Religion is very important to me. I’m not unusual. According to a recent Pew report, three-quarters of Americans said that religion was at least “somewhat important” in their lives, and well over half said that it was “very important.” Only 11 percent said that it was “not important.”
We are privileged to live in a country where our respective faiths are generally protected and respected. Of course, there are the random acts of bigotry, like overturned gravestones, the heckling of men and women in religious garb and the destruction of religious icons. Sometimes Muslims live in fear, sometimes Jews and sometimes Christians are the ones picking up the shattered glass from their vandalized churches.
But for the most part, we do not cower in basements to read the New Testament, the Torah or the Quran. While religion might only be “somewhat important,” the right to believe or disbelieve without any sanction or explanation is the single most important incident of our collective citizenship.
That is why I was smiling on Wednesday evening and again on Thursday morning when I learned President Trump’s second “travel ban” was blocked by courts in Hawaii and Maryland.
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Because, and you have to listen to me closely without putting on the cartoonish “anti-” and “pro-” immigration uniforms, this travel ban was not aimed at travel. It was aimed at religion.
Most of those who support Trump’s attempts to limit the issuance of visas to citizens of certain countries truly believe there is a nexus between the nationality of those citizens and the bombs that explode in marketplaces and churches, outside synagogues and at airports. More important, they believe that it is not only the passports of those citizens that predict the propensity toward terror, but their professed faith.
I know our president believed that, at least judging from what he said on the campaign trail, when he was “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” To be fair, he added that the shutdown would only be temporary, until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Of course, given the agility of our politicians and the speed with which they act, that means we'll be waiting until the 12th day in the month of Never.
When the administration tried to present its first, ill-fated immigration initiative as just a travel ban, most of us who remembered his comments about Muslims said “that’s not what you said the first time, Mr. President.” We also recalled the pithy observations of one of Trump’s policy gurus, Stephen Miller, who was instrumental in crafting the original, ill-fated ban and who has a history of attacking “Islamofascism.” Miller confirmed in a Fox News interview that the second ban was basically the first one wrapped up in prettier paper. In fact, he said, “Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country.”
That policy outcome was to make sure that immigrants from majority-Muslim countries would not be able to come into the country, in some cases for 90 days, in some cases for much longer, in some cases permanently.
Another reason the travel ban is actually a Muslim ban is because it conveniently forgot to put Venezuela on the list, the native country of Carlos the Jackal, a most prolific terrorist, or Colombia, or Ireland, or Croatia, or Cuba, or many other countries with non-Muslim majority populations that have been the source of much of the world’s terrorist acts over the past 40 years. Here are some of the groups that have been responsible for the majority of the confirmed terrorist attacks since 1980, according to the National Consortium on Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism:
The Ku Klux Klan, Medellin Drug Cartel, Irish Republican Army, Chicano Liberation Front, Aryan Nation, Gay Liberation Front, National Front for the Liberation of Cuba, Jewish Defense League, Anti-Castro Group, American Indian Movement and the May 19 Communist Order. If they were still around, you could throw in the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers, and you’d probably have more communists and atheists setting off bombs than Muslims.
But for some reason, it is popular to conflate Muslims with terror and Muslim immigrants with terrorists. This is why the revised travel ban was doomed to at least short-term failure, because the people who were closest to the president acknowledged that its central purpose hadn’t changed since day one: Keep the bad Muslims out of the country until we can figure out who the good ones are.
Replace Muslim with Jew, Catholic, gay, black, nun, Irishman, Rudy Giuliani or any other random classification, and see how well that would hold up in court. It wouldn’t, and it hasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware there is a troubling confluence of Islamist philosophy and violent reaction. There are very few people who commit terror in the name of Christianity, even though there are a lot of Christians who have committed terror over the years. But the fact that far too many people commit terror in the name of Islam does not mean that they are true Muslims or that they represent the faith.
This travel ban was both too broad and too narrow. It was doomed to failure the minute the Trump supporters said it was “the same basic policy.”
So, back to the drawing board, Mr. President. And this time, take the crayons out of amateurs’ hands, otherwise Barron will be ready for Medicare by the time you get this right.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.