A 'Muslim Registry' And The Pitfalls Of Exclusive Labeling

His registry is ill-conceived and counterproductive.

Debate Over “Muslim Registry”

Internment camps, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are some of the dark images resurrected surrounding the proposal by President-elect Trump’s advisors ”to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries” ― what many are calling a “Muslim registry.” Vicious debates have erupted, though the policy hasn’t yet been officially defined.

Critics of the idea have voiced intense disapproval. Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), citing the registration of Jews under Hitler’s reign, has asserted that if a registry is ever instituted for American Muslims, he ― a proud Jew ― would register himself as a Muslim.

Actor George Takei whose family was subject to Japanese-American internment during WWII, wrote an impassioned condemnation, with deep concern that such efforts have “never led to a more secure world” and that the registry would serve as a “prelude to internment.”

Jason Miller, the communication director of Trump’s transition team denied ever advocating a system that tracks people based on their religion ― giving the impression that there’s nothing to see here, despite a number of interviews with Donald Trump suggesting otherwise.

Is It Really About Border Security?

Every country has the right to keep itself secure. However, criticism of the proposed Muslim registry is not necessarily in opposition to national security. Our criticism centers around why a “Muslim” registry is ill-conceived and counterproductive.

1. It Already Exists

Calling for a Muslim registry is merely a knee-jerk reaction to a complex problem, namely, terrorism. While it may sound appealing and even logical, it would be ineffective at this point. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) created during the Bush era shortly after 9-11, evidenced as a precedent, targeted Muslim majority countries. “Since NSEERS was created, DHS (The Department of Homeland Security) has implemented several automated systems that capture arrival and/or exit information, making the manual entry of this data via the NSEERS registration process redundant, inefficient and unnecessary.”

The upgraded system essentially “registers” all individuals entering and exiting the U.S. by default. As a result, DHS suspended the NSEERS program in 2011.

2. Easily Circumvented

We don’t live in medieval times where building walls and draconian registries thwart unwanted danger. As we have witnessed, with the advent of social media, ISIS members don’t need to be physically present in a region to influence and radicalize people.

Additionally, terrorists can easily circumvent a religious or racial registry or ban by using proxies of un-targeted demographics ― people who can enter the U.S. undetected. It’s naive to believe that terrorist organizations will be deterred by registration.

3. Exclusive Labeling

The fact that this discussion is revolving around Muslim countries and individuals, suggests that Muslims are the only threat that would require “registration.” Such exclusive labeling may induce adverse results; antagonizing the inevitably nonthreatening super-majority of Muslims, including the many Muslims who are fighting terrorism through intelligence and on the battlefield, and inducing unnecessary bias amongst Americans.

President Obama emphasized this point in his final international speech: “The thing I’m probably most concerned about is making sure that ... U.S. policy, U.S. statements and U.S. positions don’t further radicalize Muslims around the world or alienate and potentially radicalize law abiding Muslims who are living in Europe, or the United States. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to understand those are our key allies in this fight ― not enemies.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a staggering 10,574 heroin related deaths between 2001 to 2014. To put this into perspective, from 1995 to 2014 there were a total of 3,264 terrorism related deaths ― only 30 percent of the deaths caused by heroin, even though the terrorism study included six additional years. Most heroin comes from South America and Mexico. Many cartels have operatives in the U.S. facilitating the drug trade.

Since 9-11, there have been 10 attacks by Muslim extremists and almost twice that number ― 18 attacks ― committed by right wing extremists. Additionally, attacks by alt-right white supremacists have been on the rise since the advent of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Defining the heroin threat as “Latin American” or the more frequent terror threat as “White” or “Christian” would be worse than “insulting.” It would be a mischaracterization of the problem.

Should crimes be defined by the perpetrator’s claimed ideology, race, nationality, or religion? If so, we would then be required to also define non-criminal activities by the actor’s religion, race or nationality.

No one does that.

The exclusive use of race, religion, and nationality to label crime and terrorism disregards the majority of people who disassociate themselves and condemn those crimes in the name of the same race, religion, or nationality.

4. Where Do We Draw the Line?

In order to create dragnets for demographics from which criminal threats have emanated, we’d be forced to screen more than just Muslims. Based on statistics, white males, Latinos, Christians and others would all warrant similar treatment. However, that isn’t what’s being proposed. Due to the fact that there are multiple threats in the world beside foreign terrorists, one has to wonder, what is the purpose of fixating on Islam and Muslims.

“It’s immigration security theater... It’s like the wall: It’s pretty clear that it just has no effect, but it’s a way of keeping the restrictions constituencies, or the alarmist counterterrorism constituency, happy.” ― Peter Spiro, Professor of International Law at Temple University

As a country, we’ve got to differentiate between policies based on fear and effective solutions.

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