On Friday, January 27, U.S. President Trump issued an executive order titled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” With this order, anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen was restricted from entering the United States for the next 90 days; while Syrian refugees are restricted indefinitely. The order also halts the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days.
This cruel, racist and inflammatory order came into effect immediately, resulting in chaos and confusion in airports across the U.S., where hundreds of people with green-cards and valid Visas for entry were being harassed and detained because of their nationality. In the first 23 hours of the order, 109 people were denied entry to the U.S. and 173 were prevented from even getting on flights to the United States, according to U.S. Homeland Security. According to civil and human rights activists, the number of people affected in the first hours of the ban was much higher.
Almost immediately, the mass response of people on the streets in the United States as well as different levels of legal intervention, began to chip away at some of the most vile and inhuman parts of the order. People detained at the airports, which included children as young as five, were released and allowed to enter the U.S. Within a day of the order being issued, a Federal judge in New York ruled that those detained could not be deported, granting an emergency stay on that part of Trump’s order. In the following days, other judges, lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) grappled with the ban in the courts, and continue to do so to this day.
What Terrorist Threat?
Contrary to what President Trump and his administration would like people to believe, this executive order cannot be based on protecting people in the U.S. from "terrorism." Not a single person in the U.S. has been killed in a terrorist attack committed by someone from any of the seven countries on the list identified in the executive order. Looking at the last 40 years, if indeed the U.S. government wanted to protect people from terrorist attacks, they would have to ban people from some of their closest allies: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
This, however was not the case and once again, the threat of "terrorism" is exposed as a thinly veiled excuse for a crackdown on the democratic and civil rights of the entire population in the U.S. This time it is focused on immigrants and refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
More Than a Muslim Ban
There are 57 countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an international organization that brings together countries from around the world with a majority, or very significant, Muslim populations. Yet, only seven of these countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are included in the executive order. The question is, why these seven countries specifically?
In 2007, retired U.S. army general Wesley Clark appeared in an interview on Democracy Now! where he explained a Defense department memo that he had seen in 2003 as follows, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” It is no coincidence that six out of the seven countries included in the executive order are on this list.
With the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. government launched the new era of war and occupation that follows the path of this deadly roadmap. After 16 years, this period of never ending war, occupation, sanctions and western intervention has covered nearly every country included in that memo, and more. Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen have all been the target of U.S.-led bombing campaigns, drone strikes, military occupations, sanctions and other forms of imperialist overt and covert intervention.
In order to carry out this outright attack on people abroad, the U.S. government has had to demonize those that they are attacking. People in the United States must be led to believe that the people, and governments, of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are the enemy. The executive order is an extension of the fear-mongering that enables the U.S. to carry out their bloody scheme against people in the Middle East and North Africa with less opposition at home.
The depravity of this fear campaign in the U.S. and Western countries is most apparent when it comes to their attack on refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, most of whom have been forced from their homes due to U.S.-led intervention in their countries. Although the attack on the basic rights and humanity of refugees has been escalating with the Trump's executive order, it began long before.
Today, there are more than 65 million refugees in the world, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This means that one out of every 108 people on this planet is a refugee displaced from their home for reasons beyond their control. Tens of millions of these refugees are from the seven countries named in the executive order. The U.S. supported proxy war in Syria has created over 12 million refugees alone, 8 million of whom have been forced to flee their country in search of somewhere safe to be.
Over the last two years the refugee crisis, which has been isolated to the Middle East and Africa, has arrived on European shores. Over 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and then the region, in search of somewhere with a possibility for life. Over 16 years of constant U.S.-led wars, occupations and interventions in the Middle East and North Africa have not only taken away peoples means for life, they have also taken away the hope that the violence and destruction will someday end. This horrible fact is illustrated clearly in the refugee arrivals to Europe in 2016 - over 40% of the refugees were from only three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq (UNHCR). This crisis for humanity, one that has driven so many people to risk their own lives and that of their families, is not over.
What about Refugees in Canada?
"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada" – Justin Trudeau, Twitter, January 28, 2017
With these 140 characters, the Prime Minister of Canada boasted that Canada would provide a counter-balance to the racist, Islamophobic order of President Trump. People around the world responded enthusiastically to the hopeful and welcoming tweet, sharing is over 400,000 times on Twitter. These may be nice words, but how welcoming has the government of Canada actually been?
During the 2015 Federal Election, the Liberal party announced that it would welcome 25,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of December 2015. Over a year later and they still haven’t fulfilled their promise. According to their own website, as of January 2, 2017, Canada has only “welcomed” 21,751 government-sponsored Syrian refugees; and 39,671 Syrian refugees overall.
