by Hugh Fitzgerald
Start with a visit to a Muslim neighborhood. Interview a proud new Muslim-American and presumed Striver, who is now overcome with sadness at the cruel news, and then go from there, interviewing other Muslims who are “just as devastated” by the decision in Trump v. Hawaii:
Ali Alsubai got the news through a text alert. “Supreme court upholds Trump’s travel ban,” it said. The news filled him with sadness.
The 21-year-old had been among the thousands of Yemeni New Yorkers to descend on Brooklyn’s Borough Hall in the winter of last year and pray outside, dropping their work around the city to protest when Trump first announced his contentious and chaotic ban in January 2017.
Almost 18 months and several court battles later, Tuesday’s supreme court ruling declared that Trump’s third version of the order was lawful. Word of the decision landed in Bay Ridge with a dull thud. The suburb, with its large concentration of Yemenis, is one of Brooklyn’s most diverse neighbourhoods and had reacted with fury and disbelief when the ban was first announced.
“Filled him with sadness.” As for others in the Yemeni neighborhood where Ali Alsubai lives, they had reacted with “fury and disbelief” when the ban had first been announced last year. Now it was something else: a quiet despair, a sense of hopelessness. How could America do this to them? Who could not sympathize with them? Well, you might not, and I might not, but that’s because we know what was actually in that Presidential proclamation, setting out the criteria that were used, and like Chief Justice Roberts, we find those criteria perfectly understandable.
Alsubai, who works at the Yemen Cafe on the suburb’s main street, admits he had not expected the supreme court ruling to go any other way and had grown somewhat confused by the ban’s various incarnations over the past year.
“Some people just don’t understand what’s been going on. One day it’s cancelled, one day it’s not,” he says, as customers tuck into baba ghanoush and flatbreads in his family’s restaurant.
The scene is well-chosen to evoke sympathy: the young man working at his family’s restaurant, the Yemen Cafe, in a “diverse” neighborhood (“diversity” is always a plus), and the ethnic appeal of baba ghanoush and flatbreads. An immigrant family of strivers, setting up their own business, repeating the experience of so many other immigrants, fitting in, rising up, living the American dream. And now….this!
Despite the confusion, Trump’s controversial order
Why poison the prose? Why not call it simply “Trump’s order”?
which targets travellers from five Muslim-majority countries
What about Venezuela? What about North Korea?
and was labelled Islamophobic
That all-purpose pejorative.
by those who challenged it in court, has had an effect on everyone in the community, he says.
If by “community,” Ali Alsubai from Yemen means the “Muslim community,” not everyone is affected. There are 57 Muslim-majority states. Only five of them are affected in any way by the travel ban. Two Muslim states, Iraq and Chad, were initially on, but then were already dropped from the original list. No Muslims coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, and 45 other Muslim countries will see any change in their status. No Muslims coming from France or Great Britain or Germany or a dozen other European countries will be affected. This has to be kept constantly in mind, and constantly repeated. Those who are outraged by what they misleadingly call a “travel ban on Muslims” should be reminded that for 95% of the world’s Muslims, nothing has changed. Furthermore, individuals from the affected countries can even apply for an exemption.
Alsubai, a US citizen who came to America when he was three months old, has a cousin whose mother is stranded in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, as the country’s bitter civil war continues and her visa application stalls.
He came when he was three months old. Some kind of guarantee, we are expected to believe, that he’s as American as apple pie. It would be boorish at this point to bring up the contents of the Qur’an as possibly preventing him from being quite so apple-pie American, but one is sorely tempted, beginning with the description of non-Muslims “as the most vile of creatures.”(98:6). Ali Alsubai’s position has not worsened. He’s an American citizen. He can travel back to Yemen and return. And as for the cousin who is worried about his “mom” still “stranded” in Sana’a, that “mom” can always apply for an exemption. And all the country of Yemen has to do to get off Trump’s list is to improve its information-sharing about its citizens with the United States, including information about the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda terrorists who live, and plot, in Yemen.
It was to be expected that the reporter for the left-wing Guardian would not explain what is in the Presidential proclamation, but thought simply repeating the phrase “Muslim travel ban” would be enough. After all, millions are thoughtlessly repeating the same phrase. And many people have decided, or rather, uncritically accepted the idea, that Trump’s Proclamation No. 9645 can only reflect “Islamophobia.” If it reflects “Islamophobia,” why did Trump leave 95% of the world’s Muslims unaffected by the ban? Is there really no reason other than anti-Muslim prejudice that might explain the ban on immigrants from states that pose a heightened risk because of their inability to keep track of, and share information about, their citizens? And doesn’t it matter if terrorists are actively present in, or promoted by, those states?
