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The Duplicity of American Muslim Influencers And The ‘So-called Muslim Ban’

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As we approach the beginning of another painful year of the full enforcement of Presidential Proclamation 9645 (a.k.a. ‘the Muslim ban’) that effectively bars citizens of several Muslim majority countries from entering into the United States, the silence remains deafening. As I expected, most of the world has conveniently forgotten about this policy, which thus far has separated over 3,000 American families from their spouses and other immediate relatives. In June 2019, the Brennan Center of Justice notes that: The ban has also kept at least 1,545 children from their American parents and 3,460 parents from their American sons and daughters. While silence and apathy from the general public on this matter is to be expected— after all, it is not their families who are impacted— what is particularly troubling is the response that is beginning to emerge from some corners of the American Muslim social landscape.

While most Muslims and Muslim groups have been vocal in their condemnation of Presidential Proclamation 9645, other prominent voices have not. Shadi Hamid sought to rationalize the executive order on technical grounds arguing that it was a legally plausible interpretation. Perhaps this is true, but some of the other points made by Hamid are quite questionable. For example, he curiously contends that:

The decision does not turn American Muslims like myself into “second-class citizens,” and to insist that it does will make it impossible for us to claim that we have actually become second-class citizens, if such a thing ever happens.

I don’t know— being forced to choose exile in order to remain with one’s family certainly does sound like being turned into a ‘second-class citizen’ to me. Perhaps the executive order does not turn Muslims like himself, as he notes, into second-class citizens, but it definitely does others, unless it is possible in Hamid’s mind to remain a first-class citizen barred from living with his own spouse and children for completely arbitrary reasons, like me. To be fair to Hamid, in the same article he does comment that the executive order is a morally questionable decision, noting that he is “still deeply uncomfortable with the Supreme Court’s ruling” and that “It contributes to the legitimization and mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry.”

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On the other hand, more recently others have shown open disdain for those who are angered about the ‘so-called Muslim ban.’ On June 6th, 2019, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, a Senior Faculty Member at Zaytuna College, Islamic scholar and the founder of the Lamppost Education Initiative, rationalized the ban on spurious security grounds. He commented that,

The so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his potential. But, to be fair, a real Muslim ban would mean that no Muslim from any country should be allowed in the US. There are about 50 Muslim majority countries. Trump singled out only 7 of them, most of which are war torn and problem countries. So, it is unfair to claim that he was only motivated by a hatred for Islam and Muslims.

First, despite how redundant and unnecessary this point is to make again, one ought to be reminded that between 1975 and 2015, zero foreigners from the seven nations initially placed on the banned list (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) killed any Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and zero Libyans or Syrians have ever even been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that same time period. I do not think these numbers have changed over the last 4 years either. If policy decisions are supposed to be made on sound empirical evidence and data, then there is even less justification for the ban.

Second, Bin Hamid Ali comments that ‘the so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his [Trump’s] potential.’ Whoa… hold on; on edge about his potential? For the millions of people banned from entering the United States and the thousands of Muslim families connected to these millions of people, this ‘potential’ has been more than realized. To reduce the ‘so-called Muslim ban’ to just targeting ‘war torn and problem countries’ is to reduce our family members—our husbands, wives, and children—to (inaccurate) statistics and gross stereotypes. Are spouses from Syria or Yemen seeking to reunite with their legally recognized spouses or children any less deserving to be with their immediate family members because they hail from ‘problem countries’? How can one be concerned with stereotypes while saying something like this? Is this not the exact thing that Abdullah bin Hamid Ali seeks to avoid? Surely the Professor would not invoke such stereotypes to justify the racial profiling of black American citizens. What makes black non-Americans, Arabs, and Iranians any different when it comes to draconian immigration profiling? From a purely Islamic perspective, the answer is absolutely nothing.

More recently, Sherman Jackson, a leading Islamic intellectual figure at the University of Southern California, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity, also waded into this discussion. In his essay, he reframed the Muslim ban as a question of identity politics rather than basic human right, pitting Muslim immigrants against what he calls ‘blackamericans’ drawing some incredibly questionable, nativist, and bigoted conclusions. Jackson in a recent blog responding to critiques by Ali al-Arian about his own questionable affiliations with authoritarian Arab regimes comments:

Al-Arian mentions that,

“the Muslim American community seemed united at least in its opposition to the Trump administration.”  He and those who make up this alleged consensus are apparently offended by Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.  But a Blackamerican sister in Chicago once asked me rhetorically why she should support having Muslims come to this country who are only going to treat her like crap.

