How to talk about the #MuslimBan

On Friday, January 27, 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries. I did a quick take on the EO when a draft was first released. I do some things in there I am about to advise you not to do. The language in the EO is framed as National Security. Unless you are National Security professional who understands the intricacies and the framings, the worst thing you can do is respond in a NatSec frame. In words of a well-known admiral, it’s a trap.

The premise is that the only way to see this issue is as one of safety. Yet, nowhere are we promised safety. We have, as part of our founding documents, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The push to say having a life is threatened, means you will concede certain liberties, and allow control over your life by a dominant power.

In fact, there is a fascinating dissonance amongst those who claim the government is too strong and who want more government control over people’s private lives and public engagement. You can see the ruse in play. The issue is not limited government, but a government that aids people. For many, this is anathema to what a society should. Rather, in their worldview, government should be a “strongman” telling people how to live their lives in service to the great leader. It is the belief that liberty is found through servitude.

The NatSec debate gets to the core of that belief, and you can see it in practice in the ways in which one can respond to the EO.

Do Not Say None of These Seven Countries Have Threatened Us

The statement is true. It makes sense when you’re arguing over the construction of the EO. Once the EO is passed, you are conceding that there should be blanket restrictions against Muslims from various countries, just not these countries.

If you ask, “what about Saudi Arabia?” then when the next EO comes out naming Saudi Arabia, you cannot argue against it. You have already asked for it to be banned.

Do Talk About Commitment to Helping Others

As Americans, we have a variety of ways of thinking about our commitments to other people. From Scouting to Kiwanis, our civic society is about serving others. Our religious institutions tell us to help others, to welcome the stranger, to protect the weak, and fight for justice.

Our government should reflect America’s values, we are the ones who live these lives of service and vote in our officials. If I’m not willing to let someone go hungry, I’m not willing to have my government do it for me.

Immigrants come to America because we are a “shining city on a hill.” To build walls around it is to say that we believe our light is not worth seeing. Refugees come to the land of plenty, where people have a generous spirit. To turn them away is to turn away our best selves.

Do Not Say Refugees Have Never Committed a Violent Crime

Refugees are people. Yes, they go through much rigorous vetting than presidential cabinet nominations, but they are human and will make mistakes. When a refugee commits a violent act, you have falsified your own argument.

The trick here is a variation of the bowl of M&Ms analogy. (The Skittles bowl is a racist transformation, to mock the death of Trayvon Martin.) You can say there are no poisonous M&Ms in the bowl, but the second you find one, even one that is not poisonous, but deformed, you have let the fearful define the terms of the debate.

Do Say That Refugees Have Rigths

As Americans, we believe we are endowed with certain inalienable rights granted by our Creator. Unless we believe in a polytheistic system, that same Creator created refugees. While it the norm for fundamentalists of any variety to pick and choose verses of foundational texts to prove their point, we, as a country, should not treat our foundational texts in the same way.

Not only is helping refugees the American thing to do, it is also our obligation by international law. We cannot talk about lawlessness while breaking the law. Our word as a nation has to mean something.

Do Not Just Assign Economic Value to Refugees/Immigrants

Image from Snopes

It is true that Steve Jobs is of Syrian descent, and his biological father migrated to the United States. It is also true that Steve Jobs is a technological revolutionary. However, his life is not measured by economic success. No life is. That argument is utilitarian and diminishes us all.

Human dignity is not tied to economic success. Human value is not computable by simple numbers. Refugees and migrants are people. They need help no matter what. Yes, it is useful to remember that people who come to these shores can do world-changing things, but that is not why we help them.

Do Quote the Poem at the Base of the Statue of Liberty

By melanzane1013 — Emma Lazarus plaque, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8063708

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We do not means test. We do not make people sign promissory notes that they will do great things. We treat people as though they are great. We have that confidence and that surety.

Moving Forward

Notice that the ban affected visa and green card holders. This decision is a first step in going after citizens. Once you establish green card holders do not have a modicum of rights of citizens, it’s easier to go after naturalized citizens.

Asian American have had their citizenship stripped in the past. Not the Japanese-American camps, but before that, in the 1920s. They were told they weren’t American enough, and had it taken from them as a class. The language of “natural born citizen” that was used against President Obama will be used against naturalized citizens.

Once you establish that citizenship of one type is conditional, and you have control of the NatSec dialogue, the next step is strip a suspect class of citizenship, even those who are birthright citizens. This is the step that lets you build your Muslim registry.