When Donald Trump declared that in furtherance of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism he backed a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” he explained that this was only “common sense.”
Common sense allows us to ignore the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants? A group so diverse that we are proud to self describe ourselves as a “melting pot.”
Common sense allows us to ignore the fact that such an action is probably illegal under our constitution?
Common sense allows us to commit such an action with no indication of what is to be gained by doing this? To keep all Muslims out of the country “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” is a little vague in purpose and even more vague in how it would be executed.
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Common sense overrides any need to question the basic morality of treating an entire group of people, many of whom are American citizens, in this manner?
The U.S. government has used common sense to combat the terrorist threat in a different manner. Soon after the attack on 9/11, the local FBI office started a multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force. Our mission was to identify, locate and neutralize those who wished to do us harm.
It was clear that we faced an enemy who was very different from the criminals we were accustomed to dealing with. The terrorist threat came from a violent ideology that wrapped itself in a religion. The religion was Islam, and sadly we knew very little about this religion. Most of Islam’s followers came from a cultural background we also knew little about. There were too few law enforcement personnel who spoke Middle Eastern languages or were knowledgeable about Middle Eastern cultures.
An axiom of war is to know your enemy. Implicit in this is to also know who is not your enemy.
We analyzed our situation and applied logic and common sense. One of the earliest actions we took was to reach out to the local Muslim community. As law enforcement professionals, we were aware that fear augmented by anger and stupidity can produce violence. We assured the members of the Muslim community that we could be counted on to protect them from any threats. We began an ongoing dialogue with leaders and others in the Muslim community.
As we learned more and more about our enemy, it became apparent that we could not prevail without the assistance of the Muslim community. The initial wave of terrorists came from the Muslim community, became radicalized and then turned to violence. People on this journey were going to be much more obvious to other members of the Muslim community than they would be to us. The violent jihadis who embraced this ideology also viewed mainstream Muslims as enemies.
All across the country, members of the Muslim community cooperated with U.S. law enforcement, providing essential information and other forms of assistance. Many successful anti-terrorism operations or prosecutions were aided and in some cases made possible due to the Muslim community’s voluntary assistance. This is not always publicly acknowledged. Not every member of every Muslim community in the U.S. has cooperated with law enforcement, but many have.
Common sense in fact does dictate that every terrorist attack cannot be stopped. We will be hit again, and with the advent of more and more self-radicalized, lone-wolf terrorists, it becomes more difficult to stop them.
If we mistreat Muslims, solely based on their religious beliefs, we give credence to the jihadi narrative and assist them in their recruitment efforts. A bedrock tenant of the jihadi narrative claims that the West is at war with Islam and all Muslims. While this would not ensure all members of the Muslim community would become radicalized, it would most likely induce them to stop working with us against our common enemy.
That would not be common sense – it would be nonsense. We must not allow nonsense to trump common sense.
Stephen C. Miller is a retired special agent with the U.S. Department of Defense. From September 2001 to 2005, he was a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Raleigh.