US immigration ban breeds terror threats


  • The Flipside
  • Saturday, 11 Feb 2017

Fortunate few: Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf (left) and her husband Abulmajeed (right) being greeted by her mother Fattuom after arriving on a flight from Istanbul, Turkey, at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois. Khalaf had spent the last five years in a refugee camp in Turkey. Her trip to the United States with her husband and daughter was recently suspended after Trump signed an executive order stopping Syrian refugees from entering the US. — AFP

THOUGH it should come as no surprise, newly sworn-in United States President Donald Trump has already made heads turn and set tongues wagging after just three weeks in office (yes, it has only been that long).

Not one to waste any time, he has spent the early days of his presidency signing nearly two dozen executive orders which he believes will “Make America Great Again”.

Of particular significance was the order to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and, of course, commissioning the immediate construction of a wall at the Mexico border, an election promise that many didn’t think he would actually keep.

These are major decisions, no doubt, but perhaps none have as far-reaching consequences or are as potentially destructive as the executive order on protecting the nation from foreign terrorists, which Trump signed on Jan 27.

Simply put, the order temporarily suspends the US refugee programme, blocks Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely, and imposes a travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, namely Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Fortunately, the US legal system has offered some resistance to what has been largely perceived as an unlawful and unconstitutional policy targeted specifically at Muslims.

A federal judge in Washington placed a nationwide block on the week-old order last Friday, compelling immigration authorities to suspend the ban and re-open its borders to visa holders from these nations.

Trump’s administration was dealt another blow a day later when a US appellate court subsequently denied an emergency appeal from the Department of Justice to restore the executive order.

For now, it’s back to business as usual at US entry points as the president contends with the prospect of a lengthy legal battle to enforce his controversial policy more permanently.

But the question is, what happens once he eventually manages to get the ban reinstated? It appears to be a matter of when, and not if, as the decision of the courts has merely granted his detractors some momentary respite.

The reality is that such an immigration policy, by a world superpower no less, is counterproductive to the war on terror and presents a fresh set of security challenges to the international community.

For all of Trump’s Twitter rantings that this policy is needed to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists”, it is ironic that such a move could achieve the complete opposite effect and further empower terrorist organisations like the Islamic State (IS).

It is also baffling that the ban being imposed on refugees alienates the majority of people who are trying to escape from terrorism and violence in the first place.

If the US feels that it is justified to enforce blanket restrictions merely to keep out a few “radical apples”, then they are aiding the further creation of conditions that the IS and its ilk are known to thrive in.

Refugees are a particularly vulnerable group in this case, and preventing them from making a decent living in safer territory may leave many with little choice but to resort to militancy and armed struggle.

In some cases, they would be forced into such activities just to keep themselves and their families alive.

The president’s similarly ill-thought decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim countries, which is really just a shameful display of Islamophobia, is only going to provide fresh vigour to IS operatives constantly on the hunt for more anti-Western propaganda to add to their recruitment modules.

Oddly enough, as pointed out in a recent commentary by National Public Radio editor Greg Myre, none of the seven countries on the immigration freeze list has produced any “radicalised Muslims” who have carried out terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11.

I do agree that pre-emptive measures are sometimes necessary, but at a time when the world is steadily making progress in tackling terrorism, Trump’s knee-jerk decisions put all of us in danger again.

Let us not forget that the likes of IS and al-Qaeda will also view this latest executive action as provocation or a direct challenge to their existence, and may retaliate with greater acts of violence.

If that happens, then it won’t just be the US’ problem anymore. The rest of the world, even those of us all the way over in Malaysia, have every reason to be concerned.

It is therefore foolhardy for Malaysians to take a hands-off approach to the immigration order just because it does not affect us in any way.

For one, it is our responsibility as a Muslim nation to voice out in defence of the countries that have been unfairly targeted in this ban, just as we have done with the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Secondly, we cannot underestimate the ripple effects that the US’ policies can cause internationally. Indeed, they so often have.

In this case, it could very well arrive in the form of wider threats to our own borders, especially if IS affiliates in South-East Asia are galvanised to strike local targets as a means of “flexing its muscles” at the new US administration.

These are still early days in Trump’s presidency, but the events of recent weeks suggest that it is a matter of time before the world gets drawn into the games he is playing, one way or the other.

As the man himself famously said, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”

Well, the rest of us need to be prepared to fend for ourselves when that time comes. At least for the next four years.

Online reporter Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller, something he addresses in The Flipside. He can be reached at akilyunus@thestar.com.my.

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Opinion , Akil Yunus , columnist

Akil Yunus

Akil Yunus

Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller. He is a moderate at everything but eating, and feels people should make sense, not war.

   

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