Make America Fear Again
History is non-linear. Most places around the globe instinctively know that the best days are not always ahead, nor promised. America remains one of the few that views progress as inexorable, as inevitable as February snow in Minnesota. Students of history of course, know a different truth. America has retreated into itself in the past. Following World War I, America ditched its newfound global prestige, crippling the League of Nations in the process. Economic protectionism and a rejection of foreign trade brought on the Great Depression, and significantly worsened its effects. Concurrent with this inward withdrawal was a steep rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, the birth of the 2nd KKK, and anti-Mexican / anti-Asian sentiment in California and the Southwest.
We know that America has been more than willing to demonize and then imprison broad swaths of its own people. Most famously, Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated with little more than the clothes on the backs to drafty shacks in internment camps. Following their release, many started at ground zero, rebuilding their families without the capital accrued through generations of labor. America blacklisted intellectuals, free-thinkers, and dissidents because of ideology during the Red Scare. It discredited civil rights leaders from the Black Panther Party to AIM through COINTELPRO. It criminalized drugs associated with black and brown folks leading to mass incarceration. It used the Patriot Act for surveillance on the average American for “terrorist activities.” So when we say, it can’t happen here, we know full well that it has.
And despite the distance we place between the then and now, we are not immune from our basest instincts. Those of us with Muslim friends, neighbors and colleagues know the truth: Americans who practice Islam are as boring as the rest of us. They want to have their own slice of the America Dream: a well-paying job, a nice house, safe communities, and high quality schools. Remove the Arabic and Tahrir Square becomes Freedom Square. Substitute the word Hijab or Burqa with head-covering. Take out the ominous music from Homeland or whatever show you watch. Suddenly, the vast gulf shrinks.
And yet, even as most of our Muslim neighbors lead as mundane lives as the rest of us, we have identified our common enemy. The Muslim Registry is not a new idea. And, it didn’t work before either. In hoping to ensnare would be terrorists, it was a colossal failure. There is no indication it will be any more successful in protecting Americans this time around. On the other hand, barring all refugees and blanket immigration from several Muslim majority countries has real repercussions. One more spigot shut off siphons more into dangerous passageways to Europe. It affects Syrians of every religion, including the Christians whom Evangelicals appear to be so concerned about. And in ways not seen since 1965 when the Eurocentric quota system was dismantled, it is racializing our immigration system.
Fareed Zakaria, an immigrant himself, launched a scathing criticism of the new Trump policy. Foreign nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan have produced ZERO terrorist fatalities on American soil in the past 41 years. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have produced hundreds. Saudi Arabia has accounted for more than 2,800. Yet these nations, which have actually produced terrorists who attacked our soil, are not subject to the blanket 90 day immigration / visitation ban. Why? These nations host Trump properties or do considerable business with the Donald Inc. Such is the topsy-turvey domestic and foreign policy in which personal interest trumps (pun intended) national prerogative.
Trump has stated that the ban isn’t based on Islam, the majority faith of all banned nations, but clearly said that Christians would be prioritized once refugees are allowed. That the ban was signed the same day of World Holocaust Remembrance Day was either willfully ignorant or fully intentional. White House mention of the solemn occasion also broke with decades of policy by not even referencing Jews, Roma, or Slavs who bore the brunt of the Nazi’s homicidal regime. Worse still, in the chaos at American airports, Steve Bannon quietly ascended to the National Security Council while Joint Chiefs were demoted with barely a mention. Bannon’s paw-prints appear all over the recent spate of executive actions, a deeply troubling development given his reputation.
Remarkably, we are in Week 2. We do not know which actions will stand up to judicial scrutiny against inevitable litigation. We do not know whether the force of protests will force a return to sanity. We do know though, America is not the same as it was on January 19th. The targeting of religious and ethnic minorities has consequential ripple effects. It is the symptom of a profoundly insure America, and leads to schizophrenic policy abroad. It leads to protectionism and the hollowing out of our economic core. Muslims are easy and convenient targets for the Right today. The list of supposed enemies grows by the day, now encompassing journalists covering protest movements. Tomorrow? Who knows? We retreat and vilify at our risk.