Thursday evening at 8 p.m., part of Donald Trump’s Executive Order temporarily banning people from six Muslim-majority countries went into effect.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, visa applications from Libya, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia will be blocked for 90 days and resettlement for refugees for 120 days unless an individual can prove a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” Under this vague definition, parents, siblings, step-siblings, half-siblings or a fiancé of someone in the U.S. for example are allowed entry, but not their grandparents, nieces, nephews, uncles, or aunts.
If this appears confusing and illogical, that’s because it is. As we await the ramifications of this action in the days, weeks and months ahead, as well as SCOTUS’ final ruling on the entire E.O. later this fall, the message has been heard loudly round the world and already solidified by the highest court in our country: Muslims are the ultimate “other” and will be treated as such.
Earlier this year, Pew Research conducted a survey asking people to rate religious groups based on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100 (0 being the coldest/most negative). Muslims were given an average rating of 48 degrees – less than the seven other religious groups in the survey. This is no coincidence. When most Americans don’t know a Muslim personally (or don’t realize that they know one), all they can base their perceptions on is what has been reinforced continually in the press, pop culture and society at large. When the U.S. is separated from much of the world – including the proverbial “Muslim world” – by large bodies of water, many Americans have no concept of what a Muslim is in actuality.
Donald Trump campaigned for the highest office in the land by calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country until we can figure out “what the hell is going on.” Well, I can tell you what the hell is going on. This didn’t start with Trump and he’s not the only one to blame for where we are today. The SCOTUS Justices who allowed for this partial implementation to take place are guilty; the State Department that set out the arbitrary guidelines for this rollout are guilty; the news outlets that don’t bring Muslims into the conversation are guilty; Hollywood that routinely demonizes Muslims is guilty; the politicians who went along with this ban for their own political advancement are guilty; those who don’t speak up for fear of retribution are guilty; and of course well-meaning citizens who are silent because they think this has nothing to do with them or are duped into believing so are guilty.
Muslims in the U.S. only constitute about 1 percent of the population. When a group is in such a minority, routinely stereotyped and misrepresented, and then further silenced by not having a seat at the table, are we really surprised that the majority don’t appear to care if we start shifting policy that impacts their family members directly or people of that community? When the Trump Administration rolled out its initial Muslim ban in January, there were massive protests at airports and elsewhere around the country, as well as a flurry of attorneys that literally sat on the floor with their laptops writing briefs to assist those caught in the middle of the chaos. It was a beautiful moment; Americans of all stripes were standing, marching and protesting in solidarity with the Muslim community. Unfortunately, that level of outrage has not sustained itself in the months since. While there were protests at some airports and cities on Thursday as part of the Muslim ban 2.0 launched, they weren’t nearly on the level that we saw earlier this year. And even though there was some coverage of this ban, there was more indignation and attention paid to Trump’s tweets about Mika Brzezinski than there was about restricting entry into the United States from six countries (granted, the Brzezinski story absolutely warranted coverage, but it dominated the news cycle and made all else an afterthought).
On a day when such a drastic measure went into effect, hardly any Muslims appeared on cable news outlets. In fact, references to Muslims were almost absent as the accepted norm is now to refer to this E.O. as a “travel ban” ― as if people are packing their bags to go on vacation somewhere. To act like this isn’t a partial test run of Trump’s campaign promise to ban Muslims is misleading at best. As the ACLU and others have so rightfully argued, you do not need to discriminate against all members of a group in order to discriminate against that group. Just because all Muslims aren’t banned, doesn’t negate the fact that this is, was and will in fact be a Muslim ban.
Now some claim (and SCOTUS has apparently agreed) that this ban is about “national security.” As many have already highlighted, no one from these six nations has ever committed a terrorist attack in the U.S. But let’s really delve into the issue here. If the argument is that we cannot properly vet people from these countries, then don’t we need to be honest about our role in destabilizing many of these areas?
Whether it was our drone campaign in Somalia or Yemen (and our current support of a proxy war in Yemen by supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia), or the massive destruction and utter chaos that was left in Libya after the U.S.-led NATO operation that helped to overthrow Gaddafi, or the horrific mess that is Syria where everyone from Assad to Russia to the U.S. and others are dropping bombs (not to mention ISIS rising out of the vacuum left in Iraq and spreading elsewhere), we have contributed greatly to the factors that made many of these places failed states. After such intense involvement, we then want to then turn around and block those trying to escape the madness and instability. It is a crazy dynamic, and one that is almost never brought into the conversation when discussing Trump’s Muslim ban. Instead, we are presented with the notion that “those people over there” are bad and we must keep them out. What a disingenuous way to approach such a complex issue.
As people pontificate the legality of certain provisions of this ban and prepare their talking points, it’s important to keep in mind that this is happening, now, in 2017. There is no clarity as to what will be done differently vetting-wise during this temporary halt. In fact, on a background call with reporters regarding this E.O., senior Administration officials failed to answer a question about what was wrong with current vetting procedures. The truth is, the refugee resettlement process already takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months, or even longer for people from places like Syria. To act as if our borders are somehow open and people can just walk through as they please is such a farce, it’s hard to believe that anyone would ever believe it.
The most vulnerable among us, refugees, will be hit the hardest by this ban, as it is difficult for many to prove they already have a “bona fide relationship” to a country they are attempting to seek refuge in. To add insult to injury, refugee organizations do not constitute as a bona fide relationship, making it even harder for a refugee to gain entry. This E.O. also limits the total number of refugees into the U.S. from 110,000 to 50,000 for this year. History will not look favorably upon this moment.
SCOTUS will have the final word on Trump’s Muslim ban this October, though Hawaii has already filed an emergency motion over its partial implementation and the White House’s interpretation of Monday’s ruling. While the legalities play out, Muslims abroad and Muslims here at home have been sent a very succinct message: the United States can slowly begin to block some of you, break families apart and the masses won’t even blink an eye.
It’s important to remember how we arrived at this moment – for it didn’t happen overnight. And who knows where this may lead, as Trump’s ban leaves room for other nations to be added to the list. As for Muslims in the U.S., it’s also critical to note that Sec. of State Tillerson never ruled out a Muslim registry when asked during his confirmation hearing.
When you continually dehumanize a group, fail to include their voices, have a Presidential candidate who promises to ban them (and still gets elected), start to impose special limitations on their entry and there is no large-scale outcry, then who’s to say more draconian measures won’t come down the pipeline?
Regardless of what SCOTUS finally decides this fall, the damage has already been done and Muslims now know that policies can be put in place in 2017 targeting them specifically and most people will sadly just carry on.
Nothing to see here folks.