How Not to Talk About the Muslim Ban

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The executive actions that have been signed in the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency have been a terrifyingly swift attack on the liberties and lives of Muslims and immigrants. Following the rhetoric of his campaign, these executive actions reflect a right-wing, white supremacist, racist, and nativist movement to criminalize and target Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.

In talking about the Muslim ban, let’s make sure our resistance isn’t contributing to Islamophobia:

1) Do explicitly call this what it is: a Muslim ban.

Though the executive order does not use these words, this is no doubt a Muslim ban. Not only are all of the prohibited countries Muslim-majority (Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia), but religious minorities (i.e. anyone who isn’t Muslim) from those countries will be prioritized for entry into the U.S.

What will amount to a religious test of devoutness to Islam will be included in the interview and application process for the issuance of visas and immigration benefits. Not only have green-card holders been detained and denied entry into the U.S., Muslims with U.S. citizenship, including a 5 year-old boy, are being detained at airports and interrogated with questions including “do you pray 5 times a day?,” “are you a devout Muslim,” “what school of thought do you follow?,” and “what Muslim scholars do you follow?” by Customs agents that then pass on the information to the FBI. In our resistance to the Muslim ban, we must be explicit in denouncing the deliberate targeting of Muslims under the guise of national security.

2) Don’t invoke “American founding values” as reasons to oppose this Muslim ban

Invoking America’s “founding values” and “founding fathers” erases the fact that people of color — Black and Indigenous people specifically — were excluded as equals and were enslaved, brutalized, abused, and exploited by these very founding fathers, in the name of those very “founding values” we are invoking – values that were put in place to advance white supremacy. Instead, explicitly name and denounce white supremacy, white colonization, and white imperialism. In our resistance, we must center the voices of Black and brown Muslims. Only then can we build the America we want, together.

3) Do call out the systems and policies that built and maintained the conditions that created this.

In order to condemn and confront the policies of Trump and his administration, we must also provide an honest analysis of the normalization of such policies through the previous administration’s wars, justified through the demonization and dehumanization of Muslims. The Obama administration expanded the drone program and surveillance of Muslims, aided in the white supremacist occupation of Palestine and the militarization of our borders and policing, presided over a record-breaking numbers of deportations and the continuing exploitation of Black and brown.

Institutionalized Islamophobia did not begin with Trump, nor did it begin 15 years ago, but began the moment the first African Muslims were enslaved, subjugated, and brought to America. Only by calling out these systems and policies that existed before Trump can we understand how to resist the racist institutions that are in place to maintain status quo and distract from addressing the oppressive reality and history of America. As Namira Islam said, “[the] Muslim ban falls into the wider white supremacist system of policing and immigration restrictions on the other because of ‘safety.’”

4) Don’t say things like “refugees are good for our economy.”

Not only does this statement commodify refugees and immigrants and erase the physical and mental ailments many of them are resiliently overcoming, but it also suggests that one’s life is only valuable if they can contribute to American capitalism. This rhetoric mirrors that of Jeff Sessions’ as he shamelessly advocated for “skill-based” immigration at his confirmation hearing. The value of human life is not and should not be linked to an unforgiving and oppressive capitalistic society.

5) Do humanize.

This is simple. Refugees, immigrants, Muslims, are human – regardless of age, regardless of whether they’re coming by themselves or with family, regardless of skills or education.

6) Don’t reduce Muslims to national security.

Many people have suggested that Muslim refugees and immigrants would “strengthen national security” by acting as informants or contributing to military strength. This argument reinforces the false perception that there is an inherent link between Islam and violence and that Muslims are somehow aware of terrorist plots. This reduction of the Muslim community to only be mentioned in the context of national security and to be valued in their “usefulness” to fighting terror is offensive, insulting, and inherently Islamophobic.

This Islamophobic narrative is used to justify military intervention and violence abroad, which in turn is used to justify suspicion, surveillance, and profiling of Muslims at home. This cycle of using violent narratives to reinforce stereotypes that justify military intervention abroad perpetuates prejudice and anti-Muslim sentiment — creating an atmosphere of suspicion of Muslims, seeing them as “potential terrorists,” feeding into hate crimes and harassment of Muslims, and is the same rhetoric that is used to justify profiling and government surveillance of Muslims.

It encourages senseless violence against Muslim bodies (as if this is miraculously justified when Muslims too, are inflicting that violence upon their own communities) and ignores the fact that the U.S. national security system is faulty, discriminatory, and repressive.

7) Don’t perpetuate Islamophobia by suggesting what countries supposedly “should be on the list instead.”

This contradicts our opposition of the Muslim ban, as it shows that we aren’t actually against the ban itself, just against the countries chosen. The point is that there shouldn’t be a list. Suggesting other countries to be included insinuates that immigrants from these other countries are to be feared because they are inherently violent or terrorists, which only furthers Islamophobia. Furthermore, listing more countries to be added only encourages broadening the Muslim ban, not ending it.

8) Do reach out to Muslim friends, Muslim organizers, Muslim activists, Muslim journalists.

As a Muslim woman and an advocate for social justice, I am terrified, disappointed, heartbroken, outraged, and exhausted. My messages are overwhelmed with friends fearing for their family members and loved ones who they may now never be able to see again. Born in Egypt and becoming a naturalized citizen in high-school, I recognize – and all Muslims must recognize – that our status, our citizenship, does not protect us.

Trump’s Muslim ban impacts green-card holders and permanent residents, as they were first included in the ban and are now subject to increased interrogation for entry on a “case by case basis” to a country many of them have lived in for years. Soon enough, this could undoubtedly be expanded to include naturalized citizens. I, and so many Muslims, recognize this undeniable possibility. We are not safe, we never have been. We are targets of violence, surveillance, and violations of our civil liberties, here and abroad. Reach out to us, support us, uplift us.

This article first appeared on Dina El-Rifai’s blog.

Dina El-Rifai is an American Muslim, born in Cairo, Egypt. With a Bachelor of Social Work from Belmont University in Nashville, she accepted a Policy fellowship position in Washington, DC for the National Office of Public Policy and Advocacy with American Friends Service Committee to focus on institutionalized Islamophobia, mass incarceration, law enforcement policies, immigrant rights, and discrimination. Her interests include racial justice, human rights, cats, and food. You can connect with her @dinaerifai.