President Trump’s Claim that His Ban Will Keep America Safe from Terrorism is False

This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post

President Trump used a rally for his supporters in Nashville, Tennessee on March 15 to rail against the federal court’s block on the latest version of his Muslim and refugee ban. His arguments were misleading and inflammatory, designed to stoke fear.

He claimed that his administration was “working night and day to keep our nation safe from terrorism,” and “we’re talking about the safety and security of our people,” emphasizing the supposed need to change a “dangerous system” that has “left our people defenseless.”

The United States refugee resettlement program, which risks being more than cut in half under Trump’s executive order, is neither broken nor dangerous. In fact, it should be expanded given the magnitude of the global refugee crisis.

Far from leaving the American people defenseless, the system requires refugees entering the United States to undergo exhaustive checks by multiple U.S. government agencies, far more than other visitors or immigrants to the United States. Refugees commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans and do not constitute a terrorist threat. No one from the six majority Muslim countries singled out in the latest version of the travel ban has ever been involved in a terrorist incident in the United States.

President Trump’s cavalier disregard for the real threat of terrorism from violent Islamist extremism is evident in his chummy meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, at the White House on the morning of the rally. Saudi Arabia is a problematic ally for the United States. Several of its domestic and foreign policies exacerbate the threat from violent extremism, but these issues were notably absent from the White House read out on the meeting. It didn’t reference the dire human rights situation in the country at all.

The kingdom is notorious for its denial of women’s rights and religious freedom, and for its harsh repression of non-violent government critics. Those targeted include advocates for moderate, tolerant interpretations of Islam, like Ra’if Badawi. On his blog, Badawi criticized those who claim to hold a monopoly on the truth, spreading what he described as a culture of death and ignorance. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and one thousand lashes.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record endangers its stability as it confronts inevitable economic and social challenges, setting a negative example that reverberates throughout the region. Discrimination against its minority Shi’ite population fuels regional sectarian tensions. Its intolerance of religious pluralism, and even of open discussion of Sunni Islam, gives support to the dangerous idea that religious orthodoxy must be enforced through violence, like public flogging and beheading. These practices empower violent extremists like ISIS who claim to be upholding religious purity.

While failing to support courageous advocates for tolerance and opponents of extremism, the read out from the White House also said nothing about Saudi Arabia gives a free pass to hardline clerics who spread violent extremist ideology, threatening Saudi Arabia’s future and core American interests.

Saudi Arabia is using its extensive influence to promote extremist ideologies throughout the region and spreading ideas that inspire terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS, fueling recruitment and support for such groups on a global level. These dangerous extreme ideas are disseminated through official textbooks, media outlets, and the teachings of extremist clerics who find a comfortable home in the kingdom while spreading anti-Shi’ite, antisemitic, and anti-western propaganda and promoting hatred of other religions.

The White House read out expressed no concern about the conflict in Yemen, where ISIS is a growing threat and U.S. forces have been involved in raids and drone strikes. The United States is supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia that are being used in attacks that have resulted in many civilian casualties and destroyed vital infrastructure, adding to public resentment of the United States.

The read out seemed to encourage intensifying rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an enmity that has fueled heightened sectarian tensions throughout the region. Sectarian tensions between Sunni Muslims backed by Saudi Arabia and Shi’a Muslims backed by Iran fuel regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. It empowers extremists on both sides, creating conditions in which terrorist groups that threaten U.S. interests thrive.

Meetings like this reveal that the president is completely misdirecting his efforts to fight against terrorism. In his meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince he ignored aspects of Saudi policy and practice that increase the threat of terrorism against the United States and its allies, while he spent the evening sowing fear and division by distorting and exploiting a negligible to non-existent threat from refugees and Muslim immigrants. Instead of dealing with real policy challenges, the president prefers to rile up his base while doing nothing to make the country safer.


Published on March 17, 2017


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