Last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively banning the entry of citizens from seven Arab and Muslim countries if they do not hold US citizenship. Since then, hundreds have been held at airports nationwide, particularly at JFK airport in New York.
In the meantime, protests have sparked across the country, and lawyers have flocked to airports to volunteer their services to those held there, in a frantic attempt to prevent the deportation of hundreds of dependents, student, senior citizens, and children. The US and international media was sent into overdrive, covering the events and calling on the expertise of analysts, all of whom were in near consensus in rejecting the ban.
Yet, on the opposite end, in the far-right media outlets and on social media, a number of individual Arabs voiced their support for the ban, considering it a step towards a powerful new policy that will root out terrorism once and for all.
Why have these Arabs adopted such a position towards the ban? Why do they ignore the feelings of bitterness that have struck Arabs since this decision was made, as well as the fears that the ban will be expanded to other countries? Not to mention the disturbing indicators pointing to the rise of a new right-wing rhetoric in the White House?
Some of these Arab activists believe—at times rightly so—that the plagues that have befallen the Arab and Muslim world are primarily the result of internal issues that are endemic to our societies, and which have caused the spread of Islamist fundamentalism. This is ultimately caused by an unwillingness in the region to revise and review Islamic heritage, and the attendant exploitation of religion and sectarianism as a political weapon in proxy wars in the Arab region.
While this view of the region is largely accurate—if we, as Arabs, wish to truly instill radical reform in our countries—the issues nonetheless is that this rationale invariably leads to a dead end. As such, it confuses this idea of reform with the prospect of defeating Islamic State through the use of utmost force, while using punitive policies against Muslims for failing to confront extremism in their countries.
Here, we reach a fork in the road, and the flawed ideology of these Arabs who have embraced the US right wing as the saviors from Islamic State becomes apparent. As far as they are concerned, the right wing is the only viable option, in comparison with the leftists and Democrats, who in their opinion are ineffectual, and more importantly have built ties with advisers who are tied with Islamists’ interests in the Arab world.
Against Obama’s weakness and hesitance, Trump emerges as the epitome of power and resolve—the long-awaited leader who has come to rid the world of Islamic terrorism from the roots. This alone warranted banning students, refugees, senior citizens, and dependents from resuming their normal lives, as well as the cancellation of nearly 100,000 valid entry visas with no urgent security justification, no warning, and without filing a request to US security forces. In doing so, Trump has ultimately found a suspect in every single citizen of those countries, even those who combatted Islamic State, whether physically or ideologically.
Yet, despite the repeated claims by some that the ban is temporary in order to allow time to review visa and asylum granting policies, turning a blind eye to the implications of this policy is dangerous and wrong. Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and one of Trump’s closest advisors, admitted that the ban does specifically target Muslims, noting that Trump had asked him for a legal way to institute the ban. Meanwhile, media reports have discussed Trump’s intention to limit the “war on terror” to efforts targeting Muslims, pointing out that this heralds difficult times ahead for the Arab and Muslim community in the US. Meanwhile, the belief that things will “return to normal” in 120 days speaks of misplaced optimism.
Why do some Arabs fiercely defend Donald Trump's Muslim ban?
Arab voices in support of the US far right
Shortsightedness regarding to the long-term effects of this approach has led these Arab Trump-supporters astray. There is a difference between attempting to reform and revise our heritage and resist the ideological plagues that have swept our countries on the one hand, and treating Muslim communities as though they are responsible for every act of terror or are ticking time bombs themselves.
Succeeding in confronting fundamentalist Islamist ideology in the Arab world will not come through collective punishment, but rather by endorsing prudent confrontational policies that are capable of recognizing and confronting risks. Meanwhile, a Muslim citizen who is subjected to abuse becomes a scapegoat for extremists who build their bases on the foundations of existing hate. The more this hate spreads, the more appealing these ideologies become.
The previous suggestions made by these Arab Trump supporters are key to building a better understanding of their perspective. In one such case, Tawfiq Hamid, an Egyptian doctor and activist, vehemently defended the ban, having previously written about Islamist groups, and considering the veil to be a form of “passive terrorism”.
Moreover, M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian physician, told the far-right website run by Trump advisor Steve Bannon, Breitbart, that the US should introduce stricter vetting measures for those entering the US.
These are some examples of Arab or Muslim activists who have appeared in the media to justify the ban. In doing so, they have sided with the US right wing, through the suggestions they have adopted in their writings and appearances.
Those who deny that the Arab world is in desperate need of revising its religious heritage are gravely mistaken. Yet, even graver is the attempt to approach the Middle East by adopting the right-wing narrative that writes off any differences between Muslims, sufficing to denounce them all as terrorists. The politics of hostility will never allow for the creation of space for dialogue, and wherever there is anger and humiliation, there awaits an opportunist offering the antidote for the bled-out dignity of a victimized Muslim. Then, the hope for eliminating terrorism grows ever-smaller.
Shortsightedness alone could warrant the belief that the creation of borders is the solution for creating security in any nation. Even if Trump’s ban had been in place for years, it would not have prevented the Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, or Texas attacks.
At the core, the issue is undisputed—nobody wants to see any more terrorist attacks, particularly at the hands of Muslims, as we continue to pay the price ever since the tragic September 11, 2001 attacks. But this new war is also an ideological and technological war, and there is no way to stop extremist ideology from crossing borders through computer and smartphone screens, except through building up internal resistance. Yet, this resistance will never develop by assuming everyone is guilty until proven innocent.
Arresting a five-year-old, or an elderly Iranian couple, or deporting a promising Sudanese doctor, despite the pleas of lawyers, will result in nothing but more hate, which is the lifeblood of Islamic State and comparable groups.
Moreover, the disavowal of these Arab thinkers for their people—whether out of despair for the situations in their home countries or purely out of ideological motivations—places them in the same camp as the American far right, thereby discrediting their voices anywhere beyond the rallies of Trump supporters.
It is true, the Arab world is disturbed and ill, but there is a promising generation of youth that could form the ranks of a progressive front, if only they are treated humanely, and not as perpetual suspects, persecuted and rejected at every corner of the world.