The bombast delivered daily by US Presidential candidate Donald Trump, particularly against Muslims, will have Muslims the world over asking why they should buy American.
The American real estate mogul’s views will be extremely damaging to vital US economic and strategic alliances. From western China to the Bosporus and Bosnia, almost all people are at least nominal Muslims. US business leaders overseas must speak up loudly against Trump to protect US business interests.
As a westerner long based in Asia, I am astonished at the silence – so far as I am aware – of US corporate interests overseas, collectively and individually, in the face of Trump’s remarks about Muslims.
There is a very simple issue here. The very suggestion that Muslims should be barred from entering the United States can only cause Muslims worldwide to ask themselves: Why should we buy goods and services from a nation which so despises us? Why should we welcome Americans whether as investors, tourists or traders if we are to be thus treated?
It is not good enough for the US business community to shrug its shoulders and imply that Trump is full of publicity-seeking rhetoric and is making proposals that can never come to pass. It is not good enough to laugh off Trump’s statements as of scant relevance, political theater at the early stage of the Republican selection battle, let alone the campaign for the presidency itself.
To be sure, Trump might not even win the nomination, let alone the presidency. Even if he did, he would perhaps find major hurdles, in Congress or the Supreme Court, in putting his prejudices into practice.
A global image
But what is at stake here for Americans abroad, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, is whether, through widespread silence, they are tarred with his brush.
The brutal facts are that Trump’s statements remain the major news emerging from the United States, via its media, major and minor. They are being fed through to a wider world via agencies, Fox, CNN, etc., and foreign ones such as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
It is not just that Trump currently leads the Republican field. In his wake, the other contenders are mostly playing modified versions of the same “don’t trust Muslims” game. The United States, according to Pew Research, now has a population of close to 3 million Muslims.
Fortunately for the US reputation, media in many Muslim countries seem not to have given Trump’s remarks quite the attention they have received in the West. Most likely they either see him as similar to their own extremists, embarrassing but ultimately irrelevant.
Probably too, they choose to ignore him because their image of America is more one of opportunity, technology and an open society – not one where the forces of xenophobia and demagoguery prevail, at least at the national policy level.
Weakening key ties
Nonetheless, Trump’s remarks will be extremely damaging to vital economic and strategic alliances at a time when the United States needs friends to face challenges to its influence. These challenges are coming from a rising China and to a lesser extent from Russia’s revived imperialism, not to mention from radical Islam itself.
How, for example, will Indonesians feel about strengthening their military and economic ties with the United States, rather than conceding more ground to China? How will the billions of moderate Muslims everywhere feel about the United States, whether as trade partner or example of liberty and progress?
The Trump attitudes seem to prove the Islamic extremists right: America is an enemy of Islam, thereby undercutting the vast majority of peaceful opinion. And why do business with America if one is barred from visiting this supposed center of the “free world”?
Alienating a much larger world than imagined
One has to wonder whether Trump and his ilk have any idea of how widespread Islam is throughout the world. Perhaps, like many Americans, he associates it only with the Middle East North Africa region, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim. But significant shares and absolute numbers of Muslims reside elsewhere.
Indeed, in every country from western China (Xinjiang) all the way to the Bosporus and Bosnia, almost all the people are at least nominal Muslims. Forty percent of the population of Southeast Asia and 30 percent of South Asia are also Muslim. At least 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africa is Muslim as well.
Yet US business and other interests overseas remains silent in the face of the collective insult to these peoples and countries – not to mention Muslims in the west – delivered by Trump.
No time for silence
It is not enough to quietly reassure their host countries that Trump is all hot air. It is not enough for the likes of Chambers of Commerce to suggest they need to stay clear of US domestic politics.
(This defense rings hollow when one remembers that they regularly engage in US politics anyway to influence policy on tax and trade issues.)
The US global business community needs to speak up. This is in their own business interests, certainly. But it is also a necessary message for an America whose population seems to lack adequate awareness of the huge damage Trump has already done to the US image – and hence to American global strategic and economic interests.
Or are so many Americans abroad in closet agreement with Trump that the majority prefers silence to standing up loudly and publicly for US values and global reputation?
This was written for The Globalist by Philip Bowring, a founder and contributing editor to Asia Sentinel