By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
When US President Donald Trump signed the executive order to ban the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim population, which is fortunately not among the banned countries – vehemently opposed the move.
In a similar tone and tenor, Iran – the Shia-majority Muslim country, which is among the banned countries – lambasted the move which imposes tough new controls on travellers from the seven countries. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated: “It was no time to build walls between nations,” without naming Trump.
Similar responses came from several other Muslim and non-Muslim countries, which claim to speak for the religious minority rights. They avowed a bid to tackle only the ‘radical Islamism’, and not the mainstream Muslims, while at the same time promoting moderate Muslim voices in their societies.
But it is quite staggering to note that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – the fountains of jihadist radicalism today – are not yet included in the list of banned countries. Inevitably, the three countries are seeking to maintain a deafening silence over Trump’s move. This is the first glimmer of doubt. One wonders if the executive order of the Muslim immigration ban is genuinely aimed at countering Islamist extremism or is it just a ploy by Trump to please his core constituency that includes racists, white supremacists and evangelists.
A Firstpost article eloquently articulates this: “Trump’s decisions or ‘threats’ for further drastic action have given rise to the emergence of one segment of miscreants who are essentially anti-Islam and racist.”
It’s an open secret that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other Pakistani terror networks have been playing out in the terror plots against the United States. Therefore, Obama’s administration often sought to press the Pakistani government to take effective action against all the terror outfits that sabotage American interests.
Only recently, US has expanded its terrorism designation against Lashkar-e-Taiba to include two additional LeT leaders and LeT’s student wing, as former US ambassador to India, Richard R Verma, said at the Vivekananda International Foundation Conference.
But the question is that why the new US President is so soft on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in his call for ban on the seven Muslim countries’ immigrants? An editorial in Firstpost also questioned why Trump’s immigration ban ‘curiously’ excludes Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: “Without going into the merits of such an order, it is interesting to note that it excludes Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – the two countries that are the fountainhead of international jihadi terrorism. If the former provides the terrorist safe havens, the latter provides the fuel in the form of propaganda and finances.”
Another Muslim country that a remains silent onlooker is Turkey. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan maintains a dubious silence over the global grudges against Trump and his self-styled ‘Muslim ban’. Mustafa Akyol, a veteran Turkish journalist has wondered as to why all this persistent sympathy for Trump exists in Turkey’s pro-Erdogan universe. In his latest article for Al-Monitor, Akyol noted:
“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ultimate authority, has so far said nothing about the “Muslim ban.” Moreover, his propaganda machine, consisting of at least 10 national newspapers, several TV channels and thousands of social media trolls, has also been unusually silent about the issue.”
So what went wrong in the seven Muslim countries that Trump included in his ban, which did not happen in these other pro-Islamist countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey?
Not only is the silence of Saudi king Salman, who loudly claims the leadership of the Muslim world as the “custodian of the two Holy Mosques”, surprising, but the most powerful Islamist President Erdogan’s short-sighted policy is also appalling, as David Hearst notes in his article for the Middle East Eye.
As for Pakistan, interestingly, to avoid the perceived wrath of Trump, it put Hafiz Saeed on house arrest shortly after Trump indicated that Pakistan could also be included in the list of the Muslim-majority countries from where immigration has been banned. On 22 November, 2016, Pakistan’s leading English daily, The Nation, rightly pointed out: “Things can, however, take an ugly turn in Pakistan-US relations if Washington under Trump comes to the conclusion that Pakistan is not cooperating wholeheartedly in combating terrorists.”
However, several Muslim analysts give “good reasons” behind the signing of the executive order. One of the substantial evidences, they offer to buttress their point, is that of Tashfeen Malik, who was admitted by the American immigration authorities. That it resulted in the tragic incident of San Bernardino attack leaving 14 dead and 22 injured is used to back their argument.
It was exposed only after this terror atrocity had been perpetrated that a secret American policy prevented the immigration officials from checking the social media accounts of foreigners applying for visas for America. Had the immigration officials been able to look at the radical postings in Malik’s social accounts, the innocent lives might not have been lost in San Bernardino.
