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The original sin of US foreign policy in the Middle East

Trump’s policy attempts to apply a tourniquet to the perceived 'Muslim problem' that has been manufactured and now exacerbated by the west's wayward dealings in the Middle East.

No Ban, No Wall protests at PHL airport, January 29, 2017. Picture by Joe Piette/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0. Some rights reserved.The controversial ‘Muslim ban’ that has led to the widespread panic and a second spike of outrage since the Woman’s March against Trump’s inauguration is a sobering reflection of the sordid state of affairs in the US. It reveals the failures of past administrations – not just the current – in managing the most insidious symptoms of the longstanding, myopic western policy toward the Middle East. While the new immigration-blocking measure is framed in the media and in global discussions as the derailing of American policy, it is not the unique by-product of Trump’s isolationist train of thought. Far from signaling a new American agenda, it signals a naked national security strategy that further entrenches the stance of the “west versus the rest.” 

The executive order, which attempts to curb immigration of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, taken from Obama’s 2014 list of “failed states” in the region no less, is a move to mop up the run-off of the damaging western exploits in the region. Rather than maintain a ‘split-brain’ policy of violence toward Muslims abroad and a semblance of tolerance at home to mask overseas indiscretions, Trump's new policy is actually more in keeping with longstanding US priorities and geo-strategic goals than not; foremost among them being support for the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, the curbing of ‘terror’ which replaced the threat of communism, and quenching its addiction to oil.

Institutionalised forms of discrimination at home have also been a standard feature of American policy following 9-11

Trump’s policy attempts to apply a tourniquet to the perceived 'Muslim problem' that has been manufactured and now exacerbated by the west's wayward dealings in the Middle East. Institutionalised forms of discrimination at home have also been a standard feature of American policy following 9-11, and must be addressed as such. Racial profiling was etched into US law via the unconstitutional Patriot Act in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon leading to the ‘war on terror’ with no ‘sunset’ in sight. The prioritising of national security over civil liberties laid the foundation for this plaster-policy signed by the new American president and temporarily stayed by a federal court.

If such policies are nothing new, then, why are people only just starting to take note and to agitate against it? For the first time, many feel personally affected as either they or someone they know has been directly hit by the travel ban. Shielded as they were until now from the ethical implications and misguided missions of the 9-11 wars, the collective psyche is unsettled by the reality of American double standards. It is also due to the way in which this edict was unflinchingly issued without a modicum of political correctness, whereas people had been used to the more subtle and diversionary tactics of a more left-leaning administration. Despite the wake-up call provided by the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ and the act of judicial activism, which provided a partial check on Trump’s executive power, there is still a general reluctance to see the bigger-picture problems. 

Why aren’t people similarly protesting the targeted killing of Muslims overseas by western forces or indeed the curtailing of civil liberties at home? This reflects a selective blindness induced by systemic obfuscation and hypocrisy. Bad-apple theories, which pin the blame on ‘rogue’ actors, such as Trump, absolve the system and its constituent parts, of their complicity in this fiasco. Foreign leaders from the British prime minister to European Union officials who have condemned Trump’s executive order are mainly grandstanding to wipe their own hands of guilt for similar discriminatory practices. The EU in particular is mired in a regional refugee crisis, for which it is increasingly evading responsibility, and Brexit is emblematic of this fleeing tendency.

Why aren’t people similarly protesting the targeted killing of Muslims overseas by western forces or indeed the curtailing of civil liberties at home?

Europe has also problematically collapsed its immigration policy under a common counter-terrorism agenda, which only serves to criminalise those seeking refuge from conflicts in which European actors also have a hand. The United States’ next-door neighbour, Canada, took full advantage of the occasion to disingenuously issue a benevolent invitation to all refugees denied entry to America, capitalising on the pre-electoral mantra among Democrats of making a mad-dash for Canada if Trump is elected. This seemingly generous gesture belies an inbuilt national security loophole that ensures that “single male" refugees would be excluded from such an invitation, thus rendering the offer hollow.

Oscar-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s vow of solidarity to boycott this year’s Oscars even if his travel ban is lifted – however nobly-intentioned – still ensures that the status quo of east-west enmity remains intact. Picking up from the plight of those like Farhadi affected by the ban, the Academy of Motion Pictures has even publicly outed itself “as supporters of filmmakers—and the human rights of all people—around the globe.” Such acts of principled defiance may signal a budding transnational ethos of zero-tolerance for discriminatory practices, but for now they remain in the realm of platitudes.

About the author

Mishana Hosseinioun is an associate member of the Department of Politics and International Relations and St Antony’s College at Oxford University, where she earned her doctorate in 2014 at University College. She is president of global consultancy MH Group. Her forthcoming book is Before the Day Dawneth: The Paradox of Progress in the Middle East, published by Palgrave Macmillan.


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