When most Presidents take office, we are disappointed and angry about the things they promise and don’t deliver. In the case of Donald Trump, after just one week, we are terrified that he’s really trying to implement almost everything he promised.
But he is still falling short. It has already become evident that Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, we are. And as for his “temporary Muslim ban” on immigration, Trump is showing himself to not have a clue when it comes to terrorism or its causes, nor even understanding the promises he made during the campaign.
Firstly, to the disappointment of his alt-right supporters, let’s just understand that this isn’t really a Muslim ban – it’s a ban on people coming from specific Muslim-majority countries, notably Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Why does this make absolutely no sense if the goal is to prevent acts of terrorism? According to the New York Post,
Not a single American was killed on U.S. soil by citizens from any of those countries between 1975 and 2015, according to statistics tallied by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute.
However, the same set of statistics show that nearly 3,000 Americans were killed by citizens from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey in the same time period — with the bulk of those killed being victims of the 9/11 attacks. Yet, people from those four countries are still welcome to apply for U.S. visas and travel permits.
Why is this the case? One obvious explanation is his business ties to all of these countries, conflicts of interest that Trump has refused to give up while in office.
In a striking parallel, Trump’s sprawling business empire — which he has refused to rescind ownership of — holds multi-million dollar licensing and development deals in all of those countries, raising potential conflict of interest concerns and alarming questions over what actually went into the decision process behind Friday’s executive order.
In the interest of fairness, it’s undeniable that many of the conspicuous countries left off the list have had deep-seated diplomatic ties to the United States that preceded Trump for decades. Many have helped the United States in numerous ways, providing intelligence and military assistance and other things in the war on terror. But it’s important to highlight just how nonsensical this Executive Order is in its stated goals – banning specific groups from entering the United States in the interest of national security.
Trump must answer the most glaring contradiction present in this list – why Iran and not Saudi Arabia? Saudi citizens, as previously noted, made up the majority of the 9/11 hijackers, and the Wahabist ideology they have exported for decades and continue to export is the ideological seed that has given rise to the modern jihadist movement.
Trump, like most Americans, seem to be largely ignorant of a simple fact – when we look at people who commit terrorism in the west against western countries, almost none of them are Shia, and this is because they do not express doctrine of Jihad in the same way that Sunni fundamentalists do.
It’s undeniably true that Shia extremists, “tethered to state and organizational objectives” have created many problems in the region itself, but in terms of our actual security interest at home, I almost never have to worry about a Shia Muslim blowing themselves up in an airport or in a marketplace, or driving a vehicle into a crowd in the name of a political or religious purpose. Even in the sectarian morass of post-Saddam Iraq, the dearth of Shia suicide bombings has been noted, as ideological directives from the Shia establishment purposely put a lid on the practice in favor direct confrontation and political action.
This is not to let Iran or Syria off the hook one iota for being terrible regimes, nor to discount the threat that Iranian influence has presented towards Israel. But we must remember that we aren’t talking about admitting regimes, but immigrants from those regimes, and if the Shia extremists haven’t proven to be a domestic terror threat in the west, then the Shia moderates have proven themselves even less so by orders of magnitude. Iranian and Shia immigrants themselves haven’t proven to be imminent security threats to the United States, and outright banning them is going to do effectively nothing in terms of bolstering our own national security in this regard.
Trump himself shows his own glaring contradictions on this issue with recent comments regarding Christians from these very same parts of the world, who he seems to believe don’t threaten us and need our help. On the subject of Christianity, Trump seems to understand that specific ideas matter – if Trump understood the greater ideological differences in the region, and how each are tied or are not tied to acts of terrorism committed in western countries, his list would be totally different.
ISIS of course does subscribe to a violent Wahabist/Sunni doctrine of jihad. I am not one of those on the left who mistakenly believes that religious ideas have no link to terrorism, or that specific religious ideas should harbor no concern at all with regards to keeping track of who may be entering the country. But if Trump is going to make religious concerns part of our immigration policy, he should at least half understand them. Banning Iranians while making no change to screening processes for immigrants from countries like Saudi Arabia will do absolutely nothing to make us safer. If we were truly interested in an immigration policy regarding our national security, Saudi Arabia would be at the top of the list for all kinds of actions, and yet they remain one of our closest allies, not subject to anything new.
This approach is also of grave concern to our strongest allies in the Middle East, namely liberal and secular activists. The Secular Activist Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, an atheist from Iraq who fled under direct threat from Al-Qaeda, who works all over the world promoting liberalism and feminism and human rights, will now be unable to attend any conferences outside of the United States, as he could be stopped and turned away at the border should he try to enter the country again. Trump’s order does nothing to distinguish between the promoters of good and bad ideas in a way that will aid us in the war on terror, and does nothing to target specific areas where we actually could make meaningful progress in reducing threats.
If there was one thing that seemed at least potentially refreshing about Trump during the campaign, it was his willingness to go after the bad decisions committed by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, in responding to Bin Laden’s attacks from Afghanistan by invading Iraq. In banning Iranians in the hopes of stopping Sunni fundamentalists, he has proven himself equally worthy of parody and ridicule.