As expected, the decision by the new American President Donald Trump to impose a 90-day ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries has provoked violent reactions in many parts of the world, including the United States.
The fact that the majority of citizens of the countries concerned are Muslims has led some commentators to claim that the ban is anti-Islamic and violates the United States’ Constitution which guarantees respect for all religions.
A few politicians, mostly in Western Europe, have gone further by comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. (Incidentally, though Hitler and Mussolini were similar they were also different!)
Deconstructing Trump’s move might show that the hysteria is misplaced if not counter-productive. It may also offer an insight into Trump’s modus operandi as president.
The first thing to settle is whether or not the move is anti-Islam.
There is nothing in Trump’s Executive Order (EO) to indicate that this is the case. Although a majority of the citizens of the nations concerned are Muslims, the EO applies to non-Muslim citizens as well.
The measure is not aimed against citizens of those countries as such; it is aimed at passports issued by governments of those countries. If a citizen of those countries has another passport, as is the case with an estimated 4.5 million dual-nationals who have European or even American passports, he would not be covered by the ban.
Muslims form a majority of populations in 57 out of the world’s 198 countries. Muslims are also found in almost all other countries. The United Sates itself is home to an estimated 6.5 million Muslims while a further 4.5 million Muslims hold American permanent residency known as the Green Card.
In the case of Iran, one of the seven countries, no fewer than 1,500 senior officials of the Islamic Republic are holders of American Green Cards, according to the Islamic Majlis in Tehran. The children of many top Khomeinist officials are among the 16,000 Iranians attending American universities.
The countries concerned – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen -account for just under 10 per cent of the world’s total population of Muslims.
None of the five countries with the largest number of Muslims, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, are included in the list of seven unwanted ones.
Only two of the seven, Iran and Sudan, describe themselves as Islamic Republic. Three other Islamic Republics, Mauritania, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are not included.
The malicious seven have been singled out because of the threat they are supposed to pose to American security. Whether or not that threat is real could be debated; but it seems plausible on several grounds.
Take Iran, for example, it has been in a state of war against the United States since 1979 when it raided the U.S. Embassy and held its diplomats hostage, a casus belli under international law.
Since then, hardly a day has passed without the Islamic Republic holding some U.S. citizens hostage in Tehran or Beirut.
Every year, Tehran hosts an international conference known as “End of America” and attended by individuals and groups that, for a variety of reasons, seek the destruction of the United States.
Iraq, also on the list, is included despite the close relationship it has with the U.S. The reason is that ISIS (or Da’esh in Arabic) still controls three of Iraq’s provinces plus its third most populous city Mosul.
In 2015, Baghdad authorities announced that ISIS had seized thousands of Iraqi passports and might use them to send infiltrators abroad.
In an even more precarious situation than Iraq, Syria suffers from similar problems. There, too, ISIS, is in control of vast chunks of territory and in possession of an unknown number of stolen passports.
In Libya, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates are established in areas larger than Switzerland, a metaphorical marshland where mosquitoes of terror breed.
A similar situation exists in Somalia with al-Shabab and the remnants of gangs that lynched 18 U.S. Marines in Mogadishu in December 1992 are still active.
Sudan, home to the leaders of Al-Qaeda and other terror groups for decades, hosted the Popular Islamic Congress which selected a nine-man leadership council with the mission to launch their version of Jihad across the globe.
Since then, Sudan has changed and is trying to distance itself from terrorist groups. However, groups that have struck roots there for decades cannot be weeded out in a few years.
In Yemen, al-Qaeda is in control of a chunk of territory while the Houthi militia, backed by Iran, launched at least two attacks on U.S. naval vessels in 2016.
The list of the malicious seven is not a brainchild of Trump. It was established by President Barack Obama in 2016 as a new version of the list of “States Sponsors of International Terrorism” promulgated by the Bush administration in 2002.
In the same year, the Bush administration pushed through an amendment to the section 306 of The Immigration and Naturalization Act to impose a total ban on travel by citizens of the seven countries listed as “State Sponsors of international terrorism.” The amendment gave the president the right to waive the ban when and if he desired, something that both Bush and Obama used extensively.
What Trump has done is to insist on the full implementation for 90 days of an act passed under George W Bush in 2002.
The original list of “sponsors of terrorism” included Cuba and North Korea instead of Syria and Yemen.
At that time, Syria was regarded as an ally. Between 1992 and 2002 three successive U.S. secretaries of states paid a total of 29 visits to Damascus.
At the time, Yemen, under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was also regarded as an ally. In other words, changes in political and security circumstances could alter Washington’s perception of friend and foe.
Last year, Obama paid his photo-op visit to Havana and had to remove Cuba from the “terrorist list”. Obama also removed North Korea from his list of “Countries of Concern”, presumably because he realized that no one from there might want to visit the U.S. as a tourist or on a business trip.
During his campaign, Trump promised to impose a temporary ban on all Muslims wishing to travel to the U.S. What he has come up with, however, is a temporary ban on citizens of a small number of Muslim countries.
In a sense, he has acted in Obama’s style of faking action, doing something that like candy-floss, looks big at first but melts into nothingness in a consumer’s mouth.
Obama’s authenticity was fake. Will Trump’s fakery turn out to be authentic?
By Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.