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Obama built the foundations for Trump's Muslim ban



Let's just say it in the open — the new Trump administration's immigration policies have nothing to do with terrorism, just as their Australian equivalents have nothing to do with people smuggling. 

Trump's followers enthuse as he pushes suspicious foreigners away, not noticing that the America they remain behind in, is growing its own oppressive bars. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonAs the Sydney Morning Herald noted, the spectre of the new 'Muslim Ban' is likely to increase, rather than reduce, the incentive for radical extremists claiming to operate under the banner of Islam.

Trump's executive order halting refugee resettlement and banning nationals of seven countries from entry to the US will only serve as a rallying point for ISIS and their kin, reinforcing their propaganda that Islam and the governments of the West are incompatible. The equal and opposite religious extremisms of the US National Security State and the radical Salafists of the Middle East need and feed off each other.

Aside from the counterproductive nature of the sanctions, if they were aimed at alleged terrorists, they are spectacularly misdirected. No US lives have been lost to terror in America inflicted by Iranians or Iraqis. In addition, countries whose citizens have been alleged to have been involved in jihadi attacks on the US have conspicuously not been sanctioned (e.g. Saudi Arabia and Egypt).

So if it is not about terrorism, it is worth asking ourselves what is really at stake here. In my view, the answers are vital to understanding why and how people are manipulated into supporting their own disempowerment — a dangerous thing in a democracy.

It is worth noticing that even insiders in the Trump administration seem to agree that bigotry, rather than national security, is what they had in mind. Rudy Giuliani has already said that the (deliberately?) vague executive order — administered shambolically — was the product of his commission from Trump to design a lawful 'Muslim ban'.

That said, the right wingers who support the cruel and criminal madness of stripping people — even those in the air — of their visas, and separating families in the process, also have a point when they say that the US government is not beginning a new persecution, but merely continuing and deepening the persecutions of their predecessors.

While previous administrations were more subtle in their actions than Trump's, it is undoubtedly true that the nationals now picked for sanction were those who were already targeted for visa penalties in the Obama years (and were mostly citizens of countries being bombed or sanctioned by the US government).


"What we are seeing is a use of existing 'security' apparatus to test the waters for, and to serve as the basis of, further erosions of civil liberties."


Indeed, those who rail against the Trump administration's aggression and decidedly lukewarm attitude to civil liberties are rightly taken to task by Glenn Greenwald (no fan of Trump) for ignoring the fact that Trump's abuses are new in degree, rather than kind: the anti-Muslim rhetoric and national security machine he is turning on his victims was built under his predecessors — not least Obama who prosecuted more whistle blowers than any other president in history.

No, what is truly frightening about Trump's actions is that the lack of any real connection to terrorism and the fact that the new measures have been taken against nationals of states already under sanction, using pre-existent architecture of persecution, makes it look decidedly like a test case. It is a raw demonstration of arbitrary power against citizens of countries without the influence within the US to fight back. As such, not only will it allow the government to test the measure of domestic resistance at home (with the possibility of widening the net of repression if it looks as though it can get away with it) but any violent response will, of course, provoke more, and more serious, repression.

In short, what we are seeing is a use of existing 'security' apparatus to test the waters for, and to serve as the basis of, further erosions of civil liberties. As Jake Fuentes points out, it hardly seems coincidental that experienced voices who might be in a position to speak against such erosions have been removed from the National Security Council and the State and Justice Departments. We have already seen that court orders halting some of the detentions or deportations are not being obeyed — and government departments have, in some cases, made it quite clear that they have no intention of obeying them either. Bear in mind, judicial control over the executive is probably the only effective day-to-day control in a state that prevents it from falling into tyranny.

This is not the way power in a democracy is exercised ... and things don't appear to be on a good trajectory. Then again, we are deluding ourselves if we do not see this as the culmination of policies which have been years in development.


