In what can only be described as a stunningly obtuse and ham-fisted policy move, Donald Trump has effected an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The contents of the EO, by this time, are well known. Most notably it “bans” immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) – in most cases for 120 days (at first), but in the case of Syria, indefinitely. As has already been extensively discussed in the media, this ban has had immediate repercussions for legal residents, inbound travelers, those with dual citizenship with a country “detrimental” to the security of the United States, or who have family abroad in these regions.
Conspicuously absent from the list are both Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, countries with well-known ties to Islamic Extremists whose attacks have directly affected the US at home and abroad. Likewise absent and with known-ties to radical Islam are Pakistan, Turkey, the UAE, and Egypt. The connection which, again has been reported on extensively, is that Trump holds no major business interests in countries subject to the ban, but does have business ties in some other Muslim majority countries that are not subject to the ban.
What is perhaps most frustrating and repugnant about the policy is how brazenly it serves the financial self-interest of the POTUS. The Oval Office made no effort to camouflage, conceal, or otherwise deflect attention from this. With this fact alone, whatever intellectual foundation existed for such a massive immigration restriction evaporates entirely; the stated aims of the EO i.e. to prevent “Terrorist Entry” has effectively left off of the list countries known to harbor anti-US terrorists, including countries that provided the central figures of the 9/11 attacks.
Immigration restrictions alone are not inherently unconstitutional, nor do I find them particularly vexing in essence. A robust immigration system should be dynamic enough to adjust to the international climate, which includes the ability to adjust immigration numbers as needed. Indeed, there are even scenarios where blanket immigration restrictions may be warranted, such as in a state of war. The irony of this situation is that because Trump is seeking to enforce a blanket ban with vacuous reasoning and questionable tenets, he has effectively cultivated a de facto wartime atmosphere. The further issue, and perhaps the most troubling, is that this atmosphere exists against not any sovereign state, but against the second largest religious following in the world – one that spans over many countries and territories and claims members from an enormous array of ethnicities, creeds, and traditions. Trump has managed, with a signature, to make official the divide between Islam and the West. Muslims are no longer welcome here, or so we’ve seemingly told the world.
I, for one, consider such a vain, callous, and shallow policy entirely heretical to what 21st Century America should stand for. In addition to the new position the administration has taken against the Islamic world, such political Blitzkrieg will serve only to further radicalize Muslims, even moderates who undoubtedly now consider themselves a suspect class in the eyes of US. I have little doubt that Trump has done for ISIS in a few days what would have otherwise taken years. In countries where moderate Muslims and peaceful Imams struggle to curb extremism, what will they say to impressionable youth who feel despised by a country they’ve never visited or seen?
And the greatest shame in all of this is that we are now further removed from a reasonable, rational discussion of Radical Islam which is unquestionably a threat to – and in direct opposition of – progressivism, freedom, and democracy. Again, had Trump’s position been cogent and his tenets at all rational or uninfluenced by self-interest, it would have been intellectually reasonable and politically acceptable to impose immigration restrictions on certain nations with groups overtly hostile to Western Democracies. It would have been reasonable to examine or to propose to change the vetting system for immigrants and refugees, even though the current vetting system has proved to be very successful. Instead of this, of course, we’re left with an official, state-sanctioned divide between “them” and us.
Here I’m obliged to say that where I disagree with many on the left is that the US should institute a “take-all-comers” policy, even during a humanitarian crisis, from areas of the world that harbor anti-US Islamic extremists. The reason for this is multifaceted. Perhaps the most potent rationale I can provide is one of recent historical significance, namely the influx of immigrants into the EU, and especially Angela Merkel’s disastrous and wildly unpopular policies regarding Syrian refugees. In Europe as a whole, immigration from Muslim-majority countries has been handled without proper infrastructure in place to help smooth the assimilation of refugees. The chaos that ensued polarized immigrant communities and EU citizens alike, most often directly against one another. As a result, far-right parties and populists have gained massive followings and xenophobia is rampant.
