The Howard Baker Center hosted Tarek Masoud, who is a professor of public policy as well as a Sultan of Oman professor of international relations at Harvard University, on Monday evening to discuss the Trump presidency, Islam and democracy.

Recently, Trump was scheduled to hold a summit at Camp David in Maryland with Taliban leaders, who are Sunni Muslims, from Afghanistan; Trump and the leaders were supposed to have“peace talks.” However, the event was called off due to an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed 12 people, one of whom was a U.S. soldier.

Trump commented on the situation after cancelling the summit.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said to Times Live.

Many in the American public found the reasoning behind calling off the summit to be strange. Cancelling the summit ended a year-long process of diplomacy.

Dr. Krista E. Wiegand, who is an associate professor of political science at UT, said that this is such an important issue to bring attention to.

“Since the start of President Trump’s presidency, there has been a growing tension between the U.S. and Islamic countries, with lots of negative rhetoric aimed at Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. Addressing this tension is an important issue,” Wiegand said.

The lecture compared the tension between Islamic countries to McCarthyism, during which the heightened fear of Communism led to many Americans being blacklisted. The lecturers also drew similarities to World War II, when the bombing of Pearl Harbor led to the growing fear of Japanese sympathizers and ultimately interment camps here in the U.S.

Wiegan explained that some believe this will grow into such a large issue that history will repeat itself. She alluded back to this when speaking on some of the discrimination that Arabs and Muslim Americans face in today’s society.

“Because of the president’s hostile rhetoric about Arabs and Muslims, there are many stories of Arabs and Muslim Americans who are nervous every day that someone might harass or even attack them because they are Arab or Muslim. Rather than being seen as American like everyone else, they feel targeted and uncomfortable in their own communities,” Wiegand said.

The lecture explained that Islam is based in a peaceful religion yet due to terrorist attacks, it is difficult for many Americans to believe this.

During the presentation, Masoud presented data that showcased how different religions, including several branches of Christianity and Islam, view democracy. The data showed that all these religions had a positive view of democracy, and they also agreed that it was important for religious authorities to follow certain guidelines.

Masoud also discussed important Islamic figures in American government, including Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Keith Ellison. Ellison is the first Muslim member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and all three politicians are supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.

According to Masoud, some Americans fear that these Muslim politicians will try to implement Shuria law in America; in extreme cases, this form of law allows men to beat their wives or stone them in the case of adultery, and it also permits the same punishment for those who are openly gay. Additionally, Masoud said that Americans also tend to view Islam as a political entity or even a cult rather than a religion.

Masoud compared the state of America today to the Vatican II, a council that gathered in the 1960s to discuss a lot of the social happenings at the time and how the Catholic church played into them. Masoud explained that America is the Vatican II in the sense that there are so many religions coexisting in one place that it is now necessary to reevaluate the interaction between these religions and democracy.

Masoud discussed the way that he hopes to see Americans handle this situation.

“This is a society through its education system, through its media, through its popular culture. [It] forces us to all recognize certain basic facts like the importance of liberty…American Muslims don’t actually need a Vatican II because America is basically their Vatican II…Everyone has had to adapt to their ways and Islam is no different,” Masoud said.

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