After the attacks of 9/11, the world has been engulfed in a war against terrorism. Terrorism, a term that is yet to be defined in any international document, and an enemy, which cannot de identified, has no state, flag, or color. We are fighting a war, which solely relies on the information our governments feed us, which is further dependent on a few individuals tasked with gathering intelligence. Media, print and visual, which is considered as the fourth pillar of a democratic society has added fuel to the fire, instead of providing unbiased reports and facts.
This situation was exacerbated during the run up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, and most recently after he signed the Executive Order on January 27, 2017 titled, “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States.” The Executive Order does not impose a complete ban on entry of citizens of the countries named in it, rather, it severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and bars all Syrian refugees until further notice. However, all leading news agencies have reported the executive order as placing a complete ban on them entering the U.S. The complete text of the Executive Order with preliminary comments are available online from leading news companies, such as CNN, NYT, and the WSJ.
According to most reports the Executive Order passed by the new Commander-in-chief would tantamount to banning Muslims from the seven Muslim majority countries. This in effect bars people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Vox, another media source, even went as far as comparing the Executive Order to the banning of Jews from entry during the Holocaust.
But, amidst all the media frenzy and the flow of passions, is this situation even close to what it is claimed to be? Is this an initiation of a new divided America on communal lines? It is the unilateral Trump effect all feared?
Dissecting the Executive Order
The Executive Order dated January 27, 2017, seeks “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” It further seeks, “Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern.” It also goes on to state, “[I] hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order.” The Executive Order specifically targets Syrians by stating, “[I] hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”
According to the media reports, the Executive Order bars people hailing from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. However, neither Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen is mentioned in the Executive Order. Syria is the only country that specifically appears in the order. Is this a case of another “alternative fact” from the Trump administration?
It was during the Obama administration that the Department of Homeland Security identified these seven countries as “countries of concern”. The DHS clarified that in its implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement (VWPI), and the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (signed into law on December 18, 2015) it would add Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as three countries of concern, limiting Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals who have traveled to these countries.” It noted “the three additional countries designated today join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries subject to restrictions for Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals.” The Obama Administration had a policy in place that restricted and targeted people who were present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions). This policy was condemned, but since no wide range support was available at that time, this never became a national issue, leave apart attracting international attention.
If Trump imposed a Muslim ban, he renewed one that was already in place by the previous administration. None of the leading media agencies ever pointed this out in their news reports that surfaced after the January 27, 2017 Executive Order. On the contrary, many journalists have gone ahead and prorogated a myth that since Trump has business interests in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistan, he purposely left those countries out from the list.
Does it absolve Trump?
The United States as a country was established on the principles of diversity, inclusiveness, civil liberty, justice, and above all, hope. It is appalling and condemnable to witness the United States closing its doors to the people who need it the most. In majority of the cases, it is the United States that created chaos in that country, which may not have been perfect, but nevertheless was adequately taking care of its citizens. Each country that was invaded directly by the U.S., or indirectly provided support by arming the rebel groups, it was done without any plans of how the transition of power would take place. Even though the U.S. and allied nations have emphasized nation building as their priority, none of the countries ravaged by war is anywhere close to being normal. In the backdrop of such a devastation, Trump stepping into the White House has made the situation on ground zero for millions of innocent and venerable, men, women and children miserable to say the least. While terrorism continues to be the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century, it does not give any nation a right to leave millions of innocent individuals to die. Canada became the first country to condemn Trump’s Executive Order.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Other European countries, and even corporates have stepped up and taken initiative to help refugees.
Irrespective of other countries stepping up to face the challenges, the American people have to take a collective stand and evaluate what kind of a democracy do they want for themselves. One man along cannot shake the foundations of a nation. It is the collective responsibility of the citizens of the U.S. to raise their voice against unjust laws, irrespective of whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power. It is only the institutions of democracy that can hold the nation together, and everyone must make a conscious effort to strengthen them. The federal judiciary has already arisen to the occasion.
The Silver Lining to Trump’s Executive Order
While terrorism remains a constant threat, many nations use terrorism as a state policy to further their national interests. The undisputed leader in using terrorism as a state policy is Pakistan, the country that sheltered the most wanted man on the planet, Osama bin Laden. Pakistan is a safe haven to many wanted terrorists and terrorist organizations. Within a few hours after President Trump signed the Executive Order, the Pakistani government issued an order to place Hafiz Saeed, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief, under house arrest. Saeed has been accused by the United States and India of masterminding the 2008 attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, which included six American citizens. In 2012, the United States announced a bounty of $10 million on Hafiz Saeed for his alleged role in the attack. Since then the Pakistani government had been under pressure from the United States to take action against Saeed or face sanctions.
A unilateral knee-jerk reaction from the United States by banning citizens from specific countries as a solution to keep the U.S. safe is a flawed approach. Unless the international community, along with the U.S. mounts pressure on nations known to harbor terrorists, prosecute perpetrators of terrorism across the globe, and streamline the U.S. foreign policy to prioritize tackling terrorism, nothing substantial can be achieved. Until then, the legal fraternity, especially in the U.S., will have to champion the cause of civil liberties and equal protection under law.