When I was growing up, my best friend at school was a Persian-American named Michael. Michael is not Muslim, but Islam figures in his extended family and he always took pride in his heritage. We had an almost comically American childhood, starting as naive youngsters in elementary school, braving the hellish underworld that is junior high and riding the roller coaster of high school until graduation. We played baseball, went camping and hiking and fishing, rented low-budget horror movies from the Redbox at the grocery store, got into bizarre trouble, etc. Now about to graduate from U.C. Davis, Michael is bound for medical school.
Last summer, while interning in Uganda, I met Omar. Omar is a Muslim of Syrian heritage and a student at Indiana University. He is as American as they come. Fraternity brother? Check. Bawdy sense of humor? Absolutely. Independent thinker constantly welcoming debate? Yessir. I once saw him reading John Stuart Mill while the rest of us tried to sleep on a bumpy hours-long drive through the countryside. What’s more, he brought admirable creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to his work with our development NGO.
These two are personifications of the some of the best qualities and capabilities America offers the world. So I would like an explanation from Donald Trump, or anyone who still supports him, as to why they shouldn’t be allowed to live in this country.
In case you slept through the seismic eruption that occurred in the last two days, Trump has called for a ban on all Muslim immigration – indeed, all Muslim travel – to the United States in reaction to the ISIS attack in San Bernardino.
Trump insisted this does not apply to Muslim U.S. citizens. This misses the point. Had his idea been implemented 40 years ago neither Omar nor Michael would be here. Their families and countless others with similarly bright futures would have been shut out of this country. Knowing there are countless people like them now and in coming generations, how many future leaders, doers, and most importantly, friends, might we lose to fear and ignorance?
The ban is also pointless. Syed Farooq, one half of the killer couple in San Bernardino, was a U.S. citizen and the ban would not have stopped him no matter how hard Trump believed in it. Like many of the misinformed calls for certain gun regulations in reaction to these tragedies, Trump’s suggestion confronts a problem of which the attack was not a symptom. Its error, however, goes much deeper.
The justification for Trump’s proposal is a simple logical calculus: Some Muslims commit acts of terror, posing a threat so great that it is just for us to punish and discriminate against all Muslims. Since, the theory goes, we do not know which are dangerous and which are friendly, we must assume they are all dangerous and treat them as such.
To say this idea is at odds with American values is insufficient. It contravenes the bedrock principles of Western civilization. Through we have not always lived up to it, the idea that people are judged as individuals and not subject to arbitrary punishment is perhaps the most critical plank of Western political order. To endorse the Trump solution is to reject our civilization in its entirety and announce your affinity for tribalistic, authoritarian barbarism. If members of the Trumpenproletariat want to “Make America Great Again” they’d better get busy learning what made it great in the first place. While there is reasonable debate to be had on how to screen immigrants to minimize security risks, to categorically exclude people based on faith is fundamentally unjust.
(Incidentally, it’s worth noting that this behavior does not only occur on the right. See the attempt by some pro-choice activists, such as The Guardian‘s Jessica Valenti, to pin blame for the Planned Parenthood shooting on pro-lifers and Christians, who supposedly encouraged the shooter by vociferously expressing anti-abortion stances. It is subtle, but ultimately the same – a collective assignment of blame for an individual act. This is not surprising coming from Miss Valenti, who has made a career of trafficking in grotesque mischaracterizations of her opponents, but it is still irritating to hear from the political wing that loves to dither on ad nauseam about its supposed high-mindedness).
I am sick of writing about Trump. Yet this unconscionable reprobate, this shameless cretin, this gilded skidmark on the underpants of our polity, demands attention by shouting so loudly and inappropriately that we must answer. You may recognize this as the strategy of a spoiled child. Trump is a spoiled child at sixty-nine. He is the culmination of seven decades of arrested development. Based on the support he is getting, he is not alone.