An executive order for religious profiling

February 1, 2017

Trump's ban on people from seven majority-Muslim nations will be used to whip up Islamophobia--unless we continue the fight against it, writes Nicole Colson.

"IT REALLY is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level." That was the verdict of an unnamed administration official on Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and all people from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.

"Massive success" is a strange phrase to describe an action that caused immediate spontaneous demonstrations of hundreds and thousands of people at airports around the U.S.--and international outrage so extreme that it produced a mass initiative to bar the president of the United States from visiting Britain, one of America's closest allies.

The rationale for the ban on people from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Syria--protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks--is false on its face. As NPR's Greg Myre wrote, "No Muslim extremist from any of these places has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades."

But Trump's order isn't actually about security--it's about whipping up anti-Muslim hate. And it will require fierce and unrelenting opposition to push back against scapegoating and bigotry.

Opponents of the Trump ban demand that the borders be opened at Los Angeles International Airport
Opponents of the Trump ban demand that the borders be opened at Los Angeles International Airport

DESPITE CLAIMS to the contrary by administration officials, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Trump would have preferred to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. if he could have gotten away with it.

Not only did he say as much repeatedly during the campaign, but his order makes a specific exception for Christian refugees, stating that the U.S. would accept refugee claims "made on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality."

It's not hard to figure out who would get preferential treatment, but Trump made the answer explicit in a recent interview with a Christian broadcasting network:

Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States?

If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.

When asked if helping Christians flee persecution was a priority, Trump replied "yes."

First of all, the idea that Muslims aren't the vast majority of the victims of the violence in Syria is ludicrous. But equally outrageous is the notion that Muslim refugees from Syria have been allowed to pour into the U.S., while Christians have been blocked. This is a racist lie--one with parallels in history to the most vile anti-Semitic propaganda about the "Jewish threat" posed by immigrants.

In all, the U.S. took in 38,901 Muslim refugees in fiscal year 2016--almost the same number as Christians (37,521). The U.S, accepted 12,486 Syrian refugees in 2016--a miniscule fraction of the 4.8 million who fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and the 1 million who have requested asylum in Europe.

Not only does the U.S. take in a pitifully small number of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere, but those refugees undergo an onerous vetting process that can take years, including multiple in-person interviews, fingerprint screenings, case reviews by multiple agencies and background checks.

If there was any further doubt about the anti-Muslim bigotry enshrined in Trump's order, former New York Mayor and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani explained to Fox's Jeanine Pirro how the ban came about:

So when he first announced it, he said, "Muslim ban." He called me up and said, "Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally."...And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us. Which is a factual basis. Not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that's what the ban is based on.

In other words, Trump's desire to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. would have been illegal, so it was repackaged slightly to make it more palatable to the courts.

IN THE wake of the outpouring of disgust at Trump's ban, a narrative began to develop in the media and among some of the left that the president's executive order was less about U.S. policy and more about Trump's personal interests--because he purposefully excluded countries from the list that he has current business dealings with.

It's understandable that people who despise Trump could imagine that he was motivated by the one thing he appears to love--money--in deciding to exempt countries like Saudi Arabia, the home of 18 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, with a documented connection to terrorist attacks in the U.S.

But there are problems with this line of argument.

First of all, a New York Times op-ed article by former White House ethics lawyers Richard W. Painter and Norman L. Eisen charges that Saudi Arabia and other countries like Egypt have "exported terror" to the U.S., implying that it might be okay to impose a ban on people travelling from these countries.

As has pointed out, bans on any supposed international source of terrorism ignore the fact that the majority of terrorist attacks carried out in the U.S. are committed by people who were raised here.

Plus, the focus on different countries of the Middle East from which to ban travel continues the poisonous racist assumption that terrorism is innately connected with Islam--something proven untrue once again by the horrific mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City on January 29, carried out by a Trump-supporting white nationalist.

MOST IMPORTANT of all, focusing on Trump's personal business interests ignores the main reason why some countries were excluded from the list: the role they play in propping up U.S. imperial policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

This is especially true of Saudi Arabia--a U.S. ally in barbarism that routinely carries out human rights abuses and executions of oppressed religious and other persecuted minorities, as well as political opponents of the regime. But since the Saudi government is a critical U.S. ally in the Middle East, U.S. officials--Republicans and Democrats alike, as Barack Obama proved during his time as president--look away.

By contrast, the countries targeted by Trump's ban list are among those that have suffered the most during the U.S. "war on terror." As Glenn Greenwald wrote at the Intercept:

Beyond U.S. support for the world's worst regimes, what primarily shapes Trump's list is U.S. aggression: Five of the seven predominantly Muslim countries on Trump's list were ones bombed by Obama, while the other two (Iran and Sudan) were punished with heavy sanctions. Thus, Trump is banning immigrants from the very countries that the U.S. government--under both Republicans and Democrats--has played a key role in destabilizing and destroying.

In fact, the seven countries targeted in Trump's executive order were originally identified as "countries of concern" by the Obama administration, which subjected their citizens to additional travel restrictions--a fact that the Trump administration has been quick to point out.

Among the countries on the list is Iraq, where years of sanctions and two U.S. wars, followed by a Washington-fueled sectarian civil war, have produced a catastrophic death toll. Estimates suggest that as many as 190,000 civilians were killed during the U.S. occupation of Iraq--which is ongoing, despite Obama's promises to end it--and that is to say nothing of the millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes, not only by the war, but by sectarian divisions purposefully stoked by the U.S. in order to divide and rule.

In Sudan, beginning with the Clinton administration, U.S. sanctions have caused mass suffering in what the New York Times called one of the "poorest, most isolated and most violent countries in Africa."

Yemen, another target of the "war on terror," is currently facing the prospect of a severe famine, according to the United Nations. This month, UN humanitarian official Stephen O'Brien warned the UN Security Council that 2 million Yemeni people are in need of emergency food aid to survive. A Yemeni child under 5 dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes today, said O'Brien.

Poverty, war damage and drone bombings by the U.S. as part of the "war on terror," along with a naval embargo and indiscriminate air strikes by Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the U.S.--not to mention attacks carried out by American forces themselves, often using drones--have all added to the suffering.

TRUMP'S BAN on refugees and immigrants may be broader, but make no mistake: The groundwork for it--and the anti-Muslim prejudice embedded within it--was laid by the Obama administration--and the Bush and Clinton administrations before it. As investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill pointed out on Twitter, when Trump administration lawyers attempt to justify the executive order in court, they "will cite not only U.S. code, but Obama policy to defend all of this."

As Glenn Greenwald wrote at the Intercept:

Trump did not appear out of nowhere. He is the logical and most grotesque expression of a variety of trends we have allowed to fester: endless war, a virtually omnipotent presidency, unlimited war powers from spying to due process-free imprisonment to torture to assassinations, repeated civil liberties erosions in the name of illusory guarantees of security, and the sustained demonization of Muslims as scary, primitive, uniquely violent Others.

No matter who is sitting is in office or which party they belong to, it's ultimately U.S. imperial interests--not personal business interests--that reign supreme. And those interests are diametrically opposed to those of ordinary Americans and ordinary people across the globe.

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