The colloquially-termed “Muslim ban” is an executive order signed by Donald Trump, current President of the United States, on March 6th of this year. It places travel limits to the US on individuals from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Yemen – all countries with Muslim-majority populations. The ban also applies to all refugees who do not possess valid travel documents. It supersedes a previous executive order signed in January. That order faced immediate challenges in the courts with injunctions against it being issued by judges.
However, last month the US Supreme Court decided to retract some of these injunctions in light of the new revised order. It will review the order again in October when its next term begins. For the 90 days following the order coming into effect no one from the six countries mentioned above will be allowed entry to the US without a close “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the country.
Trump has called the new order a “watered down, politically correct version” of its predecessor. This is likely because the prior order also banned Iraqi nationals. The new order further differs from the old in that it lifts the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and makes it clear that visa and green card holders from the listed countries will still be allowed entry. Lastly, it allows for waivers to be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Despite these concessions, the ban poses clear problems for individuals affected by it. For starters, the definition of a “close” relationship is very narrow, excluding most members outside of the traditional nuclear family. A hashtag was birthed on Twitter, #GrandparentsNotTerrorists, through which many people have scorned the logic of this rule using images of their family members.
Many US-based families of those affected have also expressed resentment. Al-Jazeera spoke with a young Syrian-American woman who was set to get married later this year. She has now had to postpone the wedding because several of her family members are unable to enter the US under these new rules. Similar cases have been reported across the country as Trump and his administration have sought to arbitrarily define which family relationships matter most.
The ban also leaves refugees who had hoped to seek asylum in the US in great danger. Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA’s senior director of campaigns, has stated that the policy “will jeopardize [sic] the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.” She argued that refugees do not pose a threat and “should not be disingenuously scapegoated under the guise of national security”.
The ban will also have wider ramifications for Muslims already living in the US. The focus on Muslim-majority countries by Trump’s administration is likely to legitimize bigoted views about Muslims held by certain groups in the US. The Southern Poverty Law Center produced a report earlier this year which found that the number of hate groups specifically targeting Muslims in the US has nearly tripled in the past year. They attributed this rise to Trump’s “incendiary rhetoric” during his presidential campaign. The level of hatred from the far-right towards Muslims (and the potential for violence that accompanies it) will only continue to grow as Trump doubles down on and institutionalizes his Islamophobia.
Trump claims that the Muslim ban has been enacted in the interests of national security and anti-terrorism. However, peace won’t be brought about through blunt discriminatory legislation. Painting Muslims, immigrants, and refugees with the same prejudiced brush will only serve to create division and disrupt genuine attempts to tackle violence and support those fleeing conflict. Political issues such as terrorism can only be tackled through an understanding of their political causes instead of targeting entire groups of people, most of whom come from countries where instability can in part be attributed to past and current US interventions. A more critical approach is needed, and Trump’s administration should be held to account for its reckless Islamophobia.
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