Shahed Amanullah says the ban signed by President Trump won't stop terrorists
The ban will further demonize Muslims and give Americans a false sense of security, he says
Editor’s Note: Shahed Amanullah is co-founder of Affinis Labs, a Virginia-based startup accelerator and innovation hub, and a former State Department senior adviser in the Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
While working at the State Department from 2011 to 2014 on various strategies to counter extremism from overseas, I used a simple litmus test to judge the efficacy of my programs: How would these extremists respond if they were in the room with me? Would they be genuinely worried that what I was proposing would hamper their efforts, or would they explode in laughter at my naiveté?
With Friday’s executive order, President Donald Trump has proposed a policy that he says will keep Americans safer by restricting travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). And extremists around the world are laughing along with many others, because they all know what you should – this policy will in no way stop determined extremists from inflicting harm upon America.
Ever since 9/11, politicians from both sides of the aisle have made counterterrorism a high priority, particularly when it comes to preventing terrorism here at home. A plethora of initiatives emerged with varying degrees of effectiveness, some taking the fight directly to the enemy and others focused on building resilience within communities at risk. But the rise of ISIS/Daesh, the distributed network of extremist content online, and the phenomenon of lone-wolf violent extremists suggests that those who wish us harm are more sophisticated than expected and continue to find holes in our defenses.
If this program was truly designed to stop terrorists, it would include places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and France – all countries from which people flew with the intent of carrying out acts of terrorism in the United States. But President Trump didn’t include them in this initial list, and it’s unlikely he ever will.
Why? Because adding countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and other similar countries to the list will inflict severe economic, diplomatic and policy costs, including sinking existing anti-terrorism relationships with those countries which have proven useful in the past.
The initial seven countries have virtually no economic relationship with the United States (save possibly Iraq), so there is no real cost for the White House to blacklist them. But there are many influential Republicans with lucrative ties to the energy sector, including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who led one of the largest companies in the world through fruitful partnerships with predominantly Muslim countries. They won’t look too kindly on disrupting this relationship.
Adding European countries to the mix would be a non-starter, even though they are the source of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, many of them white Europeans who would slip by any attempt to racially profile them. And the policy as announced wouldn’t impact homegrown extremism, which is a far greater threat to Americans.
So we know the policy announced Friday won’t keep us safer. But what harm could it cause? Plenty.
The first thing that comes to mind is the continued demonization of Muslims, both here and abroad, most of whom not only oppose extremism but are also victims of terrorism and the social discord that follows. But this won’t matter to a troubling number of Americans who have mixed feelings about their Muslim neighbors.
Second, every year we educate the best and brightest from the initially targeted countries (thousands of students are here from Iran alone), which helps build bridges between our countries, aligns our cultures and values, brings in millions in revenue for our universities, provides the basis for deep economic ties and more. These gains, which have benefited both sides for generations, are now in jeopardy.
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Third, these policies put an end to America’s noble tradition of accepting and sheltering refugees, who have enriched and empowered our country for generations. Our country and the way it is perceived around the world will be fundamentally transformed as a result.
The policies announced Friday give people with simplistic views about Islam’s link to terrorism a false sense of security and stoke additional hatred toward millions who have nothing to do with terrorism. They fuel xenophobia for domestic political gain while disguised as counterterrorism policy.
In the end, we’ll have demonized Muslim communities both here and abroad, unraveled anti-terrorism relationships and crippled economic ties. And we’ll be no safer for it all.
You don’t have to like Muslims to oppose where Trump is going with this travel ban. You just have to take America’s safety, economy and standing in the world seriously.