Since the media are so inattentive to the actual grounds for denying entry to people from certain countries, it is salutary and bracing to quote from the majority opinion of Chief Justice Roberts:
In September 2017, the President issued Proclamation No. 9645, seeking to improve vetting procedures for foreign nationals traveling to the United States by identifying ongoing deficiencies in the information needed to assess whether nationals of particular countries present a security threat. The Proclamation placed entry restrictions on the nationals of eight foreign states
Now seven, five of them Muslim.
whose systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals the President deemed inadequate. Foreign states were selected for inclusion based on a re-view undertaken pursuant to one of the President’s earlier Executive Orders. As part of that review, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the State Department and intelligence agencies, developed an information and risk assessment “baseline.” DHS then collected and evaluated data for all foreign governments, identifying those having deficient information-sharing practices and presenting national security concerns, as well as other countries “at risk” of failing to meet the baseline. After a 50-day period during which the State Department made diplomatic efforts to encourage foreign governments to improve their practices, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security concluded that eight countries—Chad, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen—remained deficient.
Later, it was determined that Chad did improve its information-sharing sufficiently to be exempted from the ban.
She recommended entry restrictions for certain nationals from all of those countries but Iraq, which had a close cooperative relationship with the U. S.
And consequently, Iraq was exempted from the ban as well.
She also recommended including Somalia, which met the information-sharing component of the baseline standards but had other special risk factors, such as a significant terrorist presence.
That paragraph from the Chief Justice’s opinion gives quite a different view of the President’s actions.
“He’s just trying to get his mom out of the war,” he [Ali Alsubai] says. “It’s awful to see what he’s going through. But it’s not just him affected. It’s Muslims spread out over the US.”
Again, it’s not “Muslims” spread out over the U.S. who are affected, but only those — Muslim and non-Muslim — who are coming from seven countries: Iran, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea. 52 of the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, I repeat, are unaffected. Furthermore, the Presidential proclamation includes language about the possibility of exemptions. If his friend is “just trying to get his mom out of the war,” he may indeed succeed. Claims for exemption will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Ali Alsubai may not know this; his cousin may not know this. But the reporter for The Guardian should have known it, and had a duty to include mention of the possibility of such exemptions in his report. That reporter might simply have added: “In fact, provision has already been made for claims for exemptions by individuals, just like Ali’s cousin’s mother.” Why didn’t he make that clear?
What criteria did the President use in deciding which countries to include in what some call a “travel ban”? First, Trump and his security advisers forbade admitting people from countries that were deficient in information-gathering and information-sharing. This country has a right to know something about the people who apply to enter it. At a minimum, it ought to be able to rely on information supplied by foreign governments, and where they are unable or unwilling to do so, we have a perfect right not to admit their nationals. Individual exemptions can of course be considered. Second, the President believed that people coming from countries involved in terrorism, either by harboring terrorists or supporting them, ought as a general rule to be kept out. Look at the list: Somalia has the Al-Shabaab terrorists. Both Libya and Yemen are not only suffering from civil wars, but along with that, they have Al-Qaeda and Islamic State operatives active in their countries. In Syria both remnants of the Islamic State and Hezbollah members can be found. And Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia are all states where there is now constant warfare, even chaos, including that involving Muslim terrorists.
Abrar Omeish, a 23-year-old Libyan American from Fairfax, Virginia, had woken up nervously on Tuesday, expecting the ruling to come down in the morning.
“I felt a pit in my stomach as I heard it,” she said.
Omeish, who has campaigned against the ban for months in the nation’s capital, got married last weekend. More than a dozen members of her wife’s
Sic for “husband’s”
close family, all living in Libya, were not able to attend the ceremony due to the ban. She was devastated.
“It’s like we have to live as second-class citizens. We’re not allowed to access our families just because we happen to be from a certain background, because we’re Muslim,” she said.
“A pit in my stomach.” “Devastated.” “We’re not allowed to access [sic] our families because we happen to be from a certain background.” “It’s like we have to live as second-class citizens.”
Self-pity, victimization, hysterical nonsense.