These are baffling comments to make about ‘Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.’ Jackson creates a strawman by bringing up an anecdotal story that offers a gross generalization that clearly has prejudiced undertones of certain Muslim immigrants. Most interesting, however is how self-defeating Jackson’s invocation of identity politics is considering the fact that a large number of the ‘blackamerican’ Muslims that he is concerned about themselves have relatives from Somalia and other countries impacted by the travel ban. As of 2017, there were just over 52,000 Americans with Somali ancestry in the state of Minnesota alone. Are Somali-Americans only worth our sympathy so long as they do not have Somali spouses? What Jackson and Bin Hamid Ali do not seem to understand is that these Muslim immigrants they speak disparagingly of, by in large, are coming on family unification related visas.

Other people with large online followings have praised the comments offered by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and Sherman Jackson. The controversial administrator of the popular The Muslim Skeptic website, Daniel Haqiqatjou, in defense of Jackson’s comments, stated:

This is the first time I have seen a prominent figure downplay the issue. And I think Jackson’s assessment is exactly right: The average American Muslim doesn’t really care about this. There is no evidence to indicate that this policy has had a significant impact on the community as a whole. Travel to the US from those four countries affected by the ban was already extremely difficult in the Obama era.

What Haqiqatjou seems to not realize is that while travel from these countries was difficult, it was not as ‘extremely difficult’ as he erroneously claims it was. The US issued 7,727 visas to Iranian passport holders in 2016 prior to the ban. After the ban in 2018, that number dropped to 1,449. My own wife was issued a B1/B2 Tourist visa to meet my family in 2016 after approximately 40 days of administrative processing which is standard for US visa seekers who hold Iranian passports. On the other hand, she was rejected for the same B1/B2 Tourist visa in 2018 after a grueling 60+ day wait due to Presidential Proclamation 9645. At the behest of the Counselor Officer where we currently live, she was told to just finish the immigration process since this would put her in a better position to receive one of these nearly impossible to get waivers. She had her interview on November 19, 2018, and we are still awaiting the results of whatever these epic, non-transparent ‘extreme vetting’ procedures yield. Somehow despite my wife being perfectly fine to enter in 2016, three years later, we are entering the 10th month of waiting for one of these elusive waivers with no end time in sight, nor any guarantee that things will work out. Tell me how this is pretty much the same as things have always been?

What these commentators seem to not realize is that the United States immigration system is incredibly rigid. One cannot hop on a plane and say they want to immigrate with an empty wallet to start of Kebab shop in Queens. It seems as if many of these people that take umbrage at the prospects of legal immigration believe that the immigration rules of 2019 are the same as they were in 1819. In the end, it is important to once again reiterate that the Muslim immigrants Jackson, Bin Hamid Ali and others are disparaging are those who most likely are the family members of American Muslim citizens; by belittling the spouses and children of American Muslims, these people are belittling American Muslims themselves.

Neo-nationalism, tribalism, and identity politics of this sort are wholly antithetical to the Islamic enterprise. We have now reached the point where people who are considered authority figures within the American Islamic community are promoting nativism and identity politics at the expense of American Muslim families. Instead of trying to rationalize the ‘so-called Muslim Ban’ via appeals to nativist and nationalist rhetoric, influential Muslim leaders and internet influencers need to demonstrate empathy and compassion for the thousands of US Muslim families being torn apart by this indefinite Muslim ban that we all know will never end so long as Donald Trump remains president. In reality, they should be willing to fight tooth-and-nail for American Muslim families. These are the same people who regularly critique the decline of the family unit and the rise of single-parent households. Do they not see the hypocrisy in their positions of not defending those Muslim families that seek to stay together?

If these people are not willing to advocate on behalf of those of us suffering— some of us living in self-imposed exile in third party countries to remain with our spouses and children— the least they can do is to not downplay our suffering or even worse, turn it into a political football (Social Justice Warrior politics vs. traditional ‘real’ Islam). It seems clear that if liberal Muslim activists were not as outspoken on this matter, these more conservative voices would take a different perspective. With the exception of Shadi Hamid, the other aforementioned names have made efforts to constrain themselves firmly to the ‘traditional’ Muslim camp. There is no reason that this issue, which obviously transcends petty partisan Muslim politics, ought to symbolize one’s allegiance to any particular social movement or camp within contemporary Islamic civil society.

If these people want a ‘traditional’ justification for why Muslim families should not be separated, they ought to be reminded that one of al-Ghazali’s 5 essential principles of the Shari’a was related to the protection of lineage/family and honor (ḥifẓ al-nasl). Our spouses are not cannon fodder for such childish partisan politics. We will continue to protect our families and their honor regardless of how hostile the environment may become for us and regardless of who we have to name and shame in the process.

