It appears that hate, bigotry, prejudice and racism will indeed have an impact on American public policy. The latest attack in Ohio by a Somali Muslim who came to the U.S. as a refugee will further strengthen calls among supporters of President-elect Trump to create a Muslim registry.
The United States has an ugly history of systematic oppression of others that lasted for centuries. Discrimination is in America’s DNA and in spite of its glorious endeavors – the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement to mention a couple ― to aspire for equality, freedom and prosperity for all, the instinct to discriminate rears its head frequently. The election of Donald Trump has once again wed prejudice and policy at the highest level and empowered bigoted voices calling for discrimination against all Muslims in America.
During his campaign, President-elect Trump repeatedly made comments about Muslims that demonized an entire faith and community and tried to score points with segments of America which are decidedly Islamophobic. The comments while expressing bigoted views had little policy substance in them. At one point he advocated a complete ban on Muslims coming to America, at other times he said those coming from areas infected by terrorism will be banned. After the elections, his proposal to ban Muslims was removed from his website. And now we find his surrogates justifying a registry of Muslims based on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the now discredited and discontinued National Security Entry-Exit System (NSEER).
While I understand that he is a chosen leader of millions of bigots and has to cater to their demands, I am puzzled at the ideas being floated by people in his team. What purpose can resurrecting NSEER serve when it was already deemed redundant. We photograph and finger print visitors to the country routinely and record their passport information. That data is readily available and can be sorted out by country. In 2013, over a million people visited the U.S. from the Middle East. Fine, now that we have them in a database ― what next, surveillance? Can we afford to monitor a million people? And by the way, how many of the million who visited the U.S. in 2013 posed a security threat?
A Muslim ban and a NSEER type program for Muslims only are contradictory. Why do we need a registry program for Muslim visitors if we plan to ban the entry of all of them? I am assuming that the NSEER type program is being considered because the plan for the ban has been abandoned. The million visitors from the Middle East spent over $6.8 billion dollars that year, on an average over $2,000 per visitor more than visitors from Europe. So Trump’s new policy will not only cause loss of tourism dollars but also raise security maintenance cost without addressing any real threat whatsoever. Things will become clearer when the Secretary of DHS is appointed and takes office.
Another Islamophobic policy that is being floated around is a registry of Muslims who are in America, and that would include millions who are citizens, elected officials, nearly 15,000 of them are in the military, two in the Congress and many are members of the Republican Party. This idea is, racist, hopefully unconstitutional, counterproductive and just plain stupid.
How will you know who is a Muslim? By national origin? According to PEW studies’ demographic profile of American Muslims; nearly 40 percent of American Muslims were born in America and nearly 20 percent of American Muslims are fourth or fifth generation. A significant number of Muslims are converts and you cannot tell their religion by their names or their race. If many Americans appalled by this hateful policy where to start registering as Muslims, and many are stating that they will, our national security policy will become a burlesque of American politics.
The media and the social media will be all over this policy, whatever form it may take. It will be scrutinized and every minute aspect of it will be tweeted and shared all over the world. The world will watch this hateful drama unfold minute by minute. I am also convinced that the justificatory public rhetoric by the administration and the stories of innocent victims of this policy will increase both Islamophobia in America and radicalization both here and abroad.
In short, it will be bigly counterproductive.
Our elections mark the victory of identity over values. Trump’s victory is partially about preserving White Christian identity at the expense of American values of equality, religious freedom and multiculturalism. It is critical that all who care about equality and social justice push back against this policy chatter and ensure that it does not see the light of day.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Professor of Islam and Global Affairs at the University of Delaware and he is also a Senior Fellow of the Center for Global Policy. His twitter handle is @MuqtedarKhan.