Actually, that “certain background” includes plenty of non-Muslims, including those in Venezuela and North Korea (two of the countries subject to the ban), and as we keep repeating, the proclamation does not affect 95% of the world’s Muslims. The reason Libya is included is simple: the country has since the fall of Qaddafi been in a state of internecine warfare, among different local militias, and is now in a state of near-total chaos, with violent rivals claiming legitimacy, and no recognized central government. Furthermore, Libya also harbors both an Islamic State group and an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Perhaps that doesn’t mean much to Abrar Omeish — who claims that she has to “live as a second-class citizen” because “we happen to be from a certain background” — meaning Muslim rather than Libyan, but that is not true. If Omeish came from any of 52 Muslim states that were not listed, she would have no trouble having family members admitted. She shows no sympathy for Americans trying to limit the security threat to their country and to themselves. Meanwhile, she can “access her family” in Libya by all kinds of means — telephone, Skype, social media. She just can’t expect that her “family” — if unvetted in Libya — will as a matter of course be admitted to the United States.
As for Omeish’s remark that “it’s like we have to live as second-class citizens,” it’s both absurd and ungrateful. She is not treated, in any way, as a second-class citizen in this country. And the reporter for The Guardian ought to have asked her what she meant by that complaint. She is lucky to be in the country, though she shows no signs of gratitude, nor of being aware of, much less sympathetic to, its national security requirements. But she knows perfectly well why Libya is on that list, and why if she had come, say, from Tunisia, or Egypt, or Oman, she would not be affected by the travel ban. But she wants to be be depicted as a victim — of our national security needs — and the reporter, by never raising objections to her litany of laments, aids and abets this farce.
Following weeks of international outcry over the Trump administration’s separation of families entering the US at the southern border, Omeish’s story, like countless others around the country, is a reminder the administration has been separating families from the Muslim world for over half a year.
“Separating families from the Muslim world”? No. Putting a ban on travel from nationals of seven states, two of them non-Muslim, all of them deficient in their information-sharing and several of them involved, furthermore, with harboring or supporting or failing to uproot, Islamic terrorist groups.
“You know,” says Omeish, who is launching a career in local politics this year, “the supreme court has been wrong before, I have to remind myself on that. Both morally and on social justice and civil rights grounds. But, regardless, we have not reached a point in our country where we learn from our history, and where we can make the right decisions despite the fear and pressure that’s out there.”
“Learn from our history”? What is she talking about? Surely she doesn’t intend to compare the situation of Muslims in America with that of Japanese-Americans who, if they lived on the West Coast, were subject to internment camps? Those Muslims who now mention U.S. v. Korematsu, the Supreme Court decision upholding the internment program, are overlooking the most important point about that case. Korematsu was, we can now see, wrongly decided because there was no credible internal threat, no attacks planned or carried out by, Japanese-Americans. But there have been many attacks, and many more foiled attacks, in this country, carried out by Muslims, some of them citizens. Thousands have been killed. Does Omeish recognize that? Does she think it unjust or inexplicable for the government to try to improve security for its citizens by, at a minimum, requiring foreign countries to meet certain standards of information-sharing about their nationals? Does she think it wrong to prevent people entering the United States if they come from countries where terrorists are known to operate? Does she even recognize the problem of Muslim terrorists, all over the Western world? Is she aware that there have been more than 33,000 attacks around the world by Muslim terrorists since 9/11? Does she think there might be a reason why, since she is from Libya, that there might be a particular problem because of the chaos in the country, the failure to establish a national government, and the presence of Islamic State operatives? Does she feel any sense of gratitude or duty to this country for giving her refuge?
In Hamtramck, Michigan, purportedly the first city in the US to elect a Muslim majority council, Muad Almogari was equally despondent.
The 32-year-old Yemeni American has an older sister languishing in the Yemeni province of Ibb. Her visa petition will probably be held in an indefinite limbo following Tuesday’s ruling, and Almogari worries she and her five children could be killed in the interim.
He heard the news as he prepared to leave the US to visit her in Yemen. The journey will take him two full days and will cost the middle school teacher, who works a second job to make ends meet, thousands of dollars.
We are supposed to be sympathetic — he “works a second job to make ends meet” — but in this he’s no different from millions of Americans. And are we supposed to drop a ready tear because he has to spend “thousands of dollars” to go to Yemen? The cost is not affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. There is an attempt here not just to denounce Trump as unconscionable, but also to pluck at our heartstrings in other ways. Why does he say his older sister is “languishing”? Has she been turned out of her apartment? Fired from her job? Is her life now without meaning? Is it possible she is not “languishing,” but merely “living in the Yemeni province of Ibb”? And Almogari “worries she and her five children could be killed,” but does not explain why that is a reasonable worry, or why the only solution would be for her to come to America, rather than, say, move elsewhere in Yemen itself. And if she’s Sunni, there is always Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Gulf states that have imported millions of workers, including fellow Arabs. Or is his sister not able to work because of her five children? How is she surviving in Yemen right now? And if she is in fact an economic refugee, why should America be responsible — rather, than, say, Saudi Arabia, which has been involved in continuing the bloodshed in Yemen — for a Muslim Arab woman and her five children who would become expensive wards of the state? Why should America be responsible for rescuing her?
