May: Border disputes

Clifford D. May

Clifford D. May

A nation of immigrants has the right to decide who may enter, how many and when

Al Qaeda does not value diversity and it’s not an equal opportunity employer. The same can be said of the Islamic State. And when the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran want to commit an act of terrorism — the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, to take just one example — they are likely to give the assignment to members of Hezbollah, a radical Islamic group of the Shia persuasion. They are highly unlikely to recruit Unitarians, Mormons or Baha’i.

This is an uncomfortable reality for all of us but especially for the millions of moderate Muslims who are not our enemies and the smaller number of reformist Muslims who are our most valuable allies in the war that must be fought against ideologies that are supremacist, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, anti-LGBT, anti-women, anti-freedom, anti-democratic — I could go on.

To label such belief systems “violent extremism,” as did President Obama, obscures more than it reveals. Islamism and radical Islam are somewhat better terms. And then there is jihadism: Islamism with the added twist that global domination and the spread of draconian interpretations of Islamic law can be achieved only through the sword, only through the use of terrorism, beheadings, crucifixions, slavery, genocide — I could go on.

Should America’s doors be opened to people who hold these beliefs? If not, are effective measures in place to keep them out? To even ask such questions is to risk being called immoral, bigoted and Islamophobic.

Donald Trump was elected president in no small measure because, unlike his opponents, he promised to address, rather than deride, such concerns. He began last week by issuing an executive order limiting immigration.

To call it a “Muslim ban” is imprecise. The order imposed a temporarily halt on entry into the U.S. by people, regardless of faith, from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — seven states where jihadists are active and governments are weak; “countries of concern,” was how President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security labeled them. Remember, too, that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has 57 members; 50 were not included.

That said, there is no getting around the fact that the order was clumsily drafted and amateurishly implemented. The officials responsible failed to “run the traps” — Washington jargon for getting input from experts and making sure supporters are looped in and ready to combat distorted narratives.

Imagine how differently the story might have played out had the president begun by demanding a government report reviewing current vetting practices, citing deficiencies and providing recommendations for improving the system.

Instead, members of Congress and diplomats in foreign capitals were blindsided. Former CIA director Michael Hayden wrote that the order “breached faith” with vital intelligence sources and imposed an “unnecessary burden” on case officers.

Confusion reigned at borders and airports, and some anti-Islamist Muslims, including those who have risked their lives serving as interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, were needlessly frightened, offended and inconvenienced.

The neophyte administration deserved criticism. What it got instead: Whoopi Goldberg comparing President Trump to the Taliban and David Harbour, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, threatening to “punch some people in the face” — a threat that elicited a standing ovation. Curious, is it not, that the Hollywood crowd so successfully managed to contain its outrage over the past six years as an estimated 500,000 Syrians were butchered and millions left homeless?

In this Jan. 30, 2017, photo, a protester waves an American flag in front of the Supreme Court during a protest about President Donald Trump's recent executive orders in Washington. Two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump has thrown Washington into a state of anxious uncertainty. Policy pronouncements sprout up from the White House in rapid succession. Some have far-reaching implications, most notably Trump’s temporary refugee and immigration ban, but others disappear without explanation, including planned executive actions on cybersecurity and the president’s demand for an investigation into unsubstantiated voter fraud. The day’s agenda can quickly be overtaken by presidential tweets, which often start flashing on smartphones just as the nation’s capital is waking up. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In this Jan. 30, 2017, photo, a protester waves an American flag in front of the Supreme Court during a protest about President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Which brings me to a larger point: The maladies and pathologies afflicting what we have come to call the Muslim world cannot be cured by the mass transfer of as many good people as possible to America and Western Europe.

And the corollary, the notion that the bad guys left behind in the Middle East and North Africa will slaughter only each other, leaving the rest of us in peace, is an illusion — one that should by now be self-evident.

There are those on the far left who believe America’s borders ought to be open — that everyone has a right to live in the United States. I suspect most Americans disagree. There are those on the far right who would lock the doors — barring even immigrants eager to help defend America from its enemies. I suspect most Americans reject that view as well.

The United States has always been a place of refuge for those fleeing persecution and longing for freedom. That shouldn’t change.

But Americans do have a right and a responsibility to decide whom we welcome and how many newcomers we are prepared to resettle and integrate. There are 65 million displaced people around the world, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Do we have room and resources for them all? If not, priorities have to be established.

Among mine: Those to whom we grant the privilege of American citizenship should regard the U.S. Constitution as the highest law of the land, believe in freedom of speech and religion, and embrace tolerance. The day they are sworn in as Americans should be the proudest day of their lives.

A few nights ago, the philosopher/neuroscientist Sam Harris (not a supporter of Mr. Trump) told comedian/political commentator Bill Maher (not a supporter of Mr. Trump): “You don’t have to be a fascist or a racist or even a Trumpian to not want to import people into your society who think cartoonists should be killed for drawing the Prophet.”

Dr. Harris was talking about Islamists and jihadists — not moderate and reformist Muslims. We should be tough enough to fight the former. We should be smart enough not to confuse them with the latter. That’s the reality and, as noted, it’s uncomfortable for all of us.

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