President Donald Trump’s refugee ban and travel restrictions are a disgraceful exercise in cruelty. They do nothing to make us safer – and may, in fact, make us less safe – but they punish Muslims, and that is his whole point.
Fear and loathing of Islam was one of Trump’s campaign themes. He appealed to those who wrongly see the fight against terrorism as a clash of civilizations between Christian and Muslim worlds – and see Muslim immigrants as a kind of fifth column intent on destroying America from within.
During the campaign, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He later modified this position into a call for “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants, including Syrian refugees. But he continued to cite a discredited survey, conducted by a stridently anti-Muslim group, purporting to show that many Muslims in this country support “global jihad” and the replacement of our legal system with Islamic Sharia law.
Is Trump just playing politics or is he truly an anti-Muslim bigot who believes this rubbish? At this point, it hardly matters. He has fulfilled his campaign promise by striking a gratuitous blow against would-be immigrants and visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen.
Even more shamefully, Trump has barred entry by refugees from all nations worldwide. Perhaps he will have the Statue of Liberty toppled and sold for scrap.
“This is not a Muslim ban,” the president claimed in a statement. But unquestionably it is.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an early Trump supporter, said Saturday on Fox News that “when (Trump) first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’” Giuliani said the ban is not based on religion, but rather “on places where there (is) substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”
The countries covered by Trump’s executive order were indeed singled out by the Obama administration for extra scrutiny. But if “sending terrorists” were the major criterion, surely Trump would have included Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks came from.
And as for the supposed goal of “extreme vetting” for refugees, former President Barack Obama already put such a system in place. In 2011, Obama paused the refugee flow so that authorities could reinvestigate tens of thousands of refugees who had already come to the United States. Homeland Security officials instituted rigorous vetting procedures for new refugees that require multiple interviews, and many months of waiting, before an applicant is cleared for entry.
What, then, is the point of Trump’s executive orders? To kick around some Muslims who are too weak to kick back – and to further the pernicious narrative of global conflict between Muslim and Christian worlds.
Trump’s orders carve out an exemption for religious minorities, which in this context clearly means Christians in majority-Muslim countries. By all means, I believe, the United States should be a haven for Christians or any other religious group that is persecuted. But the vast majority of those who have suffered at the hands of the Islamic State, the Syrian regime, al-Shabab and other evil forces in the affected countries are Muslims. If you prick them, do they not bleed?
Trump’s action was abominable; the reaction, however, has been heartening. Thousands of people spontaneously gathered at airports around the country in protest. Immigration lawyers set up shop in busy terminals and worked to gain entry for passengers who were detained. Federal judges intervened to keep travelers from being sent home. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his nation would welcome any refugees the United States turned away. Other world leaders criticized the move, as did – cautiously – a few Republican senators. Iran and Iraq announced they would reciprocate and close their borders to Americans.
Trump’s orders were not circulated through the normal interagency process before being issued, and it showed; key questions were left open, such as the status of green card holders from the affected countries. But while the administration’s incompetence might have blurred the orders’ impact, it did not soften their intent.
This wasn’t about making America safe. It was about nationalism, xenophobia and punishing innocent Muslims for the vile acts committed by terrorists. It was a betrayal of our most fundamental American values. And he’s been president for barely a week.
Eugene Robinson can be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.