President Trump’s executive order banning or limiting travel to the United States by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries is wrong and citizens should stand against it.
First, as a professor of Islamic Studies at N.C. State University, I spend every semester imparting an understanding of Muslims as diverse and multi-faceted. While not glossing over the reality that there are violent extremists in the Muslim world, we must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims not only reject such violence but are also by far the most frequent victims of Islamic militants.
Second, the American Muslim community has repeatedly and consistently rejected violence and worked with law-enforcement to curtail the spread of extremism. According to a Duke-UNC study, Muslim communities helped disrupt 40 percent of the al Qaeda plots against the United States from 2001-2011.
Third, the ban is clearly an extension of Donald Trump’s campaign promise to bring about “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” But the selection of seven countries from among the 50 Muslim-majority nations is demonstrably absurd. Even if discriminating against Muslim travel to the U.S. were legal (which Vice President Mike Pence said it was not in 2016), there is ample evidence that not a single terrorist act was committed on U.S. soil by a citizen of or immigrant from these seven countries in over 30 years. The executive order inconsistently exempts countries whose citizens have caused violence in the U.S.
Fourth, the ban shows an ignorance of history. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration Systeminstated after September 11, 2001 resulted in investigations of over 80,000 men from Muslim majority countries and the detention of at least 13,000. Not one arrest ensued from this indiscriminate dragnet.
Fifth, the ban is illegal as it violates the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. We in North Carolina see the positive impact made by our immigrant Muslim citizens, friends, families, and neighbors every day. Approximately 150 students at N.C. State alone who have sacrificed personally and financially for the opportunity to train in their chosen fields – are now in limbo, unable to travel home if a family member were in crisis and watching their future plans unravel as hope of employment in the U.S. after graduation is increasingly uncertain.
Sixth, the order breaks the contract made with individuals in this country legally – with green cards, work visas, student visas – as they have been detained or barred from returning to the U.S. after travel abroad in the last days since the order was given. In several well-publicized cases this has led to the detention of legal U.S. residents who served this country heroically in Iraq. Hameed Khalid Darwish was questioned and searched on January 28 as he arrived on a Special Immigrant Visa – granted for his work as a translator and engineer in Iraq that had lead to his being targeted and applying to come here with his family. Other refugees granted visas after more than two years of vetting have been sent back from airports around the world and returned to precarious situations without property, family, and under immediate threat to their lives.
Seventh, this damages the good faith of the U.S. government in terms of tourism and commerce, as well as immigration. When a visa is granted to a student, worker, or tourist, the expectation is that if they do not violate U.S. laws or the terms of the particular visa that they may remain in the country legally and without restraint. To make that unreliable on a moment’s notice can and will make visitors and legal residents from those and other countries rethink their desire to vacation, work, and live in the U.S. It will also threaten US citizens living and working in those countries on military, humanitarian, personal, or commercial business.
From his prison cell in Nazi Germany Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote that first they came for others who were not him (Socialists, Trade Unionists, Jews) and he said nothing because he was none of those things, but “then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Allowing our fellow humans to suffer under the anxiety, indignity, and unlawful ban that now is directed solely at citizens of seven countries makes it possible for equally indiscriminate actions to be taken against anyone, from anywhere, at any time. This is a nation of laws. We are a people of honor. We should hold our government accountable for that which it does in our name.
Anna Bigelow is an associate professor of Islamic Studies at North Carolina State University.