It always comes back to Bernard Lewis. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the mainstream media gave Lewis, who turns 101 years old on May 31, a brief window of opportunity to explain the root causes of Islamic revivalism. In 2003, What Went Wrong? topped the New York Times’ list of best-selling paperbacks and The Crisis of Islam performed the same feat in the hardback category. The PC police, confused and dismayed by the horror of September 11, had permitted – even encouraged – consenting adults to discuss the connection between Islam and radical Islamic terrorism. But it was not for long.
Our gatekeepers soon regained their composure and today America, and the West in general, is paying the price, a case in point being the outcry in response to President Trump’s attempt at gatekeeping: Executive Order (EO) 13769 or “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United Stations”.
There are, to be sure, reasons to fault the White House’s EO banning entry of nationals from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Yemen for 90 days and refugees for four months. Many – though not all – Iraqi Kurds, Iranian exiles and Syrian Christians are pro-secular democracy and would prove loyal citizens of the United States, or Australia for that matter. Ed Yong, writing for The Atlantic, makes a convincing case that prohibiting Iranian scientists from obtaining residency is detrimental to the interests of the United States. He adds the salient point that Iranian immigrants, who are for the most part Shia, are not generally prone to Islamic radicalism, let alone acts of terrorism.
Others from the nominated seven countries, Sunni Muslim or otherwise, would relish the opportunity to be patriotic Americans. Conversely, émigrés from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan might be more likely – statistically – to engage in acts of domestic terrorism, despite the two countries being omitted from the Trump’s travel-restriction policy. Take, as an instance, the December 2, 2015, San Bernardino massacre. Syed Farook was an American-born citizen of Pakistani descent while his terrorist wife, Tashfeen Malik, was a Pakistani-born lawful resident of the United States. Fifteen of the nineteen September 11 terrorists were Saudi, the rest from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. We might also note that Saudi money, particularly since 1979, has funded the radicalisation/Salafi-style transformation of mosques from Djakarta to, well, San Bernardino.
There is, additionally, the issue of the executive order’s scope and reach being too broad. Even Ken Klukowski, senior legal editor for the pro-Trump Breitbart News, has implicitly acknowledged that EO 13769 contains “legally problematic provisions”, such as the entry ban on those with passports from one of the seven proscribed countries who are also green-card holders and, therefore, lawful permanent residents. Although procedural modifications were soon put in place to circumvent the problem, over the first weekend 109 legitimate travellers were detained and held for questioning. When President Trump emphasised the smallness of the number, given the 325,000 arrivals, the mainstream media mostly ignored his comment or took umbrage. Evan Urquhart, writing for Slate, maintained that injustice is injustice even if only a few are inconvenienced: “When something is unfair and indefensible, the last resort of scoundrels is to downplay the number of people who have been unjustly treated.”
Urquhart’s plaintive cry brings us closer to the real reason people oppose EO 13769. It has less to do with practical and technical considerations than ideology. There might – or might not – be merit in the temporary restraining order (TRO) slapped on Trump’s executive order by Judge James Robart. The same could be said about the Ninth Circuit’s denying an emergency motion by the Justice Department to stay Judge Robart’s TRO. For the anti-Trump brigade, at least, President Trump’s “Muslim ban” had been overturned.
Only it’s not entirely accurate. The TRO asserts that because candidate Trump spoke of restricting Muslim immigration it necessarily follows EO 13769 is a case of religious discrimination disguised as national security. But the Ninth Circuit was undecided about the religious discriminatory nature of President Trump’s Executive Order: “…we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed.” The Ninth Circuit’s judgement, in the final analysis, was based on public interest: although “the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies”, the public also has an interest “in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom of discrimination”.
The paradox, of course, is that EO 13769 was devised by the likes of Rudy Giuliani to ensure that Trump’s immigration restrictions were not discriminatory, at least on grounds of religion. In 2016, Giuliani criticised the following type of blunt statement by Donald Trump in the earlier phase of his campaign: “I would close up borders to people until we figure out what’s going on…We don’t learn…The whole thing gets worse as time goes by.” Giuliani and team got it at least partly right, since the Ninth Circuit sidestepped the subject of religious discrimination.
The Trump Seven, then, signified an attempt to go beyond a “Muslim ban”. After all, the seven designated countries also happen to be the very same ones named in Barack Obama’s visa restriction program, signed into law by the 44th president in December, 2015. Whatever the shortfalls of the list, it certainly made sense to the Obama administration. Terrorism has a foothold in all these countries (state terrorism in the case of Iran) and no central governmental authority can be trusted or has the capacity to identify potential threats to America. Many people – including, possibly, the three-judge panel representing the Ninth Circuit – have minimised the threat from these countries. Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner has identified 72 convicted terrorists emanating from Somalia (20), Yemen (19) Iraq (7), Syria (7) Iran (4) and Libya (2). Somalians, especially, figured prominently in recent terrorist attacks.
Even Trump’s campaign rhetoric was more nuanced than his critics allowed. He talked of temporary restrictions – a feature of EO 13769 – that would end once “the experts” came up with an explanation for radical Islamic terrorism. And who can deny the Obama administration failed to “figure out what was going on” or that “the whole thing gets worse as time goes by”? The best Barack Obama could do was disregard – at least in public – the evidence that apocalyptic millennialist sentiment plays a powerful role in Islamic terrorism (or “violent extremism”) and that the causal agent of religious fervour is not economics but – yes – religion. Robert G. Rabil, author of Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism (2014), encapsulates what America and the West are up against as well as anyone: “It is a war against a triumphant religious ideology that cloaks itself in the sanctity of the sacred and the history of ‘authentic’ Islam as applied by the first four rightly guided caliphs.”
EO 13769, in its own imperfect way, was an attempt to address the challenge of radical Islam – if critics from both the Right and the Left will pardon the expression – without targeting Muslims per se. The PC brigade will, of course, scorn any such notion. Today the American Left and so-called civil libertarians march arm-in-arm with Muslim Brotherhood organisations calling for open borders and the impeachment (or worse) of President Trump. Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has tweeted her approval: “I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values & our Constitution. This is not who we are.”
Unsurprisingly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims EO 13769 is not based on national security but on religious discrimination and is, therefore, unconstitutional. This happens to be the same Muslim Brotherhood organisation that demanded President-elect Trump ban Franklin Graham from the Inauguration prayers because “Reverend Grahams’ ill-informed and extremist views are incompatible with American values of religious liberty and inclusion.” CAIR is a radical Islamic outfit keen to defeat the American values of religious liberty and inclusion by using them against the host nation. While CAIR pursues civilisational jihad, the Islamic State does violent jihad, together performing what amounts to a good cop/bad cop routine. Their tactics are different but the goal is the same – the submission of the West. Some 12% of American Muslims, according to a Gallup poll, identify with CAIR. The fox is in the hen house, and still the cry goes up from the modern-day Left: “Defend the stranger!”
Maybe, if some lefties took the time to catch up on Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong? and The Crisis of Islam, they might begin to appreciate the challenge we face. Were Hillary Clinton to read Rabil’s Salafism in Lebanon, she would learn that the activist Salafism of Huma Abedin’s family is a close relative of Saudi Wahhabism (quietist Salafism) and, going in the other direction, a not-so-distant relative of the Salafi-Jihadism of the Islamic State. Clinton might even conclude that in an open society like America bridges are fine things but in times of peril so are walls. Who knows, she may decide to endorse the proposal to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood or even support any new Executive Order needed to replace EO 13769.
Daryl McCann blogs at darylmccann.blogspot.com.au/