by Bahman Baktiari
The Trump administration introduced a new Executive Order that revised its previous order blocking visitors / immigrants from seven countries: Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. In the new order, Iraq has been dropped, but the other six countries remain on the list. Trump’s new ban, like his old ban, is a policy in search of a justification.
Under this so-called revised travel ban, Osama Bin Laden (founder of al-Qaeda), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (ISIS leader), Hibatullah Akhundzada (Taliban leader), and Ayman Mohammed al-Zawahiri (current leader of al-Qaeda) all can apply for a visa appointment at a U.S. embassy, while Syrian child refugees, Iranian PhD students, Somali and Sudanese humanitarian workers are all banned from applying for visa to the United States.
It is ironic that the Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, introduced the new travel ban when his own analysts warned him that citizenship is an “unreliable indicator of terrorist threats.” According to a classified DHS report, of the eighty-eight individuals who carried out terrorist attacks inside the United States since 2011, more than half were born in the United States. The others came from 26 different countries.
How many terror attacks have refugees carried out in the United States? Not a single one since the Refugee Act of 1980. This is because law enforcement agencies have done a terrific job of vetting refugees, a fact that Trump refuses to acknowledge publicly. Still, creating hysteria erodes trust in the very institutions that have been protecting us against terrorism.
A report from the Cato Institute in September 2016 stated: “Of the 3,252,493 refugees admitted from 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 were terrorists, which amounted to 0.00062 percent of the total. In other words, one terrorist entered as a refugee for every 162,625 refugees who were not terrorists.” Of those twenty, “only three were successful in their attacks, killing a total of three people.” Those three terrorists were from Cuba and committed those killings in the 1970s.
Yet, in order to appeal to and appease a core constituency of nativists, Trump administration officials have not hesitated to demonize refugees and immigrants as their justification for their counterterrorism policies.
Not a single American has been killed from a terrorist act in the United States committed by nationals from the countries targeted in the so-called revised travel ban. In the case of Iranian Americans, most of whom have fled to America as the result of persecution or oppression at home, are a model immigrant community in the United States. Despite decades of acrimonious relationship between their ancestral home and their adopted country, Iranian Americans are among the most successful immigrant community in the United States. A large number of them are businessmen, doctors, lawyers and engineers. They have senior executive positions with some of the largest corporations, including Twitter, eBay, Expedia, and Google. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi who has won two academy awards and boycotted the 2017 Oscars in protest at the Trump travel ban was represented by prominent Iranian American scientist Firouz Naderi and an Iranian-American businesswoman, Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian to go to space.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to 9/11 terrorism as a justification for the new travel ban, he conveniently ignored the fact that Iranians held a candle vigil in Tehran for victims of September 11. One of the first responders on the scene after the San Bernardino attack was an Iranian doctor, Michael Neeki, helping the injured. If citizenship correlates with terrorism, then how does Trump explain Iranian and Iranian American outpourings of love and support for victims of terrorism?
This is not all the travel ban ignores. Out of nineteen hijackers who committed the terrorist action of September 11, our intelligence community has established that fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two came from United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. The San Bernardino terrorist was born in the United States from a Pakistani family, married his accomplice from Saudi Arabia, and plotted his terrorist attack while living in a middle-class community in California. The Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was from Chechnya in Russia. He was radicalized by his older brother while attending high school in the United States. The Orlando attack was committed by an American with Afghan parents. Ahmad Khan Rahimi who planted bombs in New York Chelsea neighborhood in 2016 was born in Afghanistan and first came to the United States in 1995. Even if the Trump travel ban were implemented in the 1990s, not one of these terrorist actions would have been prevented.
Instead of focusing on symptoms, we should focus on the conflicts that have destabilized the Middle East, leading to wars, terrorism and refugee crises.
Currently, Saudi Arabia and UAE, two of the countries whose nationals were responsible for 9/11, are carrying out a bombing campaign against four countries listed in Trump’s new travel ban: Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The United States is assisting these countries with their military campaigns. We provide them with massive amount of military hardware and training as we did with the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. It is folly not to expect blowback. As if that were not enough, we are also turning a blind eye to the Talibanization of Turkey as we did with Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s
For all its anti-Muslim bluster, the Trump administration approved more than $1.85 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, part of the $40 billion in transfers agreed by the Obama administration in 2015. Why does Saudi Arabia need $40 billion of arms? The Obama administration offered over $25 billion worth of weaponry to the UAE. The rulers of UAE made a strategic decision to sharply increase their military budget from $9.7 billion in 2004 to $22 billion in 2014. If Trump wants to prevent terrorism, he should start by rethinking America’s strategic role and relationships with Arab partners, instead of publicity stunts like the travel ban.
Meanwhile, Trump has a deepening credibility issue. While American soldiers are bearing the brunt of the backlash against the Muslim ban in Iraq and elsewhere, Eric Trump traveled to Dubai in the UAE recently to open a golf club. In the midst of the greatest crackdown on Turkish civil society, the Trump Organization has licensed its name to two luxury towers in Istanbul, and a Turkish company manufactures a line of Trump-branded home furnishings. And it gets worse. A New Yorker report has revealed ties between the Trump Organization and a corrupt network of officials working to build a new Trump hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan. According to the report, the Trump Organization was literally doing business with a front company for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Is there any connection between Trump’s business dealings in the Muslim world and the Trump’s decision to include or exclude countries from his travel ban list?
Bahman Baktiari is the executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Society in Salt Lake City, UT. Republished, with permission, from Huffington Post. Photo of “No Muslim Ban” march in Washington D.C., February 4, 2017, by Masha George via Flickr.