Keeping America Safe: From the Vulnerable

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by Rana Allam

Donald Trump is indeed fulfilling his campaign promises, regardless of how controversial, inhumane or outright ridiculous. His first four executive orders (EO), all controversial, have sparked outrage from civil and human rights advocates. Another EO would suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees and temporarily ban entry into the US of citizens from seven countries: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. The order notably exempts non-Muslims who face persecution in their countries, which effectively means it is a “Muslim ban” as promised. If he is to fulfill such a promise, Trump will likely expand the ban to include citizens of all Muslim-majority countries.

Of the 4.9 million Syrians forced out of their war-torn homeland, the US has only accepted 18,000. This tiny percentage had to go through a lengthy vetting process and layers of background checks. Furthermore, the “prioritize the vulnerable” criteria set by the US to accept refugees made sure that most of those resettled in the US are children, women or elderly people. These Syrian refugees do not exactly pose a threat or a crisis for the US despite its involvement in the war, and its destruction of cities and homes in Syria.

The entry ban is also a curious case. The seven countries on the list are deemed “terrorist hotbeds.” But the Syrian and Iraqi people are suffering from the terrorism of the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and the US is now banning them from seeking refuge here. Iraq has the highest number of terrorist attacks in the world. The Yemenis are enduring a war instigated by US ally Saudi Arabia, and naturally Saudis are not on the list. Trump accepts those who wage war but rejects those who want to flee war. How a temporary ban of visitors to the US from these countries would alleviate either their problem or the new administration’s fear remains unclear. Tens of thousands of foreign fighters have joined the ranks of IS. They come from a diverse range of countries, and most are European. Will Trump also ban Belgians from entering the US as well?

My organization holds gatherings where peace-builders from grassroots women-led organizations share their experiences of preventing violent extremism, deradicalizing youth, and building immune-to-violence communities. These peace-builders who push back against extremism in their homelands will not be able to enter the US. They won’t be able to learn or to teach peaceful methods to fight the terrorism from which Trump wants to safeguard America. One such woman comes to mind, a peace activist from Iraq who single-handedly deradicalized dozens of young men in her country and managed to convince scores to refrain from joining militias and instead do community service. She will not be able to enter the US. Americans will not learn from her, support her, or benefit from her experience in any way.

It is the civil and human rights advocates who will be kept out of the US. It is the children, the elderly, and the vulnerable refugees who will not be able to infiltrate the mighty US. It is those democracy advocates running from oppression under their authoritarian regimes who will be banned from entering the land of the free. Real terrorists do not exactly apply for visas or for refugee programs.

The way to protect a country from violence and terrorism is not by shutting down borders to peaceful or vulnerable people. It is through promoting peace and pluralism. Authoritarian, fear-mongering regimes have been in power in many countries for decades. The results are clear: they produce backward, paranoid societies vulnerable to the rise of extremism.

During the last week of January 2017, the section on women, peace, and security on the State Department website has been unavailable. No one knows if it will be back, whether changes will be done to the agenda, or if the Trump administration will do away with it altogether. No one knows if Trump will forgo all programs of peace-building and civil society or women’s organizations efforts on the matter. Despite all the evidence that civil society work is crucial to achieving peace and preventing violent extremism in conflict-torn countries, Trump is moving to close down the US instead.

Only through inclusive, humane, and peaceful measures can a society truly be safe.

Photo: Syrian refugee from Freedom House via Flickr.

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Rana Allam

Rana Allam is an advisor and editor with the International Civil Action Network (ICAN) and the Women Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) organization. She has extensive knowledge of the political scene in the Middle East region with focus on Egypt. She is the former chief editor of Daily News Egypt (DNE) newspaper in Cairo, managing both the daily print paper as well as the website. She began her journalism career in 1995 and is currently a commentator on Middle East political affairs and human rights’ issues. Her work has appeared in Inter Press Service, IDN-InDepthNews, Sisterhood Mag and Daily News Egypt. She was profiled by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and was a panel speaker in several international conferences including the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Carter Center’s Human Rights Defenders Forum, the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit held in London, and the Arab Media Forum in Jordan.