In the conservative British magazine “The Spectator”, Douglas Murray posed nine questions to the people protesting Donald Trump’s Executive Order temporarily banning entry from seven countries whose populations happen to be mainly Muslims. You can find the complete article here.
I posted Murray’s article on Facebook, and my friend Hannes Stein, who knows more about America than I do, as he lives there, gave short answers to each question, which I quote below. In some cases, I agree with him, in others, I disagree.
1 – Do you accept that America (like many other countries in the world today) has security problems? Do you recognise that despite the giggly charts on social media showing lawnmowers to be more of a threat to American life than terrorism, there are legitimate security concerns that reasonable Americans might hold?
Hannes Stein: Yes, obviously. Duh.
Alan Posener: I doubt all or even most of the protesters would answer that this is “obvious”.
2 – Do you recognise that Islamic terrorism is not a figment of a fevered imagination, but a real thing that exists and which causes a risk to human life in America and many other countries? This isn’t to say that other forms of terrorism don’t exist – they obviously do. But how might you address this one (assuming you can’t immediately solve global peace, poverty, unhappiness, lack of satisfactory sex, masculinity etc)?
Hannes Stein: Same. Counter question: Do you recognize that in the fight against Islamic terrorism we, meaning the US, have Muslim allies? The Kurds, to mention just one example? Do you recognize that our soldiers were fighting alongside Iraqi army units in Mosul while this ban went down? Do you recognize that it is unwise to piss off our Muslim allies in this fight?
Alan Posener: I have seen no protests from our main Muslim allies, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, from Pakistan to Egypt, let alone Malaysia or Indonesia. I think they all recognize that this is not an “Anti-Muslim-Ban” but a ban that targets specific countries for a specific period of time.
3 – If you do recognise the above fact then would you concede that large scale immigration from Islamic countries into the US might bring a larger number of potential challenges than, say, large scale immigration from New Zealand or Iceland?
Hannes Stein: A quarter of all ISIS fighters came not from a Muslim country at all but from the UK. None of the countries where the perpetrators of 9/11 came from were even on Bannon’s list. This list caused much harm; it did no good.
Alan Posener: I’d go further than Hannes here, because it seems to me Murray is deliberately obfuscating the issue. Trump’s order does not affect “large scale immigration from Muslim countries”. The number of refugees from Syria who have reached the USA in President Obama’s second term did not exceed 500, was actually considerably below that. (Correction: I was quoting Tom Gross here, who is usually trustworthy. But The Economist lists the numbers of Syrian refugees as follows: 2014: 249; 2015 2,192; 2016: 15,479, of whom, by the way, 44% were Chriustian, which suggests an extreme bias already in place under Obama.) Murray is conflating the temporary travel ban with the question of large-scale Muslim migration that we have seen and are seeing in Europe – Pakistanis in Britain, people from the Maghreb in France, Turks in Germany etc. And, yes, this is more of a challenge than the large scale immigration of New Zealanders might bring. As Hannes would say: Duh.
4 – Is everybody who wants to visit Disney World morally akin to Jews fleeing the Holocaust? If not then what are the differences, and is it always wise to conflate the two?
Hannes Stein: No. So what?
Alan Posener: I wish people would consider the similarities and differences carefully. One similarity is that there was considerable cultural antipathy against Jews in Britain (where they were willing to take children who they could presumably force to assimilate, but did not take their parents, in hindsight an incredibly inhumane practice) or the USA. Murray talks about Jews “fleeing the Holocaust”, but of course when the Holocaust began in earnest in occupied Europa, few Jews could actually flee. It was too late. The situation Jews had been fleeing from in Germany, was, on the face of it, not as awful as the situation in Syria today. And so on. This kind of loose talk (I mean Murray) does nobody any good.
5 – Would you recognise that Iran is one of the world’s leading state-sponsors of terror, and that, for example, an Iranian-born American citizen in 2011 was caught planning to carry out a terror attack in Washington (against the Saudi Ambassador)? Would you recognise that aggravating though a temporary halt on all Iranian nationals visiting the US might be, and many good people though it will undoubtedly stop, there is a reason that some countries cause a greater security concern than others? Might citizens of a country whose leadership regularly chants ‘Death to America’ present a larger number of questions for border security than, say, citizens of Denmark whose government rarely says the same? What would your vetting policy be to distinguish between different Iranians seeking to enter the US?
Hannes Stein: Do you recognize that a large portion of Iran’s population loathes the Iranian regime and loves the US and that it is in our best interest to embrace these people?
