Trump’s Muslim Ban is Terrible but the Liberal Left’s Response is Impotent

I’m a Tangerine Demagogue!

The new administration’s Executive Orange to ban all people from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States is nothing more than the latest in a line of hostile policies going back to at least 2001. However, it seems that many on what is laughably called the Left have forgotten the last 16 years and are reacting like this is a watershed moment.

Since Trump’s election the most common response of people who think of themselves as Left wing (but who, we will see, are neoliberal centrists) has been disbelief. This response is perfectly summed up by The Kaiser Chiefs lyric ‘Oh my God I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home’. These people thought that it couldn’t happen, they thought they were safe in their neoliberal bubble where it was OK to carry out the War on Terror as long as it was done within the confines of politically correct rhetoric. As long as ‘home’ was a nice place where people didn’t explicitly scapegoat Muslims for political gain they could tolerate the paradigm in which we live.

Then Trump came along and stopped pussy-footing around and turned implicit attitudes explicit. ‘I’ll bomb the shit out of them’ he proclaimed, to rapturous applause. The problem is, Obama and Bush before him had already bombed the shit out of them. America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 despite not officially being at war with anyone. That’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day. The neoliberals said very little about this, in part because they were so horrified that an orange egomaniac was SAYING that he would do the same. Apparently if you bomb people but don’t talk about it that is fine, but if you promise to bomb people in the future then you’re the same as Hitler.

Indeed, the ban on people entering the US from seven countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — is quite a moderate policy compared to dropping bombs on their homes, schools, hospitals and weddings. Instead of killing those people Trump is only restricting their ability to enter one country. The fact that of these seven countries six have been subject to large scale lethal violence (a.k.a. ‘war’) on the part of the previous administration has skipped the minds of those freaking out over this ban.

The hypocrisy involved in this Rorschach politics seems to be affecting all sides. The Trump administration claims that this ban is about security, pointing to incidents like the San Bernardino shootings as a result of not having a ban. This is completely dishonest as neither of the shooters would have been subject to the ban because Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are not on the list. Similarly, as a recent article in The Canary makes clear:

A study of Daesh (Isis/Isil) personnel files by the Combatting Terrorism Centre of the US Military Academy at West Point painted a different picture of Trump’s list.
The country where Daesh is most recruiting terrorists is Saudi Arabia, which sourced 797 Daesh fighters. This is followed by Tunisia (640) and Morocco (260).
But those countries don’t make Trump’s list.

So this isn’t about security, this isn’t about preventing terrorism or mass shootings or any of the paper-thin excuses offered by the White House. But Trump supporters will see what they want to see (the Rorschach effect) and believe this is somehow making them safer. And after all, it isn’t their freedom of movement that is being taken away so in their bubble there’s no problem.

On the flipside, those who are most noisy in their opposition to the ban are also only seeing what they want to. They talk as though we are crossing the Rubicon and entering a new, fascist phase of Western politics. The number of comparisons with Hitler are matched only by their ability to praise themselves for daring to speak out. For example, the smug darling of the faux-Left Owen Jones (who has spent most of the last year slagging off the genuinely Left wing Jeremy Corbyn) claims:

History won’t just damn Trump over the #MuslimBan — it will damn those who lacked the courage to speak out about it. If history is a guide, this only the start of more systematic persecution. Trump will use any pretext he can to accelerate it. Like Jews in the 1930s, we all have to be prepared to stand by and defend Muslims in the West, or far worse is to come.

Far worse… like dropping a bomb on a Muslim-majority country every 20 minutes? Far worse like having a global network of secret prisons where people — predominantly Muslims — are taken to for torture after being kidnapped? Far worse like invading one of the few Muslim countries where women are treated with respect, completely fucking it up and then parading around claiming to be a progressive feminist? Far worse like killing people without any kind of a trial and then labelling them ‘enemy combatants’ as your excuse? Far worse like spying on literally every electronic communication in the world but selectively locking up people — again, predominantly Muslims— for visiting the ‘wrong’ website? Far worse like the FBI and Special Branch using mass surveillance to locate people — again, predominantly Muslims—who they can successfully entrap and place before a jury in a way that’s almost guaranteed a conviction? Far worse like an ever-expanding definition of terrorism that will soon encompass anyone who opposes anything the security state does?

Because that’s all already happening, and it’s all already far worse than a travel restriction. As bigoted, scapegoating and deceitful as the Trump administration’s #MuslimBan is, it is nothing more than a moderate continuation of policies begun under Bush and perpetuated under Obama. Nothing has fundamentally changed, except that it’s now an Orange Republican rather than a Black Democrat who is the face of these policies.

But apparently that makes all the difference to quite a lot of people. People who said nothing when Obama failed to close Guantanamo, failed to shut down the CIA’s torture program, failed to repeal any aspect of the Patriot Act, massively expanded the drone program and massively expanded black operations so that there are US special forces in over 130 countries. None of that was met with cries of ‘Hitler!’ or claims that this was a new era of anti-Muslim devastation.

The sad truth is that all of these people who are emoting about Trump’s ban and patting themselves on the back for opposing it do not give a shit about Muslims. If they did, they’d have said something earlier when Muslims were getting blown to pieces by US, British and Saudi bombs on a constant basis.

The proof is in the pudding. On the first weekend of the new Trump presidency there were drone strikes in Yemen that killed — yep, you’ve guessed it — Muslims. None of the neoliberal outrage brigades said a damn thing. They just conveniently ignored it, as they conveniently ignored the thousands killed under Obama’s drone strikes. Because it was happening ‘over there’ in Arab-land they had just the same callous apathy towards these deaths as a hardcore Trump supporter, or a hardcore Bush supporter before that. No outcry, no wringing of their hands on social media, no mention of fascism.

But what could be more fascist than politically motivated assassination via Hellfire missile? What is more like Hitler — extra-judicial execution i.e. murder, or ignoring visas issued to Iranians and not letting them back into the US after they’d gone home for a wedding or birthday party? The latter is nasty, scapegoating, bigoted, two-faced and ridiculous. The former is psychotic.

But for neoliberals to admit that would mean admitting their own hypocrisy over the last eight years. It would mean admitting that they care far more about moderate policies in their home countries than extreme policies abroad. It would mean admitting that they don’t actually give a fuck about the lives and rights of Muslims.

It appears that the mantra for neoliberals for the next four years is ‘We Stand With Muslims! (but not too close because we don’t want to get hit by the drones we tacitly support)’. In short, we’re going to have to do a lot better.