The Orange one’s disastrous 10 days in office, reviewed by Kara Bryan
In a statement issued by the White House to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, Donald Trump pledged ‘in the name of the perished’ to ‘make tolerance prevalent throughout the world,’ just a few hours later issuing an executive order barring the nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. and excluding all refugees for the next four months and Syrian refugees indefinitely. ‘Never forget’it seems, was quickly forgotten.
But there are some useful facts (real facts) to be recalled from the era of the Second World War. On the eve of the war, thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi regime fell foul of America’s strict isolationist immigration policy, many of whom later perished in the holocaust, including 15-year-old diarist Anne Frank and her family. A German ocean liner, the M.S. St. Louis, immortalised by the 1974 film ‘Voyage of the Damned’ was turned away carrying 900 Jewish refugees.
Many of her passengers ended up in Nazi concentration camps and later refused entry to 20,000 Jewish children. It was not until 1944, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally issued an executive order to facilitate the rescue of Jewish refugees. By which time, millions had been murdered in Hitler’s ‘final solution.’ America’s immigration policy on ‘displaced persons’ after the Second World War was largely a response to it’s catastrophic failure in the 1930s.
Donald Trump, however, hasn’t learned the lessons of history and if history will teach us anything, it is that it habitually repeats itself. Our job is to recognise the warning signs and respond en masse.
Of the seven countries subject to the immigration ban: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, the U.S. is currently bombing five, yet does little to address the resulting refugee crisis. As one commentator put it, ‘America makes the mess and expects the rest of the world to clean it up.’
Conspicuously missing from the ban is Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack actually originated. Perhaps unsurprising given that Trump registered eight of his companies there during his election campaign. Nor does the order take account of the fact that most terror attacks carried out in Europe in recent years, were home-grown and not one of the countries subject to the order have carried out a single fatal attack on U.S. soil.
The order was initially opposed by lawyers at the State Department who were immediately overruled by Steve Bannon, the White House’s Chief Strategist and former CEO of far-right news site Breibart.com who was recently, controversially appointed to the National Security Council. Most of the senior staff at the State Department have resigned, reportedly unwilling to serve under a Trump administration. Although the Guardian reported that the White House had ‘purged’ all senior staff.
Federal Judge James Robart granted a temporary stay on the ban, limiting the order to refrain from ‘removing, detaining or blocking entry’ to anyone with a valid immigration visa, which was wilfully ignored by the Department of Homeland Security who continued with deportations in spite of the restriction order, and made a formal statement to the effect that their policy is ‘not to comment on pending litigation’ and words to the effect that they would comply with the President’s orders.
An appeal by the Justice Department, alleging that Judge Robart had ‘overreached’ by second guessing the President on a national security matter and arguing that states did not have the authority to challenge a presidential executive order, was rejected and the ban will remain suspended until a full case can be heard.
The Trump administration has categorically denied that the immigration ban is specifically targeting Muslims but in an interview with Fox News, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, now an advisor at the White House, told presenter Jeanine Pirro that Trump had specifically used the term ‘Muslim ban’ and asked him to personally put together a commission to find a way to do it ‘legally.’
News of the order has triggered a visceral reaction from civil rights activists and politicians alike. Even Angela Merkel who last year called for a ban on the burqa and niqab, condemned the order, telling a press conference that the fight against terrorism did not justify ‘a general suspicion against people of a certain belief’ and that it was against the ‘basic tenets of international refugee support and cooperation.’ In stark contrast to the German Chancellor’s reaction, Theresa May persistently refused to comment, provoking anger from commentators and civil rights groups.
It later emerged that Theresa May had been informed of the ban moments before leaving the the White House hand in hand with Donald Trump in a somewhat vomit-inducing display of sycophancy. Jeremy Corbyn has attacked the Prime Minister for effectively ‘endorsing’ the ban and called for Trump’s inaugural state visit to be cancelled until the ban is lifted. Even Trump’s own Vice President, Mike Pence reaffirmed his belief that ‘The United States should not discriminate on the basis of religion’ after a tweet from 2015 resurfaced and went viral in which he said that calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. were ‘offensive and unconstitutional.’
The ban has triggered a tsunami of outrage, from civil rights groups and politicians to business leaders and even Hollywood stars. Google issued a statement saying, ‘We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Google and their families, or that could create a barrier to bringing great talent to the U.S.’ Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said he was ‘concerned’ and that the U.S. should keep its doors open to refugees, noting, ‘the United States is a nation of immigrants and we should be proud of that.’ Star Wars’ Mark Hamill aka ‘Luke Skywalker’ described the ban as ‘un-American’ and director Rob Reiner tweeted, ‘Along with liar, racist, misogynist… narcissist – with the Muslim ban we can now add heartless and evil to Donald Trump’s repertoire.’ Hollywood actress and special envoy to the UN, Angelina Jolie, who received an honorary Oscar for her humanitarian work said the ban was ‘playing with fire’ and warned that by ‘implying Muslims are less worthy of protection, we fuel extremism abroad.’
At a meeting of the Home Affairs Committee, even Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who herself has fuelled immigration fears after suggesting foreign workers were taking British jobs, described the immigration ban as a ‘propaganda opportunity’ for extremists. ISIS often invoke the suffering of Muslims throughout the world when recruiting adherents, and undoubtedly Donald Trump’s racist and discriminatory attack has played straight into their hands.
A recent study carried out by a leading psychologist at Stanford University found since the so-called ‘war on terror’ 15 years ago, the threat of home-grown Muslim extremism in the United States has increased and that the few American Muslims who had become radicalised, had likely experienced some personal trauma or humiliation or felt marginalised by anti-Muslim discrimination. In short, radicalisation is exacerbated by Islamophobia. The study found that contrary to popular belief, religious fundamentalism was not the primary motivator in joining violent extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, that most are religious novices or recent converts to Islam. The primary motivator being ‘a quest for significance.
America was built on the shoulders of slaves and immigrants. Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the school girl who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, said she was ‘heartbroken that America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants – the people who helped build your country’ and in New York, Taxi drivers at JFK airport staged a one-hour strike in solidarity with those affected, tweeting, ‘We cannot be silent. We go to work to welcome people to a land that once welcomed us. We shall not be divided.’
Parliament will debate calls to cancel the Pumkinführer’s inaugural state visit later this year on February 20thafter an online petition reached a staggering nearly 2 million signatures. Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington is named as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic relations seeking to overturn the immigration ban, challenging the order on the basis that it is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. It’s a compelling argument particularly in light of Attorney General Sally Yates refusal to enforce the ban instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend the order. Yates was immediately fired.
A State Department official later said that she had been relieved of her position because she was ‘very weak on illegal immigration.’ But the ‘Muslim ban’ isn’t the only Islamophobic White House policy to raise eyebrows, Reuters has since reported that the counter-extremism programme ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ is to be revamped under the new administration. It is to be renamed ‘Countering Islamic Extremism’ and under new plans it will no longer target white supremacist groups.
The Comb-over-in-chief’s misguided and racist policies are rooted in bigotry and fear but he has provoked a movement that won’t be easily quieted. No inauguration in living memory has met with such unprecedented international opposition, with protests erupting all over the U.S. on a daily basis. Demonstrations of civil disobedience look set to be a permanent fixture of Trump’s presidency with many more protests planned in the coming days and weeks on both sides of the Atlantic. Trump has been in office less than two weeks and has already filed his candidacy for 2020, meaning he can accept campaign contributions immediately. The fight is only just beginning. See you on the streets.
Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War
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