The cooling of Donald Trump’s Islamo-scepticism

Source: The Economist

THESE are confusing times for any student of global religion and geopolitics. This weekend around 2bn Christians mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This happens to be a year when the Christian West and the Christian East celebrate Easter on the same date. Some well-connected Catholic and Russian Orthodox news services disturbed some of their faithful readers by predicting that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might stage a pre-election stunt by going to pray in Agia Sophia, a building which began life as eastern Christendom’s greatest temple. There was no sign of this actually happening; the mere suggestion that it might was enough to cause a frisson.

In just one respect, though, the global religious temperature may be cooling just a little. The administration of Donald Trump, elected among other things on a wave of Islamo-scepticism, seems to be toning down its collective antipathy towards all things Muslim and charting a more pragmatic path.

There are several signs of that. One is the decline in influence of some ideologically driven individuals such as Steve Bannon, the White House adviser who has never hidden his belief that the “Judeo-Christian West” must defend itself against what he sees as a centuries-old and multi-pronged challenge from the other monotheism. In recent days President Trump has made several mildly disparaging comments about Mr Bannon, confirming the general sense that his stock is diminishing.

Going by Mr Bannon’s logic, America should at least be considering Russia’s invitation to be a partner against militant Islam, even if that means overlooking Russian misdeeds. But since America’s recent missile strike against Syria, that way of thinking seems to be have been set aside. As a colleague has written, this reflects a certain normalisation of American foreign policy. And in “normal” times, America and Russia treat the world of Islam not as an adversary or a friend but as a field of competition. Each player in this game has to cultivate some Muslim friends in order to confront others, and that is what America and Russia have generally done since the cold war.

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