February 7, 2017 Abdul Haqq

Not my President, not my Caliph: Political and Religious Extremism

The 21st century is witnessing a worrying trend where unqualified personalities – who lack legitimacy – are assuming significant positions of political or religious authority. It is evident that part of this success lies in the failure of their respective governments, societies – or both – to adequately address prevailing socio-political or socio-religious vacuums caused by inequality, disenfranchisement, poverty etc. to name but a few.[1] The rise of bigotry under the guise of religious conservatism or right-wing popularism remains a cause for serious concern.[2]

[P]resident Trump continues to court controversy with executive orders resulting in international condemnation and widespread protests[3] while Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s Daesh fight a losing battle against an international coalition to retain their so-called caliphate stronghold in Mosul.[4] It is not difficult to discern the lack of political or religious legitimacy between these two rather extreme case studies. However, support among their respective predominantly white working class supporters in the US or Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq have, up until recently, remained constant.

As articulated in my previous article, white America voted for Donald Trump[5] and so far as Al Baghdadi was concerned,  marginalised Sunnis opted for a leadership they thought would be more attuned to their religious affiliations.[6] Unfortunately, it was not very long before the brutal and barbaric reality of Daesh became clear.


Predictive insights

Religious and historic perspectives, which vividly illustrate the folly of inexperienced leadership, are often overlooked as vestiges of yesteryear with no relevance to our present. The poignancy of Prophet Muhammad’s[7] insight is articulated in the following narration in which he stated:

‘There will come upon the people years of deceit in which the liar will be believed, the truthful disbelieved, the treacherous will be trusted and the trustworthy will be held to be treacherous, and the disreputable one (in Arabic – ‘Ruwaybidah’) will speak out.’ It was asked: ‘Who are the disreputable ones?’ He replied: ‘The lowly dishonorable person who speaks out about the public affairs.[8]

In Plato’s Republic, Book VIII, he refers to four categories of governance, each disintegrating into the other as they simultaneously collapse, leaving the most extreme and final form – tyranny.[9] Tyrannical governance arises due to failure in the penultimate category, democracy, where:

‘…a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap [exists], where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry…sparking a revolution… During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man…whom they believe to be their savior. The people will lift this champion to great heights and anoint him with sacred responsibilities to bring liberty to the land. When the smoke clears, the old regime will be gone and a democracy will be supplanted…’[10]

The similarities between the prophetic vision of Muhammad[11] and the mobocracies promoting unqualified mavericks to politically represent them are undeniable, as is Plato’s description of the type of leader who – when adapted to the present context – promises to ‘Make America Great Again.’



A closer examination of both Trump’s and Al Baghdadi’s claims of adherence to the ethical or religious principals, established by their respective societies’ founding forefathers, reveals altogether sinister and deliberate misrepresentations. Where Trump asserts a popularist strategy of reform, he actually means a return to racial and national supremacy at the expense of ‘other’ minorities and faiths previously considered alien or a threat to American society.[13]

Where Al Baghdadi cites a return to an era reminiscent of the first pioneering Muslim society in Madina – that of the Pious Predecessors – he is, in actuality, reenacting the emergence of Islam’s first extremist terrorist group – the Dissenters (in Arabic, the Khawarij) who were renowned for their misrepresentation of the faith and subsequent murderous methodology towards innocent citizens. [14] Trump is therefore no more a patriot than Al Baghdadi a Salafist.


Achievements – Quick wins?

Referring once again to Plato’s seminal work, he highlights the ‘typical trajectory’ of a tyrant’s reign:It begins on a good note; he’s friendly with his [supporters] and delivers on his promises…[15] Compare this with Trump’s first two weeks as [p]resident in the White House and some of his controversial executive orders:

  1. Minimising the economic burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also referred to as Obamacare) pending repeal
  1. Border security and immigration improvements – commencing immediate planning and construction of a wall along the southern border of Mexico
  1. Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry – implementing an executive order for a travel ban preventing seven predominantly Muslim populated countries from entering the US.[16]

Suffice it to briefly mention Al Baghdadi’s tyrannical tenure being cemented with Daesh’s rapid ‘military’ advancement and territorial gains across Syria and Iraq.[17] Following such gains, Daesh became known as the wealthiest terrorist group in history.[18]



Trump is a divisive president and, having assumed the most powerful leadership position in the western world, it will be interesting to see whether he continues to proceed with the existing air of tyranny, which in the past has been analogous with leaders from other societies.[19] The plight of former Gambian president, Yahyeh Jammeh, should serve as a timely reminder for Trump of the potential instability caused when a tyrannical approach is chosen in preference to more established democratic protocols.[20]

Neither Trump nor Al Baghdadi are suitably representative of a balanced political or religious mainstream for which they claim to advocate. Perhaps their common currency is that they represent two sides of the same extremist coin.




