnerabilities” in the European economy remain “large and widespread”. Greece is in a veritable economic depression. Its economy has shrunk by more than a quarter since 2010 and 23% of its available workforce is unemployed. Italy’s economy is smaller than it was a decade ago, and its national debt stands at more than 130% of GDP.

Italian banks — hobbled by €360 billion of bad loans and a weak national economy — are in desperate need of recapitalization. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third biggest bank, flunked the European stress test on financial institutions in July, ranking last of the 51 banks tested.

The failed referendum on constitutional reforms in December 2016 presented a further dose of economic and political uncertainty for the euro-zone’s third-biggest economy. Italy’s anti-establishment, anti-euro Five Star Movement is currently polling neck-and-neck with the Democratic Party, still led by Matteo Renzi, who resigned as prime minister after the referendum.

leader-of-the-five-star-movement-and-comedian-grillo-gestures-while-speaking-during-an-election-campaign-for-european-parliament-elections-in-rome
Five Star Movement Co-Founder and leader, Beppe Grillo – Polikracia

Parliamentary elections could be held as early this year. The Five Star Movement advocates a non-binding national referendum to determine whether Italy should abandon the euro.

One country’s exit from the euro-zone could set in motion an unraveling of the entire currency area. The political fallout from the economic pain and uncertainty that would result would be immense.

End of an era?

The European project of political and economic integration has been one the greatest achievements in modern history. For decades, it has brought peace and prosperity to a continent shattered by cycles of war, economic turmoil, and political extremism.

But European integration has never proceeded in a linear manner. For much of its history, the EU has stumbled through one crisis after another. As Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of European integration, said, “I have always believed that Europe would be built through crises and that it would be the sum of their solutions.”

But Monnet also said that solutions had to be intelligently proposed and skillfully applied. That is the challenge that confronts European leaders today: can they apply the right solutions to Europe’s present troubles? They must show citizens that the EU can help address the current difficulties, rather than making them worse. Otherwise, the very future of the union may be at risk.

The Conversation

Richard Maher -Research Fellow, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and Tillerson face the Middle East

Can President-elect Donald Trump adopt policies that respond to the realities of today’s Middle East, despite his lack of regional knowledge, absence of deep engagement in global issues and use of inflammatory language toward Muslims?

It’s still too early to answer this question definitively, but Trump’s pick of oil executive Rex Tillerson for secretary of state heightens concerns about the Trump administration’s possible excessive closeness to Russia while leaving other likely U.S. foreign policy priorities unclear.

Nonetheless, it is conceivable that some of Trump’s postures on the campaign trail and the general appeal he made to his voters could help him respond to issues facing the contemporary Middle East. That’s especially true if he could build policies that eschewed Islamophobia and American militarism.

As a scholar with broad expertise in contemporary Middle Eastern law and politics, who was among those who foresaw the likely rise in Islamic extremism and instability following the U.S. regime overthrow in Iraq, I’m in a good position to analyze the realities the Trump administration will face.

First of all, ignoring the Middle East is not an option. Humanitarian crises – think Syria – and regional popular dissatisfaction with politics and economics will inevitably affect Americans’ security at home and abroad. That’s why it’s important to envision how the new U.S. government can actually capitalize on Trump’s lack of prior foreign policy experience to seek policies that can help both Americans and Middle Easterners.

Anti-Islamic postures are not productive

The aftermath of the 2011 mass uprisings against unpopular, coercive governments in the Middle East and North Africa was renewed authoritarianism and devastating civil war. As a result, leaders and many citizens in today’s Middle East have deferred their hopes for democratizing change. They fear that the violence and chaos that decimated Syria and Yemen will spread to them. Yet the region has a young population with strong interests in a better economic opportunity and greater freedom.

Muslims are a large majority in the region. As a candidate, Trump’s clearest stance relevant to the Middle East was a willingness to appeal to some Americans’ mistrust of Muslims. People who have experience with Middle Eastern extremism warn that looking at the region through an Islamophobic lens won’t lead to any good.

Even common sense, which Trump and Tillerson seem to share, suggests hostile statements by a world leader toward a region’s majority religion are destructive. Indeed, militant group propagandists have been gleeful in their expectations that the incoming U.S. leader’s anti-Islamic statements will enhance their recruitment.

President-elect Trump should back off from inflammatory language that demeans Muslims broadly in favor of a clear-headed appreciation of regional concerns. Doing this is imaginable if he can build on aspects of other positions he took during the campaign. Key among these postures are the view that the U.S. is too enmeshed in global alliances and politics, a determination to destroy the Islamic State, concern about spillover of the Syrian crisis into the U.S. and mistrust of Iran.

Let’s consider each one.

US involvement in the Middle East

Like Trump, some Middle Eastern governments, concerned with a legacy of excessive Western imperial domination and American interference, might favor less extensive U.S. enmeshment in the region.

