PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order to temporarily block travel for immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – has justifiably caused uproar and deep anguish.
The hours after the “Muslim ban” felt like living through a chapter of history that we’d left behind. Fear, anxiety, discrimination, stigmatisation and confusion were all experienced by Muslims across the world.
Many family members were banned from returning to their jobs and studies, to their families and homes because they had a Muslim name. People with perfectly valid permanent resident green cards were rounded up at airports, handcuffed and threatened with deportation.
The outpouring of support from so many people around the world, thousands taking part in protests at airports all over America in solidarity with Muslims, has restored belief in humanity.
The timing of the order is ironic as it was signed on the day we commemorated the Holocaust, which did not begin with gas chambers but with a culture of hate, the crime of indifference and conspiracies of silence. The treatment of Muslims parallels with how Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution were treated in the 1930s and 1940s are obvious. The rhetoric about Muslim refugees is identical to that used to demonize Jews during the Second World War. The Daily Mail’s 2015 cartoon showing Muslim refugees as rats perfectly tracked a 1939 cartoon in a Viennese newspaper depicting Jews the same way.
Trump claims such a ban is based on nationality, not religion, and that it is simply coincidence that the ban applies only to Muslim-majority countries. In other words, a Christian fleeing persecution in Yemen would be given entry, but a Shia facing death and starvation would not. A Druze experiencing oppression in Syria would be allowed into the US, but a Sunni facing slaughter would not. The bigoted ban is therefore discriminatory, divisive and regressive to say the least.
The executive order is not only a full-frontal assault on the civil rights of Muslim citizens in the US, but it is a dangerous and self-defeating policy. It purports the attacks of 9/11 as a rationale for such a replusive ban, while exempting the countries of origin of all the hijackers who carried out that atrocity. However, no citizens from those seven countries has ever committed terror on US soil. People from those countries are themselves victims of terror. It is the failure of world leaders that has caused half a million Syrians to die and over six million to be displaced. The people from the Middle East are fleeing the very battlefields sparked by the immoral and disastrous war on Iraq, and brutal regimes of Isis and Basahr-al-Assad.
The sole ostensible rationale for this ban is national security. Yet the primary threat to Americans is not from those fighters on the ground in those countries, rather the threat comes primarily from their propaganda, which they use to spread their ideology and radicalise young men already living in the West.
The fact is that adopting extremist views, and committing horrendous acts of violence in the name of some “righteous” cause, be it religion or politics or plain hatred, isn’t something that only Muslims or immigrants commit. Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by ‘Islamist’ terrorists, and since Donald Trump’s inauguration, more than 750 people have been killed by guns in America through murder, accident and suicide.
The Islamophobia that Muslims have witnessed over the past decade has reached another milestone with this ban. Trump is the logical and most grotesque expression of a variety of trends we have allowed to fester. A formal and absolute codification of this anti-Muslim premise is inherently dangerous, as it is likely to further indoctrinate millions of Americans to regard Muslims as uniquely menacing and threatening.
The American people, as well as British people, want change – security from terrorism, control on immigration, economic prosperity. I hope that American people make “America Great again” through compassion, justice and protection of civil liberties, not hatred, hostility and divisiveness.
Trumpism has thrived on a blend of populism and nativism mixed with politics of hatred and fear of the ‘other’. My plea to Muslims is to remain calm and vigilant of the slowly-creeping fascism, and do not let the politics of hatred create division between communities.
Qari Asim is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds.