How deep is our democracy? How tolerant are we to one another? One thing I learned from the few times I have been in the United States is that it is one of the most democratic countries in the world. Democratic in the sense that it is known and revered the world over for its openness to a host of people of different nationalities, cultures, races, and religions. America is just teeming with people from all parts of the world. America is like a small world.
It is against this background that I initially used to get very disturbed with US president Donald Trump’s repulsive views on Muslims. That was before he won the presidency. Once at White House, Trump used his executive orders and imposed a ban on immigration of Muslims especially from mostly Muslim-majority countries.
His initial ban targeted Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, triggering criticism that it amounted to unlawful religious discrimination. But nothing more happened. The US president then expanded the ban to include Venezuela and North Korea, and later added Nigeria, Sudan, Myanmar and other countries.
By banning Muslims from entering the US, Trump was implementing one of his presidential campaign promises—stemming from his ‘America first’ brand stunt. One would think that banning entry to immigrants of Muslims from some countries was not in sync with the American psyche which is accommodating, inclusive and tolerant of religious affiliation and freedom of worship. But despite this controversial stand on Muslims, he not only won the elections, he also went ahead to implement the campaign policy. Trump was oblivious and indifferent to the danger of implying that all Muslims are America’s enemies?
In the same vein, as a presidential candidate, Trump was livid with many nationalities such as Mexicans, Latinos, African-Americans and other foreign nationalities and went about casually insulting them.
But as we all now know, all those issues were not too damning to make him lose elections in 2015.
In September last year, the United States House of Representatives voted 233-183 to pass legislation reversing President Donald Trump’s order banning entry to immigrants from mostly Muslim-majority countries [the order has been overturned by the Biden Administration].
Millions of Americans were separated from families and loved ones. Trump’s support of the controversial Act in a country that is tolerant of other races, showed just how advanced democracy is in America.
In Malawi it would be suicide for any presidential candidate to promise to ban immigrants from any country on the basis of their religious affiliation or where they are coming from. Not even to say anything or make an innuendo that could anger people of another religious group.
In fact, the offended groups would be all over on radio, TV and in newspapers and organise protests and marches against you. They would be threatening to take unspecified action against you if you don’t apologise to them or withdraw your statement. We have seen such cat-and-mouse chases recently between some teachers and journalists over allowances. Some teachers were livid with statements suggesting the contrary about their wish to be paid Covid-19 allowances.
This just goes to show that our democracy is still in its infancy. We are still not very tolerant of one another. While the Constitutions of the Republic of Malawi teaches tolerance of other races, creed or religion, gender, nationality, et cetera, we are yet to fully embrace its various sheds and manifestations. There so much to learn from America.