“I think the ruling is just going to make our life much harder than it was,” he says. “I didn’t know this country, which was originally based on equality and human rights, and justice for all, was about to be ruled by someone like Donald Trump, who is willing to throw all of that away to satisfy his ego.”
He couldn’t bring himself to tell his sister, Afriqiya, of the ruling over the phone, and feels it is only right to tell her face-to-face so he can explain its implications in full.
How strapped for cash can he be if he’s able to make a round trip to Yemen to his sister and wants to do so when Skype certainly could do just as well?
“When I get there, I can make her understand that this is only temporary, and things will change, hopefully, because the American people will not stand for this and will fight for justice,” he says with cautious optimism. “We haven’t lost hope in the American people. But we kind of have lost it with Washington DC and the administration.”
The “travel ban” countries were not selected in haste, nor — as many seem to think — by President Trump, but only after an exhaustive review by numerous government agencies involved in security, of the situations in various countries, not all of them Muslim.
Almogari is full of self-pity, and lacks any empathy for “the American people,” in which, he allows, “we haven’t lost hope,” by which he means that he believes Trump’s Proclamation will be undone after the 2020 election. Apparently, Muad Almogari cannot for one moment recognize why immigrants from the country of Yemen, which contains both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State operatives, and a government that has collapsed during the civil war, might pose special problems for American security. He might have demonstrated that he understood this, he might have expressed sympathy for Americans who think the President’s proclamation justified, and said something like “I realize there are security concerns, and I hope a government in Yemen will soon be established [when the civil war ends] that can provide the American government with the information it needs. And I don’t fault the American government from wanting to know more about those people who want to enter, from Yemen or anywhere else.”
In Bay Ridge, dozens of men descended on the suburb’s Islamic centre for the Asr, the daily afternoon prayer. The centre is situated on the main street, surrounded by storefronts that demonstrate the multiculturalism that underpins life here – pizzerias and Irish bars sit alongside hookah lounges and halal supermarkets.
“This is not what America is about,” says one worshipper who did not want to be named. “It’s almost becoming like a dictatorship in the Middle East. Our country is unique because of its diversity. Head down to the subway and you’ll see everyone: Irish, Yemeni, Puerto Rican.”
America is “almost becoming like a dictatorship in the Middle East”? Really? What kind of an unbecoming, ungrateful, and hysterical reaction is this? Do we not have elections? Do we not have the rule of law? Do we not have the Bill of Rights? Do we not have checks and balances? Didn’t we just have a demonstration of the power of the judicial branch over the executive, when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Trump v. Hawaii? Or is our country, when it tries to take measures that are both constitutional and appropriate to protect itself from security threats including, of course, the main threat — we need not be diffident about naming it — which is Muslim terrorism, to be prevented from doing so?
“They came for freedom. They lost it in their own countries, and that’s what they came here for,” he says, as he turns towards the carpeted prayer room, takes off his shoes and kneels.
“They came for freedom”? What kind of “freedom”? The freedom to prevent the government from doing anything about national security that might affect Muslims? Haven’t a great many come not for freedom but as economic refugees, both in the United States and Europe, hoping to receive whatever a generous welfare state provides? And for those who did come for “freedom,” what does this word mean in a Muslim context? The ability to avoid persecution from other Muslims, who differ by sect, or by degree of faith? Would “freedom” include the right to “blaspheme” Muhammad? Would it include the right to leave Islam without any consequences?
Every Muslim mentioned in this article — Ali Alsubai, working in his family’s Yemeni restaurant, Abrar Omeish, hoping to enter politics, and Muad Almogari, a middle school teacher — seems convinced that there is a “Muslim ban.” They clearly have not read the opinion of Chief Justice Roberts in Trump v. Hawaii, nor the Proclamation no. 9645 that was subject to a constitutional challenge, and just now upheld. If they do so, they will discover the security rationale for choosing those seven countries, five of them Muslim, and in doing so, should feel relieved in discovering that what has been wrongly called a “Muslim ban” turned out to be something quite different, with 95% of the world’s Muslims remaining unaffected. And if these Muslims are fair-minded, and not intent on presenting themselves as endless victims, they need not continue to harp on their “sadness” and sense of “devastation,” but rather, should be able to understand, as loyal Americans, why the Court ruled as it did.
First published in Jihad Watch.
The ignorant, ungrateful, and vengeful we will always have with us. Teach YOUR children well!
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