Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Jan 30th, 2017

The Statute against Liberty

In 1886, slightly more than a century after the birth of the United States of America, the government of France gave a gift to my country: the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York City’s busy harbor. Less than a decade later my great grandfather saw that shining symbol of freedom on his way from Sicily to make a better life in this great new democratic experiment. Since then millions of immigrants have been welcomed and millions of tourists have witnessed its historic importance. Had the torch on that statue been extinguished, I would not be here, nor would millions of others who are proud to be American.

Today the Statue of Liberty has been branded with a “No Trespassing” sign by a statute against liberty signed by executive disorder from the pen of President Donald J. Trump. If you are coming from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen, you are now a suspected terrorist by default. You are also assumed to be a terrorist by merely being a Muslim from these countries, although the major terrorist attack on American soil on 9/11 was carried out by extremists from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Lebanon; none of these countries are on the list. The attacks in Paris in November, 2015 and Brussels in March, 2016 were done by men with European passports. Omar Mateen, the disturbed Florida security guard, killed 49 and wounded as many in a nightclub shooting, but he was an American citizen of Afghan descent. The important variable is not where someone is from or the mere fact that person is a Muslim, but how and why some individuals in all societies engage in terrorism. Dylaan Roof, who murdered nine members of a black church is as much a terrorist as Omar Mateen. In both cases it was hatred and racism that led to slaughter.

As might be expected, every human rights organization has been quick to condemn this act of vengeance diplomacy. “Trump’s latest executive order is likely to hurt the people most in need: those fleeing violence and terrorism – and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less,” noted Grace Meng of Human Rights Watch. Trump’s tone deafness to human rights is not only in curbing immigration of people fleeing terrorism and tyranny, but doing so on a day in which he commemorated the Holocaust in a tweet without mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism.

By singling out Muslims as targets and claiming that Christians from the region will be welcomed, Trump and his alt-right cronies ignore the fact that the vast number of terrorist attacks are by Muslims killing fellow Muslims. ISIS has killed thousands of fellow Muslims who happen to be Shi’a; the war in Syria pits Sunni jihadi groups against the minority Alawis and President Asad; the proxy war led by Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen has resulted in thousands more, including women and children. Terrorism is global and cannot be stopped by draconian visa requirements, just as building a not-so-great-wall-of-Mexico will not prevent illegal immigration into the United States. Billions of dollars will be wasted on boondoggles rather than invested in the aid and diplomacy needed to undo the damage inflicted in the Middle East by years of foreign intervention and support for ruthless dictators.

There is no little irony in the propagandic hyperbole of this order. We read that “In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.” Yet it is precisely those Americans who routinely engage in acts of bigotry or hatred, especially against race (African Americans), gender (women) and sexual orientation (LGBT) that filled the basket of deplorables voting for Trump. Nationality no more defines bigotry than ethnicity or so-called “race.”

The founding fathers, who fought against tyranny, fought for a country where liberty would be paramount. We would do well to remember the words of Thomas Paine, who advocated an age of reason: “O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the Old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.