How we oppose Trump’s Muslim ban

October 24, 2017

NICOLE COLSON'S article "Trump's new version of the same old racist ban" raised questions for me about what we say when we challenge the travel ban. I am concerned that this is presented as a good argument: "If version 3.0 of the travel ban was really about restricting entry of people from countries with a known terrorist presence, then it would include U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The fact that the ban doesn't proves that the Trump administration's claims are as bogus now as they have been all along."

This already exists as a demand and question for the administration by both liberal and conservative press. Here, it is presented as a way to call out what is identified as the administration's hypocrisy. It issues a challenge: If you were really consistent about wanting to fight terrorism, wouldn't you have included these two other countries in your ban, because these two actually have a "known terrorist presence"?

The Trump administration is inconsistent, we say, and we counter this by saying it should be more consistent. We then set ourselves up in a position, as socialists, to entertain the restriction of entry for some people, while opposing the restriction of entry for others. We are meeting defenders of the global "war on terror" halfway by giving ground to their parameters of debate. We have suggested that Saudis and Pakistanis in theory should be restricted from entering the U.S. based on national security priorities.

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Regardless of whatever else is said in the rest of the article, we have already weakened our ability to argue for the unrestricted right to travel across borders. If this right is not extended equally without equivocation, then it cannot be defended consistently everywhere.

But haven't Pakistanis already suffered enough under the war on terror? We must talk about how there has been an undeclared war on Pakistan for over a decade. An alliance of ruling classes does not provide reprieve for those under the thumb of imperialism. Thousands of Pakistanis in the U.S. were detained and deported in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Over 3,000 more have been killed by drone strikes. Visas issued to Pakistanis dropped by 40 percent in the first five months of 2017.

Outside the U.S., the Saudi state justified deporting 40,000 Pakistani workers earlier this year in response to a series of strikes, saying that many had connections to ISIS. Pakistani migrant workers have also been deported from the European Union on claims of connections to terrorist groups.

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As Pakistani socialist Adaner Usmani has written, "It is a sign of the times--of the pervasive grip of Islamophobia on the minds of activists everywhere--that it seems necessary to remind allies (and ourselves, even) that Pakistan, too, is a country comprised of workers and peasants, of class exploitation and class struggle."

And who would a travel ban against Saudi Arabia affect concretely? In the U.S., the answer is students. That is who accounts for the vast majority of the 125,000 Saudis who live here.

Who benefits from suggesting a travel ban against them? It is useful to recall one recent case, where the American Federation of Teachers, Amnesty International and Western Michigan University issued condemnations of the impending execution of Mujtaba'a al-Sweikat, a 22 year old who was due to fly out five years ago to begin his studies in Michigan, but was arrested for participating in an anti-government protest.

The International Socialist Organization has had individual members of both Pakistani and Saudi heritage. It is not an argument that one can defend knowing the people it actually affects.

THE TRAVEL ban's Islamophobia will be challenged by arguing against its imperial logic. Consider the two countries that have been removed from the travel ban: Iraq was removed from the second version of the ban because it was argued that it undermined the work of the U.S. occupation in Iraq by banning those who had performed a valuable service to it: Iraqi interpreters.

This was carried out through both an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit that chose to make its case through this angle, pressure from politicians and military personnel in the midst of mass protest, and negotiations to allow for the Iraqi elite to travel, in exchange for mass deportations of Iraqi Chaldeans and Kurds.

Sudan was removed from the third Muslim ban--but the process for that began with Obama's partial easing of sanctions. Trump subsequently removed Sudan from the travel ban in September, following what was widely reported as lobbying from Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to move Sudan away from Iran's orbit.

The elite of every country will usually have the power to travel, can do so under the aegis of military protection, and can buy citizenship to other countries. The left has none of these options; it suffers the most from any complete ban or "extreme vetting" in a partial ban. It will hurt our side's ability to challenge imperialism based on the principles of self-determination, open borders and internationalism. Think of how many people may have benefitted from seeing testimony at a congressional hearing of young Pakistani drone attack survivors Nabila and Zubair Rahman who traveled from Waziristan.

Travel bans against whole nations are a form of collective punishment, an embargo on the right to movement across borders, and Muslims have suffered the most from this. The greatest force responsible for wreaking havoc on ordinary people in poorer nations and at home is the U.S. government and military.

Travel bans are racist and those based on the war on terror have and will be used to discipline workers and break their ability to strike. This allows Islamophobia and nationalism to segregate us and poison our communities, especially in the West. Travel bans weaken social movements and left-wing forces in the targeted countries, create a climate where authoritarianism and right-wing forces can gain a hearing, and it is the responsibility of activists here to challenge the imperial policies that undermine these movements.
Sofia Arias, Brooklyn, New York

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