When I got married over a year prior to Donald Trump being elected President, I vowed that only Allah would separate me from my spouse. I intend on keeping that vow regardless of what consequences that decision may have.

Photo courtesy: Adam Cairns / The Columbus Dispatch

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Joseph J. Kaminski is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of International Relations at the International University of Sarajevo (IUS). He received his PhD in 2014 from Purdue University under the supervision of the late Michael A. Weinstein and has been at IUS since September 2014. During this time, he has been on numerous exchanges and has recently given guest lectures in Turkey, Kosovo, Lithuania, and Portugal. His research interests primarily lie at the intersection of Islam, sociology, and political theory. In 2017, his first book, The Contemporary Islamic Governed State: A Reconceptualization was published in Khaled Abou El Fadl’s series at Palgrave and has been positively reviewed in the academic journals Politics and Religion and İnsan & Toplum Dergisi as well in the online magazine KismetOnline. The book’s preface was written by Professor Abou El Fadl. Since then he has published a few more articles and book chapters and is currently working on a second manuscript nearing completion that offers a critical analysis of the continuities and discontinuities between Islam and Liberalism as discourses more broadly defined.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. aisha

    September 20, 2019 at 5:06 PM

    This was a a really good essay. The trend of some Muslim leaders justifying the policies of Trump is really worrying. The problem is that the people doing this motivated by a whole other set of worries. Opposing the Muslim ban or American policy requires the community to ally with groups and causes that are gainst Islamic values such as abortion, same sex marriage, and acceptance of transgenderism. This problem leads to cognitive dissonance such that people like Haqiqatjou or Hamid bin Ali are worried that pressure will brought to bear upon us to support these things for people inside the community.That is the progressive Muslims could use the alliance as opening from which they can try to demand radical changes to Islam as we know it. Can you ally with lesbians and gays on the Muslim ban and tstill oppose gay marriage for Muslim couples? When we say that we support the rights of people to live as they please and therefore ally with these other groups: what do we owe these other groups in turn for their support of us? It is true that they claim to want nothing in return, but a the same time they will be sympathetic towards anyone within the community who wants imams to perform same sex marriages. Fearing this outcome in the very long or intermedium term, people like Haqiqatjou and Hamid bin Ali are trying to stop this now by allying with the right. They see the right particularly in its Christian variety as being our allies/ potential allies against the secular onslaught. Evangelicals share in common with us that they do not want liberals and progressives to tell us how to live, who can lead prayers, and teaching our children what’s right and what’s wrong. However, right wing evangelicals have no problem with dictating morality whether through policy making or through wars. For them, we we are misguided heathens not People of the Book who have at least some of the truth. By contrast, liberals and especially leftists are uncomfortable about telling others what to do so there is the possibility fo an accommodationist strategy in a permissive society if we ally with them today. On the other hand, a right wing victory on abortion and gay marriage will be deeply unpopular in most of the country. People may be fine with restrictions on abortions especially in the final trimester but a total ban like the right wants will brin fitna rather than less promiscuity. In a democracy, the right’s policies can overturned by a more liberal government or ignored by the more liberal states in the country by invoking state’s rights. Plus, if the right loes (and they are already deeply hated), the conservatives in the community who allied with the right will lose politically in the community. The Progressive Muslims will acuse onservatives in the community as being like the evangelicals or like Islamic groups back home who use state power to make society Islamic. The people who supported Trump today will be portrayed as monsters and terrorists by the Progressives tomorrow. The Progressive Muslims will be able to say that they cared about the ummah during its time of need whereas the self styled religious ones were preoccupied with the minutee of ritual. This will give them legitimacy when they want to try to change Islam so that its values become the same as the permissive society we live in. Remember Ataturk succeeded at destroying Islam in Turkey b/c he saved Turkey from being conquered by the West, and being given to the Greeks, the British, and the Armenians to be sliced up between them like a cake. Mustafa Kemal, ven though he suppressed Islam and abolished the Kalifat, is called Ataturk even by religious Turkish Muslims b/c he was their savior. Besides, a ban on gay marriage or abortion will not make society less permissive so the challenges of raising families here will still exist. Also, if the right evr got everything it wanted, it could impose sharia bans or insist on Christian prayers in public schools where our children will participate in rituals where they will be encouraged to say things about Prophet Isa (May peace be upon him) that we know are wrong. In short, people who want to ally with the right should be careful what they wish for but it is understable why this is happening.

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