And Canada’s doors are closing, not opening, to Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Just weeks before Trudeau typed out his now famous tweet, the government of Canada actually capped the number of refugees that can be sponsored by community groups and “groups-of-five” to a thousand applications this year. As of January 25, 2017 that limit has been reached. This is significant not only because sponsoring refugees as community groups and “groups-of-five,” was an accessible way for people in Canada to directly sponsor refugees, but also because refugees sponsored in this way were also not required to have United Nations (UN) proof of their status as refugees.
According to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a Government of Canada website, they have had to cap the number of refugees because the current wait times are too long. Surely, there are other ways to process the applications of desperate and vulnerable people, maybe it’s time to hire more people to process the applications? The government of Canada says that there are now 45,000 people waiting to be resettled in Canada, whose applications are in process. The problem with putting caps on the number of applications accepted is that the refugee crisis is continuing to grow; less applications does not mean that there are now less refugees.
Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, has also further clarified, "Our immigration levels plan has an allocation that is historically high for refugees," in other words – nothing is changing about Canada’s refugee policy, even in the face of Trump’s executive order. Overall the “government levels plan” Hussen refers to is actually a decrease in the number of refugees welcomed into Canada, from a total of 55,800 in 2016 to a total of 40,000 in 2017.
Institutionalization of Islamophobia
How is it possible for governments like the U.S. and Canada to get away with such backward immigration and refugee policies? Part of it is the same reason they are able to get away with carrying out their bloody wars in the Middle East and North Africa: fear-mongering and the propagation of Islamophobia.
Now, the U.S. travel and refugee ban has taking this campaign one step further, it has institutionalized Islamophobia in the United States. No matter how many people are challenging it in court today, there is now another layer of explicit immigration policy to back up the bigotry and violence that has been growing against Muslim people in the United States since the U.S. "war on terror" began after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
This is not the first time in U.S. history that fear and hysteria have been used by the United States to keep people divided and unable to fight for their rights. Under both Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. government has used fear as a tool to control poor, working and oppressed people. Immigrants and refugees have often been the scapegoats for a whole host of economic and social crises in the U.S.
There are more than a few examples: The U.S. banned Chinese immigration with multiple pieces of legislation beginning in the 1880’s, at the same time restricting the rights of Chinese people already living in the United States. In 1921, after World War I, Congress restricted immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. During World War II and the Holocaust, the President of the United States stated that refugees fleeing the Nazi’s were actually a threat to U.S. national security and entire boats of mostly Jewish refugees were turned back to Europe after reaching the United States. The list goes on to include the banning of people for their political beliefs and even their HIV status. The government of Canada is also no stranger to these same tactics.
Islamophobia is Growing
On Sunday, January 29, six people were murdered in a terrorist attack on Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, a mosque in Quebec City, Canada. The young man that has confessed to this atrocious crime has racist, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic views that have been whipped up through this fear campaign.
In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported that, “In the one week since Donald Trump became President-elect, there has been a spike in bias incidents targeting minorities.” However, the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes didn’t come only with the rise of Trump in to U.S. politics. A report from Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University - San Bernardino, showed that by 2015, crimes against Muslims had grown to levels higher than those following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States. This represents a growth in attacks on the Muslim community, including arsons, murders, assaults, and other threats, by 67% between 2014 and 2015 (FBI statistics).
This growth in Islamophobic attacks has not arisen out of thin air. It is the direct result the fear-mongering of governments in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Whether it is a tweet by the Trump administration’s National Security Advisor, former Lt. General Michael Flynn who declared in February of 2016, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions,” or it is government legislation like Bill C-51 in Canada, the message is the same. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Now is the Time to Organize
No question about it, Trump's executive order is a racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic assault targeting Muslims and some of the world's most vulnerable and devastated people. However, in reality, after the initial chaos and confusion, it may not be that this order concretely changes much about the already inhuman response of the United States to the complete destruction that they have caused in the Middle East and North Africa. The doors of the U.S. have been shut tight to immigrants and refugees from the region for a long time already.
However, Trump's executive order has served a purpose well beyond inflicting further punishment upon the people of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and all those facing the brunt of U.S. state-sponsored terrorism abroad. The more profound damage will be felt in the United States itself, as the fear-mongering and far-right rhetoric sets in for the long-term.
As poor, working and oppressed people in the United States and Canada, we have to confront both sides of this beast head-on. As the U.S. attempts to shut its doors, we demand that they immediately accept 500,000 refugees, still only a fraction of the lives that they have destroyed. Here in Canada, where the government has marched lock-step with the United States throughout the new era of war and occupation, we demand that the government of Canada immediately accept 200,000 refugees. All of these refugees must be granted their full human, democratic and legal rights.
We must unite the voices of poor and working people in the U.S., Canada and Europe for an end to the executive order and the travel and refugee ban in the United States. At the same time, if we are to put an end to Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism at home, we also have no choice but to demand an end to the wars, occupations, sanctions and U.S.-led interventions that have devastated the Middle East and Africa.
Follow Alison Bodine on Twitter:@Alisoncolette
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