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Revisiting the ban

As we approach the one year anniversary of the controversial executive order that banned travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations, it’s due time to evaluate its merits, or lack thereof. Crafted of course by none other than Duke alumnus Stephen Miller, the travel ban was promulgated in large part as a move to satiate the more xenophobic tendencies of a core voter base of supporters that secured President Trump’s victory. Beyond the moral and ethical implications of the directive, the ban is also troubling in terms of how out of touch it is with the realities of the contemporary terrorism. If anything, this move by the Trump administration was hugely detrimental vis-a-vis domestic counterterrorism efforts because it played directly into narratives used for radicalization.

The principle domestic terrorism threat, as exemplified over the past year, is that of lone-wolf or homegrown terrorists. The stringent and overbearing monitoring of phone metadata and emails allowed by the Patriot Act has almost entirely eliminated the threat of a 9/11-style attack in which a large of group of people conspire to carry out a barrage. While there is much to critique about the way post-September 11th hysteria played out in foreign policy and domestic legislation, it is undoubtedly true that the reactionary responses by the US has meant that an attack on a similar scale to the World Trade Center and Pentagon would be logistically impossible. The threat of terrorist networks emigrating into the United States—the threat that the travel ban supposedly  attempts to neutralize—is an empty one. Moreover, what is concerning is the way in which the current threat, lone-wolf terrorism, is actually exacerbated by the travel ban. 

Any member of the Trump administration who is actually well-read on matters of extremism would know that the small and particular strain of jihadi intellectualism we see manifest in prominent fringe organizations paints and distorts texts to frame Islam as being entirely at odds with the West. This specific ideological project propagates a perverted version of Islamic religious tenets that are only further fueled by the actions and statements coming out the White House. While claiming to be ‘tough on terrorism,’ President Trump and his advisors have given a helping hand to radicalization efforts everywhere. It is all the more credible for a recruiter to claim that the United States is incompatible with Islam when after over a decade of violent occupation and a permawar in Afghanistan, the newest commander-in-chief makes it his first priority to demonize Muslims and set religiously-target travel policies. 

Ironically, the narrative of civilizational discordance that extremists want to promote is also favored by some elements of Trump’s voter base. The hyper-nationalist flanks of his alt-right supporters actively promote the very same idea that Muslims cannot ever be part of American life. It is truly egregious for a President to champion an executive order this ill-devised and dangerous in order to while pander to his own political crowd at the potential cost of worsening both the lives of Muslims internationally and our current national security situation. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs that seek to foster cooperation with Muslim communities naturally lose their credibility in the face of an irrational, islamophobic head of state. The contortions of Quranic verses and Hadiths that are used to justify violent action by extremists must also be nullified by Islamic clerics working with the government, efforts which are made even more difficult by a President that demonizes Muslims for political gain. While the first year of the Trump administration has felt like a drawn-out one, we still can’t be sure of how much long term damage will be done by policies like these that are enacted for the xenophobes within his base. Time will only tell how this administration will change the course of history for the worse.


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