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Codifying bigotry

Codifying bigotry
United States President Donald Trump has acted on a controversial campaign promise, which divided millions of his fellow citizens and the international community. On Friday, he signed an executive order banning the entry of Muslims from seven countries for at least four months, and indefinitely stopping Syrian refugees from coming into the US. It is a retroactive order, which applies to those with previously approved refugee applications, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – who arrived soon after the US President signed the order. It is an order roundly criticised by members of his party, opposition, celebrities, corporate leaders, and many international governments. Even a minimal scrutiny of the sole rationale for this ban (keeping out Muslim extremists) illustrates how devoid it is of reason, compassion and empathy. For starters, the countries which have produced the highest number of anti-US terrorists—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates—have not been included in the ban list. The reasons are quite evident—all four nations are close US allies in the Middle East and tied to American business interests, particularly in the energy sector. The Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank, has documented that there have been zero fatal terror attacks on U.S. soil from 1975 to 2015 by immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries Trump targeted in his executive order. Trump also told a gathering his evangelical supporters that his administration would prioritise Christian refugees from war-torn regions over the rest. It is a profane assertion to make, rooted in the worst kind of bigotry that only those from a particular religion would be given refuge. From a security standpoint, Trump's immigration ban aimed at Muslims, while prioritising Christians, is just the kind of propaganda, which serves groups like ISIS. In response to the brutal 2015 Charlie Hebdo murders, ISIS propagandists argued that the incident had polarised society and "eliminated the grey zone," representing coexistence between religious groups. What Trump has done through his executive order banning Muslims from individual countries is to codify the same rationale, which essentially believes that Muslims and non-Muslims, especially in the West, cannot coexist. When asked about Trump's proposed Muslim ban during the US Presidential campaign, his pick for Defence Secretary, James Mattis, had unequivocally said: "This kind of thing is causing us considerable damage right now, and it's sending shock waves through this international system."

In a tweet soon after the executive order was issued, a Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, published a tweet which essentially captures Washington's inhumanity in addressing the migrant situation. "We bomb your country, creating a humanitarian nightmare, and then lock you inside. That's a horror movie, not a foreign policy," he tweeted. Some critics have even pointed out that in the ban list Trump did not include Muslim-majority countries in which he has business interests. It is a short-sighted understanding of the issue devoid of any reading of recent history. The reality is that countries on the ban list have long suffered at the hands of an aggressive US administration. Regimes in Riyadh and Cairo have been beneficiaries of US support, long before Trump took office, and in fact, the previous Obama administration had issued severe restrictions on visa applicants from the same countries that are now on the ban list. Five of the seven countries in the list suffered heavy US bombardment under Trump's predecessor, while the other two (Iran and Sudan) were subject to severe economic sanctions. In other words, immigrants from the very countries, where the US has played a significant role in destabilising governments and societies, are today not allowed to enter the US. "The humanitarian horrors instantly produced by Trump's immigration ban are impossible to overstate. That countless war refugees fleeing the ravages the U.S. helped create are now banned from refuge, many consigned to their deaths, is self-evident. The parallels with how Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution were treated in the 1930s and 1940s are obvious," writes noted journalist Gleen Greenwald in a scathing column for The Intercept. Some of the elements in Trump's extremism are indeed unique, but the climate for anti-Muslim bigotry was established long before he took office. Trump only tapped into the latent Islamophobia in American society, which has run parallel to the post-9/11 "War on Terror" narrative. The difference with Trump is that he has formally codified this anti-Muslim bigotry. Fortunately, a United States federal judge has stayed part of an executive order banning migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country until February 21. The judge has restrained the federal government from deporting immigrants detained in airports around the country. It is only a temporary respite. The larger issues surrounding the Muslim ban still exist. The battle for America's soul has entered the streets and courtrooms. It is only the beginning.
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