A few day’s into the Trump presidency and all kinds of claims and counter-claims are being made about how many people attended his inauguration. This on the back of further barriers coming up between the Trump administration and press sources in the country, meaning that both sides are beginning to scope out a future that will involve less information exchange and possibly more posturing and blustering in the next few years. Who would have thought that a White House Press Briefing a few days after the inauguration, would turn into a points scoring exercise?
Trump’s administration have also made clear that they are in the ‘very early stages’ of discussions around moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. No doubt, this will be a pre-cursor to recognising that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and whilst this will be welcome by a large majority of Jewish communities globally, there are many who worry about peace in the future with a rapidly depleting viable Palestinian State who also claim Jerusalem as their future capital. Trump and Netanyahu’s administrations may well be aligned on a range of issues regarding Israeli domestic and foreign policy, (for both are intertwined), and they will also be at one regarding joint threats that both see in the Middle East.
On the matter of religious places of worship, what will be the status of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is something that will play on the minds of Muslims and such concerns about Jerusalem no doubt, as we have seen, have global ramifications. We are therefore moving into an arena where we need to guard and support Muslim and Jewish relations which may come under strain by foreign policy developments which many of us have no control over and which hit the pit of emotions in the stomachs of believers, whether Jewish or Muslim. Jerusalem in the eyes and hearts of believers, means everything, and it is this hold over the hearts of men and women which means that even now, some will be invoking their claim through religious texts and by claiming God’s divine authority. How this plays out globally is something that frankly strikes trepidation and fear in me, since Jewish and Muslim relations in the UK need to be consistently re-invigorated and nurtured as international issues impact significantly on them. Will they be able to cope with the pressures that a bullish President will bring about in the Middle East or will they be strained and fractured as they depressingly were during the Gaza crisis in 2014? I only know that the last thing we need are community impacts in the UK and with corresponding rises in levels of anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hatred. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
President Trump has said that his number one foreign policy priority will be the destruction of IS, which is to be welcome, given the carnage and murder that they have conducted in the Middle East and in Europe. Yet, there are two immediate pitfalls for a Trump administration. One is the possibility of widening the scope of military activity in the Middle East as the scope of targets increases in the hunt for IS operatives. Civilian casualties will also be a major factor that may turn populations against such military action and Trump’s administration will have to have clear and specific objectives on targeting IS. If anything, supporting Arab partner countries with US hardware and intelligence is the only way ahead in tackling the infrastructure of IS. So, if Trump’s administration becomes mired in the Middle East through military action, the greater the propaganda coup will be for IS and their affiliates in the region and this is precisely what they are looking for. Many of these groups will also use Jerusalem as a rallying cry and redesign in the minds of Muslims, a new crusade against them.
Additionally, we must not underestimate the fragility of the Middle East after the turbulence of the last 6 years. Israel’s closest Arab ally, Jordan, is increasingly being racked with extremism and terrorism, Lebanon is just about coping with the huge impacts of the Syrian and Iraq wars and Egypt still remains in a state of lock down with a large population which resents Sisi, the President of Egypt.
Whilst the risks may seem thousands of miles away, we need to redouble our efforts to strengthen our Jewish and Muslims relations and to find platforms where we can regularly meet and talk about some of the most difficult issues and there will be many of these in the coming years ahead. There will also be difficult days in a world which seems more fragile and polarised. Yet, if there is one thing that can bind British Muslims and Jews together, it is the power of dialogue, tea and a pack of Digestives. Whilst not trying to be flippant about matters, it is what we Brits do best and how we try and resolve some of our problems when things just seem too much. So let’s keep our channels of communications open and our friendships strong since there will be testing days ahead