By Aryeh Neier
It is not the only omission. In identifying Muslim-majority countries from which refugees and visas will be blocked because of concerns about terrorism, Trump left out Saudi Arabia. Yet most of those who hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington DC on 9/11, the deadliest terrorist episode in history, were Saudis.
Does Trump shy away from offending Saudi Arabia because he has business dealings with wealthy Saudis? Or because he expects them to curry favor by patronizing his new hotel in Washington? We don’t know. By refusing to release his tax returns and by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he raises such questions.
Another country left off the list is Egypt. Yet the leader of the 9/11 hijackers was Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian. Was Egypt omitted because Trump is developing a warm relationship with the country’s brutal dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi? Again, we don’t know. Of course, excluding all Saudis and Egyptians from entering the US is a bad idea. Applicants for refugee status or visas should be considered individually. Yet failing to exclude them highlights the arbitrariness of barring all those from some countries whose nationals have had no part in terrorism in the US.
During his campaign, Trump focused particularly on excluding Syrian refugees, calling them “the ultimate Trojan horse”. It must be acknowledged that despite the extreme suffering they have endured, the US was not especially welcoming of Syrian refugees before Trump took office.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has registered more than 4,800,000 Syrian refugees. The great majority are in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The Obama administration proposed to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees to the US in the year beginning 1 October.
Trump has now halted that process. Meanwhile Canada has announced that it resettled 39,617 Syrian refugees by 2 January 2017. The process has gone very well. Many thousands of Canadians are voluntarily helping the refugees and contributing financially to enable them to adjust successfully to their new environment.
Before accepting the Syrian refugees, Canada vetted them with care. So far, there have been no security issues. The vetting by the US before Syrian refugees are accepted for resettlement has been similar, and has taken up to two years. As in the case of Canada, the US has had no security incidents involving Syrian refugees.
Yet now, except for a provision that appears intended to exempt the Syrian refugees who are Christians, and therefore of special concern to Christian right supporters of Trump, they are to be blocked from entering the US. This highlights the attempt to engage in religious discrimination. (Actually, if the exemption is applied as written to members of minority religions who have been most severely persecuted, the principal beneficiaries should be Yazidis from Syria and Baha’i from Iran. That may not be Trump’s intent and it may not be followed in practice.)
In the period following the devastating 9/11 attacks, the US committed a number of acts that damaged the country’s global standing. They include the invasion of Iraq that was justified by the false claim that Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that endangered the US; the water-boarding, wall-slamming and other abuses of detainees from many countries at CIA “black sites”; the extremely prolonged detentions without charges or trial at Guantánamo; the poor administration of occupied Iraq that allowed the country to descend into chaos and helped to spawn terrorist movements in the region; and the torture and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Now, by excluding all refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries and by denying all visas to nationals of those countries, Trump is further detracting from the prestige of the US as a country where people are treated fairly regardless of race, religion or national origin. If he thinks this will enhance safety, he is sadly mistaken.
Even if he could keep out all those he thinks might threaten the US, he will heighten the danger to many millions of Americans who live, work and travel outside its borders. America, and Americans, would be safer if the country is seen by the world to live up to the ideals represented by the Statue of Liberty.