Asli Bali

 Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and
Director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies




Kimberle Crenshaw:

Asli, right alongside his denigration of Mexican Americans, and Mexican immigrants, is his denigration of Muslim and Muslim American communities. What is the likely impact of this election on Muslim and Muslim American communities?


Asli Bali:

I think that in the first term, what we will see is what we’ve already begun to see. You described it at the very beginning, the kind of harassment of people who are identifiably Muslim. This especially impacts women, women who wear headscarves, muhajiba women. Students of mine have already begun to describe the uptick as a consequence of the election campaign, and it’s gotten much worse since election day itself. Clearly there’s also, and related to the comments Hiroshi was making, another set of immigration proposals that were part of Trump’s campaign, including the banning of travel by Muslims. Also, the registering of Muslims, by religion, who are already present in the United States.

All of these are of very deep concern. I think for the Muslim community, right now, this moment feels worse than the post-9/11 aftermath, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The first of these is that there were more checks in place in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, on the Bush administration. The Bush administration systematically eliminated some of those and produced a narrative that already unfortunately normalized the ideas that Donald Trump now taps into. It’s a sequencing problem, whereby Trump now comes in after we’ve had a relentless fifteen years, eight years of which were marked by significant executive actions that constructed a “war on terror,” much of which remains in place today despite the two terms of the Obama administration and is available to be built upon.

It’s worse in that sense. It’s also worse in the sense that, immediately after 9/11, in 2001, there were also international checks that are no longer in place, both as a result of the way that the international order has been reconfigured by the “war on terror,” and because allies themselves are undergoing very similar domestic processes themselves. This fits into a broad international script, and it’s an international script of a global authoritarian arc, where we’re seeing this sort of nativist politics succeed and pay dividends over and over again, and countries falling like dominoes. With the fall of the United States as the largest domino in the international system that trend is going to radically accelerate. You saw far-right nativist groups all across Europe celebrating Donald Trump’s presidential election, and viewing it as a harbinger of what they will be able to accomplish in their own home countries.

This is affecting Muslims directly as Muslim Americans. It’s affecting Muslims who might wish to emigrate, obviously, to the United States, or just connect with their families who live in the United States. It’s affecting Muslims who are going to witness a doubling down on a "war on terror" paradigm that has made them insecure in their own homes abroad. And it’s going to affect Muslim communities in the West more broadly, because it’s connecting to a kind of nativist politics that we've seen growing, as a trend, amongst US-aligned countries and beyond.

When you see Putin and the Russian Duma, when you see the Hungarian authoritarian, electoral president and so on, celebrating this, when you see Marine Le Pen in France saying that this portends her own victory in the French presidential election, all of this makes up a broader international narrative. That international narrative also points us in the direction of how we might expect a Trump presidency to develop in the near term. We can expect a politics of governing by identifying internal enemies and governing through invoking external threats to maintain and consolidate the constituency that he has mobilized in this election.

All of that represents a kind of threat that I think we need to understand, in local, national, regional, and international terms for Muslims, and for all of us.


Kimberle Crenshaw:

Asli, you laid out a sobering picture of how this is in concert with what is happening globally. One of the mantras of our movement is “Think globally, act locally.” What do we do with that now? In this moment? How should we be thinking and moving, given the picture that you described for us?


Asli Bali:

I think there are some things that we can learn from that picture. There is a playbook that's emerged, pretty much globally, and Donald Trump seems to have drawn on it heavily, perhaps unwittingly. You see a common pattern. You see, for example, contempt for an independent judiciary and we saw that in spades during this campaign, calling into question federal judges on the basis of their ethnicity. You see contempt for independent media and the suggestion that media needs to be shut down or filtered in some way. Again, that was evident in spades here.

You see an identification of internal enemies as incubators of threat and instability. That’s completely consistent with the accounts we’ve heard across the board on this call, in so many ways that you really can’t count all the different communities that have been named and reviled in this campaign. And we’ve seen in the election results: the presence of a significant urban–rural divide in this country, which again, is something that has been deployed effectively as a mobilization strategy to bring out voters employing tactics that we’ve seen across all of the countries that I'm thinking of—the Russias and Hungarys, the Philippines and Turkeys, the Indias and Israels. These are countries that are electoral democracies, but they’re functioning at the moment using a kind of bare majoritarian politics, in which, if you can get 50.0001% of those who choose to come out to the polls to vote in your favor, you can use that “mandate” to repress the remainder while producing a political climate that will transform your bare majority into a durable electoral advantage to lockout the political opposition and fashion a form of electoral authoritarianism.

That’s what I think we face. That possibility. Now, let’s recall that only 50% of the eligible electorate chose to vote. Of them, only half or less than half voted for Donald Trump. First, we need to ask ourselves, “How do we effectively mobilize the other 75%?” Then we have to ask, “What's the strategy that’s being used to demobilize that group and to ensure that the 25% that will come out for Trump will continue to come out, in two years and four years and six years and eight years?” I think the answer to that is politics of polarization.

The truth is, everything that hurt us about this campaign helped Trump. The same strategies that targeted our communities with divisive and racialized messages delivered electoral dividends by mobilizing and consolidating a constituency around his campaign. That’s exactly what we have seen worldwide. That’s what’s caused people like Marine Le Pen to celebrate. She believes the same strategy is going to now help her in France.

How can we address that strategy? Well, we need to look at where it is working, and that urban–rural divide is a starting point for us to think about how to undercut what we’ve just seen. Trump has proven that you don’t even need a ground operation if you can tap into people’s fear, identify an internal enemy that they view as threatening and then build a coalition against that threat. Our job is to figure out how to disable this politics of polarization and deny Trump and his ilk the electoral dividends they seek from weaponizing fear. That is a very tall order, but it begins with a strategy of counter-mobilization.