Yesterday, Trump signed yet another of his now-infamous ‘executive orders’ calling for a travel ban from, this time only six of the original seven Middle-Eastern nations. The ban has been cleaned up in hopes of passing the legal smell-test, but is otherwise not much different. The main difference is that it will not take effect until March 16th, giving time for training of CBP agents and clarification where needed. But is there any value in such a ban? I would argue a few factual reasons to say there is not.
Through the years, there have been numerous attempts to define “terrorism”. One terrorism class I took 2 years ago spent nearly an entire week on the definition alone! I won’t bore you with the history, but eventually the global community settled on a definition by Alex P. Schmid, a Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in the Hague, and Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI). Mr. Schmid’s definition is lengthy, but can be found here if you are interested.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Although not quite as comprehensive as Dr. Schmid’s definition, for the purposes of this post, it will do.
Note that in the FBI definition, it does not mention that in order to qualify as terrorism, the act must be perpetrated by a Muslim, nor by a member of Daesh, nor by a person of Middle-Eastern descent. It is a fairly broad definition, and covers nearly any violent crime … or could be said to.
Donald Trump continues to claim that in order to “keep America safe”, in order to combat terrorism within the borders of the U.S., we must ban most, if not all, immigrants from Middle-Eastern, predominantly Muslim nations. But if that is true, why are most violent crimes that would fit well into the FBI definition not labeled terrorism? And … is terrorism from the Middle-East really a threat to the U.S.? Let us look at a few factual examples.
While I have quoted these figures from 2015 before, they bear repeating at this juncture. The number of Americans killed in acts of terrorism – both on U.S. soil and abroad — between 2001 and 2014 is 3,412 (including the victims of the 9/11 attacks). During the same period, 440,095 people died by firearms on U.S. soil (homicides, accidents, and suicides). In 2014, for every one American killed by an act of terrorism in the United States or abroad, 1,049 Americans died in the United States because of guns.
The daily average for drunk-driving fatalities is 30 per day, and on average 3 women per day are murdered by their spouse or boyfriend.
Not a single terrorist fatality has been carried out by any refugee or immigrant from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, the six nations included in Trump’s most recent version of his travel ban, since 11 September 2001. However, as of 2015, at least 22 fatal terror attacks had been carried out in the United States since 2001 by white male United States citizens motivated by white supremacist or other extremist beliefs.
There have been 65 episodes of white supremacists attempting to recruit on college campuses just since Trump took the oath of office. These include a visit by white supremacist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University. Also, you will recall the scheduled visit to UC Berkeley by Milo Yiannopoulos that was cancelled amid student protests. At the cancellation, Trump railed, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
There have also been some four mosque burnings already in 2017.
Are not all these incidents, by the FBI definition, terrorism? And not by Middle-Easterners, not by Muslims, or Hispanics. By mostly white U.S. citizens. So would somebody please explain to me how banning the very people who are NOT committing acts of terrorism in this country, and who are, in fact, often the victims of violence, is going to make us safer?
Trump’s latest National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council last month, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting. And he is right. I have a number of Muslim friends, and I have read some parts of the Quran, and Islam is indeed a religion of peace and tolerance. In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists.
While I do not deny that Daesh and other terrorist groups made up mainly of people of Middle-Eastern origin exist, the reality is the U.S. is not their primary target. However, the travel ban is likely to make the U.S. more prone to terrorism from without. More than 800 career diplomats signed a dissent cable addressed to Rex Tillerson, secretary of state. The cable said Mr. Trump’s order will have “little practical effect in improving public safety” because a “vanishingly small number” of immigrants to the U.S. have committed acts of terrorism. “The net result… will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States,” it said, “rather it will be a drop in international good will toward Americans.” There are a number of ways in which the ban may make us less safe:
- It supports terrorists’ claims that the U.S. is at war with Islam
- It harms critically important U.S. relations with our partners in the Middle East.
- It will increase anti-American sentiment
- It directly undermines our key allies in the Middle East.
- It discourages all Muslims — at home and abroad — from assisting U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
- It puts U.S. troops in grave danger.
- It could lead to retaliation from other countries.
To those who cheer and applaud this ban, let me just say that you are safer among a crowd of Middle-Eastern immigrants than you are among the same size crowd of white Americans. The Middle-Easterners are almost certainly not carrying loaded guns under their belts. Think about it.