Justin GlynFr Justin Glyn SJ is studying canon law in Canada. Previously he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, Donald Trump, Muslims



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Existing comments

It's early days yet for the Trump administration. He has made some powerful enemies, both within and without the Republican Party. Some very influential voices, such as the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan and the Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, Senator John McCain, have said they do not support certain of his policies. His rapprochement with President Putin; his serious antagonism to China, both militarily and economically; his seeming support of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and his approach to non-Sunni Iran could well cause serious international problems. These could have serious effects on the domestic situation. I would not see 'the Muslim ban issue' in quite as serious a light. I do not think his presidency will end well for him. I hope it will not have adverse side effects for the average American.

Edward Fido | 05 February 2017  

It seems to me that ISIS and western governments are incompatible, especially from a female perspective. The way that ISIS and the Middle East generally treat women is for me, far worse than anything Trump may do. A little consideration for women and an evaluation of their plight would be appreciated.

Jane | 06 February 2017  

"This is not the way power in a democracy is exercised". Maybe that is because the American system is not a democracy by any stretch of the imagination. With the Wild West cartoon culture of the law of the gun, I reckon this president should keep his head down

john frawley | 06 February 2017  

It is the easy road to produce articles on overseas politics. I would encourage you to write articles on Australia in particular on color, conscience and rights. Through all the trials of life, what does God want us (includes newly consecrated priests) to prove? Faith.

Jackie | 06 February 2017  

There is no doubt that anyone, even the Pope, who appeals to morality as a basis for individual rights and responsibilities has a hard time getting a hearing. And yet the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution wrote about unalienable rights as if they were the bedrock for the civil order they hoped to implement. These unalienable rights became popularly known as civil rights. The US judiciary, both in the Supreme Court and in the Federal Courts, is the bulwark against any infringement of these rights. Mr Trump is not the first President to find judicial decisions "ridiculous", although previous Presidents may not have been so explicit in voicing their disagreement. As far as I can see from this distance in faraway NSW Mr Trump finds the legal system an inconvenience, except perhaps when he, or his legal advisers, can manipulate it to his advantage. His ability to avoid paying income tax for example. I am placing great faith in the intelligence and courage of US judges to call him to account - no matter what the cost to their professional advancement. Trump will push the checks and balances of the US Constitution to get his own way..

Uncle Pat | 06 February 2017  

Thanks Justin for a restoration of balance. You ask what is really at stake here and what might be the desired end. What is at stake here and 'here' also being here in Australia is the arousal of fear. It's Group Dynamics 101. Depict an enemy outside the group which is described as threatening group survival. You need a leader who says he/she will protect for survival. The leader needs to be somewhat paranoid. When survival is the prime function of the group there is no tolerance for weakness, questioning or alternative views. The group by then has lost any idea of a vision for its future, any sense of what it stands for in humanitarian terms. This fight/flight dynamic is wired into our nervous system. It dominates the subconscious of the group. It is not hard to trigger and reason is incapable of managing the situation. So the goal of several recent PMs in Australia and Overseas is to set up the imagined enemy, it does not have to be a real one, and then stand on the hustings and say, "Stick with me and I will defend you. This curtailing of your freedoms is what we have to do to survive." And this absolves a government from its real job of running the nation with all the complexities that involves.

Michael D. Breen | 06 February 2017  

Seems a pretty cheap-shot headline. The complexities of US relations with muslim majority countries in Africa and the middle east have been evolving through rhetoric and warfare for decades. Should the Obama administration have done more to fix US / Muslim relations? Undoubtedly. Did they purposely build a foundation for the current Trump travel ban and associated rhetoric? Seems like a long bow to draw... What is the link between whistle-blower attack and the current Trump position? Apart from absence of morality.. ?

Dominic Gibson | 06 February 2017  

" the foundations for Trump's Muslim ban " were laid centuries ago, when religions assumed that their interpretation of God's Universal Call was the one and only interpretation that mattered, and encouraged their followers to assume the same. Extremists went further and decided that other interpretations should be annihilated, leading to many unholy 'Holy wars' and incompatibility. Only when everyone realises that the Call of the Constant and Universal God is itself Constant and Universal, can there be Peace and Goodwill to all.

Robert Liddy | 06 February 2017  

Very interesting and enlightening analysis. As pointed out there is a need to appreciate how much of the groundwork for what Trump is doing in some areas, was carried out by Obama and Bush before him.

Sean O'Reilly | 06 February 2017  

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