Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Muslim Ban

Let's talk the "Muslim Ban".

Fine work is being done by other writers decrying the morality of the Muslim Ban.  I'm going to assume for the sake of argument that we're all morally OK with the Muslim Ban.  I personally very strongly am not OK with it, but I'll put my objections aside for the sake of analysis.

Having accepted, then, that it's a good idea, a desirable idea, to keep Muslims from entering this country, let's take a look at the ban.

Not included in the ban is immigration from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and a host of other majority-Muslim nations.  The specific nations targeted are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia.  The Muslim Ban therefore lets off the hook the country that exported the vast majority of the men who targeted us in the most audacious terrorist attack in American history.  Saudi Arabia is also the home of Wahhabism, the most "hard-core" branch of modern Islam and the one most ideologically responsible for the export of Islamic terrorism today.

Pakistan, is, of course, the power responsible for cultivating the Taliban and hiding Osama bin Laden from American and allied forces for many years.  They, too, are excluded from the ban.

With those two omissions, the ban does not seem that it will be all that effective in keeping out those Muslims from abroad who really, truly wish us Americans harm.

So who is included in the ban?
  • Iraq, a nation the United States more or less destroyed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and never bothered to rebuild properly, resulting in a fractured nation unable to suppress the rise of ISIS;
  • Syria, a nation infected by the ISIS virus from neighboring Iraq and treated as a bit of a ping-pong board between the United States, Russia, Turkey and the Gulf States, notably Saudi Arabia.  It, too, lies in ruins;
  • Iran, a Shiite nation who stands in direct opposition to Sunni ISIS, and with whom we could ally in this battle, which would make total geopolitical sense but would go against the dreams of certain hard-liners;
  • Libya, a nation that tore itself apart with American assistance;
  • Sudan, a country ruled by a brutal dictator who nonetheless puts the hammer down on radical Islamist groups and therefore, you would think, is another natural ally from a geopolitical perspective;
  • Yemen, a nation invaded by Saudi Arabia (again, the home of the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers); and
  • Somalia, which just, Good lord, poor Somalia.
So the ban includes a bunch of nations with whom we could potentially ally and also a few which could make a good case are in the mess they're in in part because of the United States of America, but does not include those nations most likely to actually export "evildoers" who wish to come attack us.

Of course, a ban of any sort won't address the fact that all terrorist attacks in the USA since 9/11 have been home-grown affairs and have also killed far, far, far fewer people than drunk drivers have.

So: the ban has huge, gaping holes in it that render it pointless, just like the Wall.  This is beginning to become a theme in the early Trump Presidency!  The Muslim Ban will not keep terrorists out if they are determined to get in, but it does serve as a slap in the face to seven nations which have big problems and which might well turn to the USA for assistance.

Empires grow strong when they cultivate allies and extend a helping hand to those in need.  Empires suffer when they wall themselves off and tell their neighbors to go screw.  This is not rocket science.  This is geopolitics 101.

You don't need to believe in the moral goodness of welcoming refugees into our country to see that failing to welcome them squanders America's reputation abroad.  From a cold, clinical geopolitical perspective, it is intensely stupid to turn refugees from these seven nations aside.  It is essentially tossing a huge, valuable tool - the reputation of the United States to serve as a moral leader in the world - into the garbage.

Why not let the refugees in and monitor them?  I think most refugees would take that trade.  "OK, you can come in to our country and, with time, bcomee an American citizen, but just know that the FBI and NSA will be keeping tabs on you."  OK! DONE.  I think most refugees would take that deal in a hot second.  And the ones that really are terrorists?  Well, I have faith in our intelligence personnel to weed them out.  Donald Trump just gave a big speech in which he declared his love for the CIA, so surely he has faith in our intelligence personnel too, right?

In enacting this ban, Donald Trump also declared that it "almost impossible" during the Obama administration to get admitted to the United States if you were a Christian refugee, but not if you were a Muslim refugee.  This is not a fact-based claim. 

In fact, the United States accepts tens of thousands of Christian refugees. According to the Pew Research Center, almost as many Christian refugees (37,521) were admitted as Muslim refugees (38,901) in the 2016 fiscal year.

Given that Iraq and Syria both have populations more than 85% Muslim, a near 50/50 split of Christians/Muslims refugee admittance actually seems pretty heavily tilted in favor of Christians.

It's also worth remembering that the United States is a country where church and state are separate, and that therefore, establishing a religious test for admittance to the country is a violation of the First Amendment to our Constitution.  And if America is not our Constitution, then what is America?

Finally, let me close by saying that yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  An odd day for the Trump administration to roll out the Muslim Ban, truly.  In the official statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Donald Trump's statement did not mention the Jews.  Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that he remembers Voyage of the St. Louis.  Emphases added mine:

On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless."


Quotas established in the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 strictly limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted to the United States each year. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370 and was quickly filled. In fact, there was a waiting list of at least several years. US officials could only have granted visas to the St. Louis passengers by denying them to the thousands of German Jews placed further up on the waiting list. Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler's policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration. President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order to admit the St. Louis refugees, but this general hostility to immigrants, the gains of isolationist Republicans in the Congressional elections of 1938, and Roosevelt's consideration of running for an unprecedented third term as president were among the political considerations that militated against taking this extraordinary step in an unpopular cause.


Following the US government's refusal to permit the passengers to disembark, the St. Louis sailed back to Europe on June 6, 1939. The passengers did not return to Germany, however. Jewish organizations (particularly the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) negotiated with four European governments to secure entry visas for the passengers: Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.

Innocent people from Syria and Iraq in particular are going to die, and their deaths will be on our hands, and yet, for all that, we will no safer from the threat of actual terrorists that we were before the Muslim Ban.

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