In the US, our own far-right parties have emerged as a direct result of the US’s failure to both rationally address and readily acknowledge the threat of radical Islam or consider the future of the US relations to the Islamic World. Much of the reason why the government has failed to do this, in my estimation, is that a taboo exists against discussing Islamic Terrorism for fear of riding a slippery slope into erroneous generalizations. Ironically, of course, the failure – largely of well-meaning liberals – to be open to having rational discussions about issues in the Islamic World, has further polarized right-leaning US constituents and has led to Trump’s state-sanctioned generalizations. We need to discuss, understand, and compromise on issues that affect both the US and Muslim-majority countries. We need to acknowledge and understand that Islamic terrorism is an extremely serious issue and disproportionately affects other peaceful Muslims. We need clear directives that dictate when and to what extent to intervene in Muslim-majority countries while avoiding the oafish state-building experiments that, historically, have served only to radicalize formerly peaceable Muslims. The onus is on us to have the mental strength to have these difficult discussions and to understand that Islamic Governments operate within a paradigm that is entirely different from the (typically) secular governments of the West.
This, in short, is why I am not inherently opposed to immigration restriction. Influxes of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, especially under policies like Hillary Clinton suggested, could be detrimental to the overall progressiveness of the US constituency. By this I mean that I would not be as concerned about the actual empirical effect of an influx of Muslim immigrants, but rather what the pre-perception of the empirical result would be. I realize as though this sounds as though I’m suggesting giving in to domestic xenophobia, but if we’re to ever reclaim a less fractious constituency, I see pragmatism as the only solution. Just as we – or perhaps all of us except the Trump administration – would like to avoid the further radicalization of Muslims, it’s equally important to avoid far-right radicalization at home or we can expect support for fear-based politics to widen considerably.
Our current vetting process, as I mentioned, has proven to be very effective. It is critical, however, to take a lesson from Europe and the growth of Radical Islam within the borders of the EU. We should also acknowledge the overwhelming difficulty Muslims have had adapting in EU secular societies without appropriate coordination and support and the subsequent backlash from non-Muslim citizens. Where Europe is uniquely deficient, however, is in the effectiveness of its intelligence agencies in coordinating and sharing information, as well as lax border restrictions. Those deficiencies may not be present to the same extent in the US, but in such a connected and modern world those same deficiencies are themselves a threat to the United States. We’ve got to weigh our choices. Either we approach the issue of Islamic Extremism openly and objectively, or we continue to ignore the issue. The latter course only leads to disaster. Any reasonable person will admit that a terrorist attack on US soil is bound to happen again as a matter of course which, if it occurs in the current political climate, will only further radicalize US constituents. Undoubtedly the political backlash after a successfully executed attack would spawn even more heavy handed domestic policies against Muslims, further radicalizing populations at home and abroad. There are no perfect answers to these issues, but I believe there are optimal ones that can successfully minimize the tit-for-tat radicalization that seems all but inevitable.
I imagine also there must be a rather gleeful reaction from Radical Islamists the world over. Donald Trump has done them a tremendous service in his first week as the POTUS and I’m extremely concerned about the future actions of a man who has proven, time and again, to be a thin-skinned charlatan. What’s worse is that Steve Bannon, undoubtedly the mastermind behind the executive order, has done well to consolidate his own position within the administration. As the alt-right decried the feelings of liberal “snowflakes” at the same time they somehow managed to ignore the fact that their tough-talking candidate is the epitome of the thing which they most despise and is, in addition, wildly unbalanced and devoid of even a modicum of common sense.
And yet, I am hopeful. Rebellion seems widespread at all levels of government. Protests abound and people are politically energized. I count our blessings that we have Trump instead of an even more terrible individual. Trump isn’t an artful liar in that he lies often and freely, which will hurt him in the end. His claims and promises are so grandiose that he will never be able to deliver on many of them, which will ultimately alienate many of his former supporters. In the end, I see Trump as a great if unintentional unifier of the country. The worst is surely yet to come, but we’re finally awake.
EDIT: Some required reading. One of the main responses to any criticism of Trump’s EO have been to compare it with prior immigration EOs from Obama and even Jimmy Carter. This FP article offers a great point by point refutation of this position. It requires a login to read, but is free and I encourage everyone to learn and know these counter arguments well. Furthermore, the fact that Trump seemingly did not consult with ANY relevant agencies regarding this EO is something that should trouble you, if it does not already. An administration this overtly isolated from reality is incredibly, impossibly dangerous.