The ‘Travel Ban’: We Need To Fight A War Of Ideas

The ‘Travel Ban’: We Need To Fight A War Of Ideas

Let me start off by saying that whether you consider yourself left-wing or right-wing politically, you’re probably going to hate this article. I wanted to talk about something that has really been bothering me lately, and although it has been covered to death, I’ve still only seen a handful of people cover the core issues of it fairly.

You guessed it,  Trump’s “Travel Ban” executive order.

We’ve already covered this more than a couple of times here, here, and also here, and although I agree with various parts of all of these articles, this is an issue that is still causing a large amount of confusion and hostility containing almost none of the nuance I think this topic deserves. My goal isn't to rehash the discussion on all the finer points of the executive order, rather I wanted to talk about where I think it's lacking, and why I ultimately don't think it is effective.

Here is a great summary from Dave Rubin if you are interested, I think he hit the nail right on the head.

Not to oversimplify, but the loudest voices in the room on this subject seem to be espousing one of two viewpoints:

  1. That the travel ban is an unconstitutional document based on racist a xenophobic ideas, and that all cause for concern about Muslim immigration is baseless and hateful.
  2. That short of the ban not going far enough, it is the best thing ever to have happened in America, and we shouldn’t stop until every Muslim has been booted from the country.

If these seem like cartoonish views, you’ll have to forgive me, they are. But people actually believe this shit- if you don’t believe me, read our comments section.

A lot of the ignorance surrounding Trump’s executive order began with the fact that many people started commenting about it well before they’d read a word of it (here it is, by the way). That lead to all sorts of baseless claims about what it meant, very little of it based on what was contained in the actual document. I recommend you read it.

Unfortunately, I still have to talk about the most basic and controversial question of all- was this executive order a Muslim ban? No. The fact is, the majority of the world’s most populous Muslim countries are not included in this ban, and that matters a great deal. Why? Because it’s an attempt to localize the problem to regions which the government believes vetting refugees poses the largest problem (because of ongoing conflicts and sectarian violence). Whether that’s actually true or not, it means that it makes no sense to characterize the order as a blanket Muslim ban, because the order could have easily included more populous Muslim countries- it didn’t.

That being said, it does call the effectiveness of the order into question. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria rightly pointed out, there have been zero terror attacks on U.S. soil linked to anyone from the seven banned countries in the executive order. If the primary goal of the order is security, this alone makes it inept. Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UAE, and most notably Saudi Arabia were completely left out.

Why does that matter? Because these countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are responsible for spreading many of the dangerous and terrible ideas that form the ideological roots of Islamic extremism. The executive order doesn’t address this.

This has lead to one of the fairest criticisms of Trump’s executive order that I have seen so far- that the order is simultaneously too broad and too narrow. The too narrow part goes to my point before. Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire writes, Extreme vetting ought to be universally applied. Why does the executive order not include Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Pakistan or Afghanistan? Trump cited 9/11 in his original executive order, but all of the visa holders were from Saudi Arabia and Egypt on 9/11. What happens when someone leaves Syria, settles in France, and then wants to travel to the United States using a French visa?”

The too broad part is a little more complicated. It forces us to answer serious questions about who we’re really worried about, and who we need to protect. Are we worried about green card holders? Are we worried about ALL people from certain “hotbed” countries? Does the U.S. have an obligation to protect refugees from any of these countries?

None of these questions can be answered until we understand why we’re not having an honest conversation about Islamism and jihadism in the first place.

Most of the obscurantism about the roots of Islamic violence has come from the left. In their quest to fight racism and bigotry, they have completely cut themselves off from a real and honest discussion about why Islamic terrorism happens. The tragedy of this worldview is two-fold- it prevents honest dialogue from being able to happen, making everyone less safe, and it ignores the fact that the primary victims of Islamic terror are themselves, Muslim.

The right’s problem seems to be that they view Muslims on the whole to be the problem, where their own concerns for safety and culture will always be at odds with humanitarian efforts to provide a safe haven for refugees. This ignores the thousands of naturalized immigrants within western societies who pose no threat to the security or culture of western secular democracies. It’s also an incredibly callous way to view the thousands of refugees who are legitimately fleeing violence in their home countries, especially when you consider that the vast majority of us owe our privileged position in western society to little more than a lucky accident of birth. 

The problem with both of these points of view is that it prioritizes what group these people belong to instead of what they believe. What they believe should be our primary concern. The difference between an Islamic extremist and an Islamic reformer is a question of one’s beliefs. We need to be fighting the former, and embracing the latter. Yes, vetting plays an important part in this, but so does the way that we fight against bad ideas.  

We need to think long-term, and that means realizing that ideas spread quickly, and easily permeate geographic borders. Recruitment videos and propaganda can be effortlessly circulated online, and borders and vetting alone will not stop terrorism.

The western world needs to fight a WAR of ideas, one that focuses on ridding the world of radical theocratic ideology and perpetuating secular, peaceful, pluralistic democracy.

The solution to this problem is one that strengthens our vetting systems, while simultaneously acknowledging that empowering reformers in the Muslim community is the only way forward for reducing terrorism on a global scale. For secular, western democracies to prevail the world over, we must seek to empower minorities and reformers within Muslim faith- people like Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Raheel Raza, and Sarah Haider. Only then can we begin to say we have started to have to honestly address terrorism and its causes.