[1] Tankersley, Jim: ‘‘Inequality’ is behind the rise of ISIS, says author Thomas Piketty,’ The Independent, 30th November 2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/inequality-is-behind-the-rise-of-isis-says-author-thomas-piketty-a6754786.html

[2] McKernan, Bethan: ‘The real reason why people voted for Donald Trump,’ The Independent, 9th November 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/president-donald-trump-why-people-voted-for-republican-wins-us-election-2016-a7407541.html

[3] Ansari Azadeh, Robertson Nic & Dewan Angela: ‘World leaders react to Trump’s travel ban,’ CNN politics: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/trump-travel-ban-world-reaction/

[4] Yuhas Alan, Siddique Haroon, Gayle Damien & Malkin Bonnie: ‘Battle for Mosul: ISIS city under attack from Iraqi and Kurdish forces – as it happened,’ The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/oct/17/mosul-battle-iraq-isis-islamic-state-peshmerga-latest

[5] Baker, A H: ‘Is Donald Trump a Salafist?’ Abdulhaqqbaker.com, 28th November 2016: https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/does-donald-trump-support-salafism/

[6] Ignatius, David: ‘How ISIS Spread in the Middle East: And how to stop it,’ The Atlantic, 29th October 2015: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/how-isis-started-syria-iraq/412042/

[7] Salallahu Alayhi Wasalam – May Allah’s salutations of peace and blessings be upon him (This term of reverence is reiterated after mention of the Final Prophet’s name. Similar iterations are made for prophets of the Abrahim faiths)

[8] Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Ibn Maajah et al, (with the hadeeth classification / grading as ‘hasan’ (good) due to supporting narrations.

[9] Plato: ‘The Republic Book VIII Summary’: http://www.shmoop.com/the-republic/book-8-summary.html

[10] Socrates: ‘Plato And The Disaster Of Democracy,’ 8th July 2013: https://classicalwisdom.com/plato-and-the-disaster-of-democracy/

[11] Salallahu Alayhi Wasalam – May Allah’s salutations of peace and blessings be upon him.

[12] Realpolitik is defined as: ‘politics based on practical objectives rather than on ideals. The word does not mean “real” in the English sense but rather connotes “things” – hence a politics of adaptation to things as they are. Realpolitik thus suggests a pragmatic, no-nonsense view and a disregard for ethical considerations. In diplomacy it is often associated with relentless, though realistic, pursuit of the national interest.’ https://global.britannica.com/topic/realpolitik

[13] The Huffington Post: ‘Donald Trump’s Plan to Make America White Again,’ First published on 11th December 2015 and updated 12th November 2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/center-for-community-change-action/donald-trumps-plan-to-make-america_b_8546894.html

[14] Ibrahim, Osman Rifat: ‘Why Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an imposter,’ Aljazeera, accessed on 6th February 2017: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/07/baghdadi-impostor-20147991513785260.html

[15] Plato: ‘The Republic Book VIII Summary’: http://www.shmoop.com/the-republic/book-8-summary.html

[16] Said-Moorhouse, Lauren: ‘What Trump has done so far and what does it all mean?’ CNN politics, 31st January 2017: http://www.news4jax.com/news/politics/whats-trump-done-so-far-15-executive-actions-and-what-they-mean

[17] The New York Times: ‘How ISIS Works,’ 16th September 2014: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/16/world/middleeast/how-isis-works.html?_r=0

[18] Lock, Helen: ‘Howe ISIS became the wealthiest terror group in history,’ The Independent, 15th September 2014: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/how-isis-became-the-wealthiest-terror-group-in-history-9732750.html

[19] BBC News: Gambia talks fail as president refuses to step down,’ 14th January 2017: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38621092

[20] Sieff, Kevin: ‘Gambia’s president agrees to step down, following the threat of military intervention,’ The Washington Post, 20th January 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/gambias-president-refuses-to-step-down-defying-regional-military-intervention/2017/01/20/098a0782-de94-11e6-8902-610fe486791c_story.html?utm_term=.25214e2cd0a5

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