Others realize that a less robust American engagement risks enhancing the power of repressive leaders like Syria’s Assad or decreasing U.S. global power. It would also likely mean no progress, or worse, for long-suffering Palestinians and Israelis.

Yet, weaker U.S. unilateral enmeshment in regional issues may avoid future long-term disasters like Iraq. It would prevent inconsistent or hypocritical efforts to promote American priorities in the region from making some issues worse. Tunisia, the one Arab country that made a transition to democracy after the 2011 regional uprisings, did so without being a major U.S. priority. Some scaling back of U.S. efforts in the region, assessed soberly with a view to U.S. priorities, would be not only welcome in some quarters, but arguably no less effective than current policy. Indeed, a well-planned reduced U.S. role could encourage greater capacity for Middle East regional institutions like the Gulf Cooperation Council, which has proven elusive in the past.

Defeat IS, but then what?

Most countries in the region have no love for IS. They have cooperated financially, logistically or militarily, in the effort to destroy it that is succeeding on the battlefield. Yet, as was true with Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in Iraq in 2003, U.S.-supported military efforts to oust a toxic political entity are just a first step. Understanding the reconstruction that must follow is central.

The Iraqi government’s lack of control over parts of the country’s territory, its ties to Iran and the expectations for some subnational ethnic group autonomy are key problems that no great power can afford to ignore. Doing so may sow the seeds for future IS-like entities.

Spillover from Syria

A third point that Trump stressed while campaigning was a fear that the Syrian crisis’ spillover would lead refugees to the U.S. where they could pose a security risk.

This fear is unfounded. Only a small number of Syrian refugees are accepted by the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security has a stringent process of refugee approval. What’s more, refugees have historically made important contributions to American society. Practically speaking, people fleeing groups like IS could help American efforts to combat the groups and their violent ideology.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine Trump opening U.S. borders to Syrian refugees. But the Syrian humanitarian crisis won’t go away simply because Trump might prefer to ignore it. Syria’s tragedy has only intensified in the wake of limited global action.

As with IS, it would be foolhardy if the new administration turned its back on the broad dangers represented by Syria’s collapse. Europe and Turkey are turning away people fleeing Syria’s and Yemen’s violence. A policy that would be consistent with Trump’s unwillingness to increase refugee presence on U.S. soil would be to provide more consistent post-conflict services. These could include vocational training and jobs for the millions of Syrian civilians in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Research on extremism suggests that recruits are driven by issues of identity and perceived deprivation or social exclusion, not specific ideological or religious beliefs. This danger has been, and remains, acute in Syria and will require practical attention.

What about Iran?

Trump has also promised to renegotiate the multilateral treaty that stopped Iran’s move toward nuclear weapons. Arab Gulf states frequently express anxiety around Iran’s power. They see Iran as a threat to their countries’ autonomy and to the majority Sunni Islam that differs from the assertive minority Shi’ism central to Iran’s political ideology.

While some Middle Eastern countries may welcome a renewed U.S. hard line toward Tehran, other factors could nudge the Trump administration toward little more than a symbolic push against the treaty. These include the opportunities for American companies to sell to Iran; Iranian oil, in which Tillerson’s company has shown interest; Russia’s good ties to Iran; and the real risks of an Iran with nuclear weapons.

In any case, the U.S. will not be able to ignore Iran’s role as a player in regional politics. This role annoys Israel and some Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. Indeed, American pragmatism and fresh eyes could actually help an ongoing, acrimonious struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for influence in the oil-rich Gulf that can be expected to be viewed as important by Tillerson.

The bigger picture

Perhaps candidate Trump’s main message was that bloated government has failed to serve many people. Many Middle Easterners feel this exact sentiment toward their own political systems.

“Drain the swamp” could well have been a winning slogan during the 2011 Middle East uprisings – except for its geographical mismatch in a desert region. Trump should readily understand the long-seething anger which Middle Easterners harbor toward their leaders and economic prospects.

If the new U.S. leader works with his pragmatic, deal-oriented nominee for secretary of state, and can tune his ear toward this frustration that ordinary Middle Easterners share with his own supporters, he might apply his affinities for business and construction to policies and projects that could address the region’s predominantly sociopolitical grievances. This is admittedly a huge “if.”

It means focusing U.S. foreign policy on common interests between nonelite Americans and Middle Easterners, rather than deference to either regional governments’ or Russia’s often-repressive definitions of these interests, or a narrow conception of American nationalism.

For now, the incoming U.S. top leaders should deploy their outsiders’ independence to reject both dangerous generalized Islamophobia and calls to renew failed militarism. If President-elect Trump could develop an approach to the Middle East that’s distinct from Russia’s, and that’s attuned to, and not a retread of, past U.S. failures in the region, he might actually find some support among the many experts skeptical of his foreign policy.

-Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Director, Middle Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.