Alan Posener: I’m afraid there may be quite a few Jihadists among the population of Denmark. But there may be some logic in restricting travel from Iran, as there was in imposing other sanctions on the country, which also hurt many people not sympathetic to the regime. If Iranians feel that the behaviour of their government leads to restrictions in their freedom of movement, this might put pressure on the government to cooperate more with the US. However, if this is the intention, it should not have been cloaked in an Executive Order ostensively aimed at protecting America against the entry of terrorists. I will change my mind about this if it can be shown that a significant number of Iranians in the USA pose a threat to America’s security.
6 – Does the whole world have the right to live in America? This is a variant of the same question we Europeans should have been asking for years. If you do not think that the whole world has the right to live in the USA then who should be allowed to live there and who should not? Who might be given priority?
Hannes Stein: Your question sounds as if the US were letting everybody into the country. As an immigrant I can assure you: this is not the case. A strict vetting process already was in place before Bannon’s cruel and stupid executive order.
Alan Posener: Again, Murray shows his hand here. What he wants is stricter immigration rules for Europe and the UK. As Trump’s order only targets seven countries, and those temporarily, it can hardly be defended as somehow being part of a general tightening of immigration targeted against Muslims. Unless of course, as the protesters contend, it is exactly that, with more to come, which Murray, it appears would welcome.
7 – If you believe in giving some people asylum, as I do, who should be given priority? Should asylum be forever? Or should there be a time-limit (such as up until such a time as your country of origin is deemed safe)? How do you deal with people who have been given asylum, whose reason for asylum is over (i.e. their country has returned to peace) but whose children have entered the school system (for instance)?
Hannes Stein: Priority should be given to people who are in the gravest danger, obviously. At the moment this would be civilians from Syria. Asylum should not be forever but until the reason why people have been seeking asylum no longer exists. Children should never be separated from their parents (unless their parents are abusive, which is a different topic altogether).
Alan Posener: Experience shows us that asylum is forever. Some may return, many don’t. Most Jews who got away did not return to Germany. Something like 40 percent of the citizens of Bosnia do not live in their country. And so on. People should be encouraged to go back, but I can understand the Bosnian Muslim who cannot return to Srebrenica, and if on the one hand we demand integration, if not assimilation, it seems hardly humane to demand disintegration years later. Let’s not kid ourselves. Unless the Syrian crisis is resolved soon, most of these people will not go back.
8 – Is it wrong that the Trump administration says it wishes to favour Christian refugees over Muslim refugees? This is a fascinating and difficult moral question. Many Christians refuse to accept that the plight of Christians – even when they are the specific target of persecution – should be given priority over anyone else. This is a noble example of Christian universalism, but is it wise or moral when you consider the limited numbers that can come in and if you accept that the entire persecuted world cannot arrive in America?
Hannes Stein: It is wrong because it is unconstitutional. The US Constitution does not allow Congress to favor or disfavor people because of their religion. It is also plain dumb, because it would mean bringing the virus of Middle Eastern sectarianism into this country.
Alan Posener: I disagree with Hannes here. I don’t think the US constitution has anything to say about immigration quotas. There have been quotas against all sorts of people in the course of US history, and I see no reason why there should not continue to be quotas. Germany for instance accepted ‘”contingents” of Soviet Jews along with ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union, and I see no reason why the USA should not accept contingents of Syrian Christians, Kurdish Yedizi, Iranian Baha’i etc.
9 – How do you identify the type of Muslims who America should indeed welcome? And how do you distinguish them from the sort of Muslims who the country could well do without? In other words, what would your vetting procedures be? There are some people who have thought about this. But what is your policy?
Hannes Stein: I would use exactly the vetting processes which already are in place.
Alan Posener: It’s not about “types of Muslims”, and I think that term is obnoxious in the extreme. It’s about terrorists. That at least is what Trump says. I think the problem with the vetting procedures in the seven countries targeted by the temporary ban is that given that they are either failed states or – in the case of iran – states that actively fight the USA, it may be hard or impossible to vet would-be visitors, immigrants and others before they get in, because there is no state apparatus in place which would help you actually check whether Mr X from Y is in fact from Y and not Mr Z from goodness knows where. In Europe, we place these people in camps euphemistically termed “hotspots”, process them, question them, do this, that and the other before letting them continue their journey to a nice gym or airport Hangar, where they hang around and go slowly crazy. Since the US does not have any of these rather doubtful institutions, vetting has to be done beforehand. I think it’s legitimate to suspend immigration while the procedure is reviewed.