On Jan. 27, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which for 90 days barred the residents of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States. It also restricted the total number of refugees that could enter the country in 2017, indefinitely banned all refugees from Syria and stranded lawful permanent residents originally from those countries who happened to be traveling abroad when the order was implemented.
Trump’s executive order was immediately challenged in court, resulting in a restraining order that suspended the ban. At the time of publication publishing, the travel ban remains suspended while the case is litigated.
The Trump administration has tried to argue that the executive order does not actually constitute a Muslim ban. They call it a “geographic ban,” targeted at specific countries. It’s true that not all Muslims are banned under the order. About 85 percent of the world’s Muslims live outside of the seven countries subject to the travel ban.
However, this argument is clearly made in bad faith in light of Trump’s previous islamophobic rhetoric and what we know of the development of the travel ban.
This executive order comes after Trump campaigned on an explicit promise to implement “… a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” along with calls for surveillance against American mosques and a database of all Muslims residing in the U.S.
Rudy Giuliani recently stated that while the original idea behind the travel ban was indeed a “Muslim ban,” Trump approached him to put together a team of experts who could help the administration write up an executive order that would survive court challenges. Giuliani and his commission decided to focus on geography, claiming that the countries selected represented especially dangerous terrorist threats.
Seems fine and dandy, if it weren’t complete nonsense. Most jihadist attacks on American soil have been committed by American citizens or legal residents.
In terms of terrorist plots that do originate overseas, the travel ban does little to protect Americans. The executive order cites the 9/11 attacks as the type of thing it’s trying to prevent. However, the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE, countries that are not covered under the travel ban.
No one in the U.S. has been killed by a terrorist attack committed by someone from the seven countries subject to the ban since at least 1975.
Why is the travel ban applied so inconsistently, targeting some countries yet ignoring countries with well-known histories of exporting terrorism and jihadist ideology?
We can shed light on this question by looking at what the countries covered by the ban have in common. First, they are all relatively minor players in the geopolitical arena and have little ability to retaliate either diplomatically or militarily.
Second, six of the seven countries have been subject to current or recent bombings by the U.S., with the exception being Iran. The U.S. has instead imposed a multitude of crippling sanctions and covert operations on Iran for decades. In other words, the Trump administration has little to lose in terms of diplomatic influence with the countries affected by the ban.
Third, Trump holds no business holdings in any of the countries covered by the ban, as opposed to many of the Muslim-majority nations that weren’t targeted.
The inconsistent nature of the travel ban is further evidenced by what countries are not included. Saudi Arabia officially promotes the extremist ideology of Wahhabism, and donations from wealthy Saudi nationals remain a primary source of income for Sunni terrorist groups.
Saudi Arabia also buys billions of dollars of military hardware from American arms manufacturers, a relationship that a ban on Saudi travel into the U.S. could jeopardize.
In terms of preventing terrorism, the travel ban is a farce. The Trump administration has fooled its supporters into thinking Trump’s original promise of religious discrimination at our borders has been fulfilled, while risking relatively little on the international stage and without alienating major customers of the U.S. arms industry.
Meanwhile, the ban is already being celebrated by jihadist groups as reinforcing their framing of the U.S. as being at war with Islam. The Trump administration has handed extremists a monumental propaganda victory with no national security gains to show for it.
No one can claim that refugee resettlement does not come with certain challenges. These are challenges that our country signed up for when our government decided to launch some of the greatest foreign policy debacles of modern times through years of military adventurism and irresponsible promotion of violent groups in the Middle East.
Martin Luther King Jr. said during the Vietnam War that the U.S. was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Those words are as true today as they were then, but there is more than one type of violence that a global empire can utilize. Invasions, bombings, economic sanctions and coup d’états are more obvious forms of violence, but so is shutting the door in the face of refugees and forcing them to return to the humanitarian nightmare our country is directly responsible for creating.