Islamic Extremism is a significant and fundamental threat to security to the United States and its people. It has been almost 16 years since the attacks of 9/11, yet it is widely apparent that the emotional and mental scars from that horrific act of terror still haunts our collective consciousnesses, not only that, but the continued acts of terror that have followed have ensured that our own security concerns are never far from our minds. What I find disturbing is that for a younger generation of Americans (who were either not born during the attacks or too young to process the attacks as a grown individual on the cusp of adulthood) the Trump Administration will be the source of information on Terrorism in America. Consider that for a moment.
One of the most recent and controversial of decisions that has have been signed into an executive order has been the immigration ban. This ban encompasses a temporary freeze on seven nations identified as terrorist “hotbeds.” Truth be told, the list was generated by the Obama administration and the countries listed (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) do suffer from persistent terrorism issues (I, personally would say this is not the case for Iran…but that is a more personal belief I can touch upon later).
The bottom line is this immigration ban won’t work. Insulating ourselves from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad and taking on an isolationist view of the world will not work. If anything, I would argue it could make us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Furthermore the refugee ban (temporary though it may be) has effects that go beyond the admission of Syrian Refugees into the U.S. It is ultimately a policy change that affects People not just the dubious category of “terrorist.”
- Those committed to carrying out terrorist acts will find a way to gain entry to the U.S. despite any ban and bypass any new vetting system implemented by the government. If the 9/11 attacks taught us anything, Islamic extremists are 100% dedicated to their cause and will go to extreme lengths to blend in and integrate themselves into the fabric of our society in order to accomplish their mission.
- Smart terrorists don’t typically have “I’m a Terrorist” tattooed on their forehead. There are people you can visualize as being orthodox in their beliefs, but this is not always a reliable metric. This video really summarizes many peoples’ perception of a Muslim. I confess, I have found myself in similar circumstances where I become a bit wary of someone based upon my perceptions. Yes, there are those that vocalize their anger when prompted, but a successful terrorist; attempting come to the U.S. won’t be so overt in their ideology if they know that such lack of self-control would bar them from entry to carry out any such attack.
- Trump’s Policy strengthens the rhetoric of Islamic extremism. What the Trump administration has failed to account for is that the most powerful weapon at extremists’ disposal is their ability to propagate a message. This message isn’t spread by way of itinerant bards travelling from country to country; it is spread through the internet. This ban will only provide the demagogues of Islamic extremism further ammo to launch in their media campaign targeting young Americans to become radicalized and take up the banner of their particular brand of terror. Don’t get me wrong. Those that spout this kind of hate and recruit others to commit horrific atrocities in the name of God will find a myriad of reasons to hate the United States and what we stand for. That being said, why do the job for them and provide them even more reasons to hate us? Why provide them even more ways in which they can craft a twisted message to recruit and create lone-wolf domestic terrorists?
- The ban ignores the fact that homegrown terrorism is of equal (if not greater) threat to domestic security than foreign nationals. Indeed, if you read the executive order in its entirety, it references investigations into foreign nationals only. Now, this may be a result of the fact that we are talking about immigration in this executive order, but it does an effective job of ignoring the fact that a number of terrorist attacks in recent memory were perpetrated by U.S. Citizens or Legal Residents as lone-wolves acting on their own as a result of being radicalized through non-traditional means.
- Banning immigrants is the start of the slippery slope. Having already commented on how immigration bans are not effective in addressing home-grown terrorists, it is worth commenting that we are now on a slippery slope. The dreaded concept of a Muslim Registry is a truly terrifying concept and may prove to be the Trump Administration’s attempt to target our own citizenry based solely upon creed. While this registry is yet to be enacted…it seems, as we progress further into the world of dystopia, that this concept is not beyond the realm of the imagination. What happens next? Police and NSA watch lists based upon religious affiliation? Internment Camps? Criminalization of Islam? Look, I know that this gradual mental progression has the appearance of being alarmist, I’ll concede that…but that is the nature of a slippery slope. By small degrees we edge ourselves ever closer to a precipice that could plunge our nation into an abyss of intolerance and hatred from which it will take years (if not decades) to recover from.
- It damages our prestige and national character. The world and those that would seek to admonish the United States for being bigoted loud-mouthed and desirous of imposing our will on the world are having their opinions confirmed at this very moment. In an article published by the BBC, it mentions that the most recent executive order could include questions to: “evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society.” Are we to manage the United States Immigration program like the HR department of a major corporation? “What can you bring to our company? What value to you add?” I understand the sentiment…but it may be worthwhile to focus on the hypocrisy of asking the immigrant community to justify whether or not they bring value to the U.S. while it could be argued that there are members of the American citizenry that may considered as not contributing to society as well. How many of our ancestors would have been denied entry to the country had Donald Trump been president? (let’s include Trump’s own family, immigrants as well).
- Finally, and most importantly, it impacts real people who are seeking a new and more prosperous life as Americans or who legitimately seeking a sanctuary from tyranny and violence. Despite the legitimate security concerns that are present in our daily lives we have forgotten our humanity. To make these sweeping policy decisions, agnostic of our own compassion and value for human life, how are we safeguarding the values that we truly hold dear? My own viewpoints on the Syrian Refugee Crisis and our national security are complex and I am simply unable to summarize my position in a clean and simple manner. Refugee issues in Europe have spiraled out of control and have cast a shadow on all of those seeking asylum. Are we willing to accept refugees en masse that may or may not embrace the core values of the United States? (Those values being one of liberty tolerance and respect for all). In the same breath I’m willing to ask, are we as Americans 100% committed to these same core values ourselves? What the Twitter feeds and electorate demonstrate is that we ourselves are struggling with this issue. Important to note: while Trump has made a distinction between the Syrian Refugees and other refugees…the secondary effects that those not affiliated with the middle east are simply out of luck for the time being.
As a ten year veteran and intelligence professional with the U.S. Army, I have strong opinions on national security and counter-terrorism efforts. Yet, as I take a step back, I can see that we have opted for security over freedom.
I wish to close with a personal note. I married into a Persian family. I realize that the U.S. government and Iran have shared a tenuous relationship. The Islamic revolution and hostage crisis has kept our two countries on edge. The Iranian government’s support for Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Shi’a militias in Iraq and their own desire to procure a nuclear arsenal for themselves have sparked debate and tensions. Are they, however, a hotbed for terrorist activities? Color me biased, but, I will argue that despite their own political machinations they are no more friends of al-Qaeda and ISIS than the United States. While my wife and I have never had the desire to travel to Iran…this does have a significant impact on my extended family who, for the sake of visiting relatives and attending funerals or births, no longer can do so.
Most of my worst moments of internal conflict have arisen when my realism/pragmatism combat my idealism. The world should operate in certain ways. We should be compassionate, open and tolerant. Yet, the world is not. We should be able to trust each other as one great family of the human race. Yet, violence, lies and our own self-interest are undeniably part of our basic human nature. Why shouldn’t America hold itself above the dismal reality we live in? Why not become the place where people want to build a new life and rise up their their full potential? Trump has answered with: “They are not welcome.” This is reference to Islamic Extremists, but even with that full context in mind, is that the message that is emblazoned upon the Statue of Liberty? No! I can only hold out hope that we find ourselves back on the right path…and soon. I leave you with the poem that has welcomed many an immigrant to our great nation:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”