Those taking cognisance of the ground realities cannot rule out that terror threats are looming larger in the US after Trump was sworn into the White House. Let’s not forget that Islamic State (IS) recruiters were rooting for Trump to win the US elections for a dangerous reason. They believed Trump would lead the United States on a path of self-destruction and that his presidency would be an easy recruiting tool for the terrorists.
As several media reports informed, not only the American Republicans, even the IS’ jihadists were cheering for Trump with a belief that they would use his ‘Islamophobic’ rhetoric to recruit the gullible Muslim youth. Shortly after Trump won the US presidential election, the Islamic State ideologues unravelled their obnoxious plans. They proclaimed their ‘preparedness’ to ‘slaughter’ the American voters in general and particularly the Muslim Americans who took part in the voting for US presidential election 2016.
Al Hayat Media Centre, which is an official media outlet of the IS, released a document entitled, “The Vote of Murtadds”. Murtadds in Arabic means “the apostates”. In this seven-page document, IS threatened all American voters, especially the Muslim voters in the US. “We have come to slaughter you and smash your ballot boxes. The blood of Crusader voters is even more deserving of being spilled than the blood of Crusader combatants.”
Now when Trump is loudly claiming to “take the bad ones out” in his attempt to “rebuild America”, he will have to fill his presidential promise to “bomb the hell out of the IS” as well. However, it is too gigantic a task to achieve, given the admitted lack of proper vetting procedures by the American officials.
More staggering is the clearly stated aim of the IS to implant its poisonous tentacles into groups of refugees. Keeping this danger in view, the US temporary ban on the seven Muslim countries’ immigrants cannot be simply trashed as an irrational political gimmick.
In his election campaign, Trump was banked on a strongly-worded promise to “totally annihilate the IS”. During the past few months, he has issued stronger statements like: “I would bomb them [IS]” and “I have to knock the hell out of them”.
Of late, he has announced decisive steps to “defeat and destroy the IS”. Terming the destruction of the dreaded terror group’s capabilities a “humanitarian imperative”, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday: “The United States must take decisive action, and the President is taking the necessary steps.”
But brushing aside all these strongly worded pledges, Trump’s immigration ban is being castigated as a ‘racist ban’ on Muslims. It might please only the white supremacists and evangelists who spread Islamophobia and the semi-skilled workers who consider the immigrants as the ones who have taken away their best jobs. But an angry crowd is surging ahead in various parts of America and Europe. Trump’s inflammatory ‘anti-Muslim’ rhetoric has fuelled their anger and their numbers.
Let alone the worldwide Muslim reactions, even the Christian pastors and priests are coming out demanding the lifting of the immigration ban in the US. A critical and considerably avowed reaction came from the religious left. William T Barber, a Protestant minister and political leader in North America, reacted to Trump’s move banning refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries:
“These acts smell of racism and reek of xenophobia. They are the antithesis of the Bible, which declares, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Even the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) called the refugee order “distressing”. Tellingly, the current president of NAE, Leith Anderson stated: “Thousands of US evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now.”
Trump’s administration, however, is reiterating that the immigration ban is just a temporary plan which is being implemented in order to “protect Americans.” The executive order reads: “We must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles.”
Some media outlets, like USA Today, have quoted Trump to have said that, “his crackdown on refugees and nationals from seven Muslim countries would not be a Muslim ban”. Trump clarified it shortly after signing the documents in the Oval Office. Furthermore, Trump also appears to favour setting up a safe zone in Syria, so people of the country are not forced to flee their homeland. This is seen as a small ‘compensation’ for the heavy price of immigration ban.
Given the mixed and obscure responses from the Muslim countries, only time will unravel if Trump’s Muslim ban will augur well for the “melting pot” of America. But the worries among the mainstream Muslims are exponentially growing. Even the Indian Muslims who are on the lookout for their future prospects in America are distressed. Most terribly, Indian students of Muslim family backgrounds are left in the lurch. Their aspiration of higher studies and career opportunities in the US will clearly face a sudden decline.
First posted on firstpost