David Miliband: ISIS may use Donald Trump's travel ban as a recruitment tool
Trump reportedly featured in propaganda videos for terrorist group, he says
Editor’s Note: David Miliband is president of the International Rescue Committee. He is a former British Member of Parliament and a former British foreign secretary. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
The Trump administration’s decision to close the door to refugees fleeing conflict and disaster has become mired in legal morass.
It has caused humanitarian chaos – children denied entry into the United States for medical treatment and staff supporting US Embassy personnel in Iraq losing their chance to come.
The beneficiaries of this policy have been extremists, who can now say across the Muslim world: “The US will never help you.”
We are pleased to be restarting resettlement to the US for the time being, but we must keep in mind that people trapped in the middle of this legal seesaw have lives – and the only way out of this is for reviews to take place as the existing program proceeds.
Last week’s events did not go unnoticed by the American public: According to a new Gallup Poll, the knee-jerk policies included in Donald Trump’s executive order are not ones the majority of Americans support.
What remains unclear to most Americans is that the existing security vetting system for refugees is rigorous and tough. The process can take up to 36 months and involves 12 to 15 government agencies, which conduct biometric testing and in-person interviews to ensure entrants to the United States are not a danger.
The Government did execute two welcome U-Turns last week. Green card holders are to be admitted, as well as those who supported the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the folly of the broad-ranging nature of the order – and the lack of input from expert professionals – means not just that successful H1B visa holders are currently excluded if they are nationals of the seven banned countries, but also some of the most vulnerable people in the world, refugees, are being kept out because the ban on them is total for 120 days (and indefinite for Syrians).
It goes against America’s founding values and core interests.
The humanitarian case is obvious. But the geopolitical case is important, too. The United States benefits from stability around the world – and a key contributor to that stability is its ability to help allies tackle humanitarian problems and defeat hateful ideology that threatens Western and Muslim countries alike.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain put this well: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Former jihadists have told CNN that ISIS will use the travel ban as a recruitment tool, “making it clear to anyone in doubt that it’s a war on Islam and all Muslims.” Also troubling, Trump is already being featured in propaganda videos, fueling the belief that Americans fear Muslims for the sole reason they are Muslim. It is no secret that ISIS seeks to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash, as it articulated in a 2015 essay, because such a reaction enables the militants to persuade individuals to join their ranks.
Further, it is giving them the fodder to convince more people that Americans do not believe they are deserving of the same freedoms to which we are entitled. The International Rescue Committee knows from our work in 29 US cities that when refugees arrive, they are welcomed with traditional American hospitality for the most vulnerable. But we also know from our humanitarian work in war zones and fragile states around the world that reputation and reality do not always match.
Trump’s ban has been claimed as a victory for terrorists and the fulfillment of the words of Anwar al-Awlaki, the late American-born al Qaeda leader, who predicted that the “West would eventually turn against its Muslim citizens.”
Over the past week, the IRC has seen families torn apart. We have feared for those who supported American servicemen and women abroad. And, heartbreakingly, we have seen children who survived unspeakable tragedy face a still-uncertain future – and a mistaken view of American values.
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There is a way out of this mess. The administration is perfectly entitled to review vetting arrangements. That would be a normal piece of policymaking. What is not normal is the suspension of the entire refugee arrivals process or the visa entry system for seven countries. So the administration should announce the reviews will go ahead, but existing arrangements will continue until the reviews are concluded.
This is not a choice between safety and danger. It is a choice between common sense and alarmism, between bridge building and divisiveness, between strengthening your own country and scoring a goal in your own net.