Dur-e-Aden is a PhD student at the University of Toronto
Since the introduction of Trump’s Executive Order which bans individuals from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US, one argument is being put forth by a number of academics, politicians and members of the public whose intentions are good, but their underlying assumptions are unwittingly patronizing towards Muslims. The argument is that this policy will give ISIS a propaganda tool, and will increase recruitment for them. Thus, violence against US (or the west in general) will increase by marginalized Muslims who will join ISIS. However, I believe that this argument misses the mark for four reasons:
First, ISIS’ propaganda is called “propaganda” precisely because it is not based on facts. They have committed the most brutal violence against the US, the West, non-Muslims and other Muslims long before the Trump’s Executive Order was put in place, and will continue to do so even if it is completely repealed. They are not exactly fans of well researched arguments. Yes, they use the narrative of Islam vs. the West, but they have used it even when the policies of countries such as the US have evolved and favored Muslims. For example, Obama drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan since 2010, he refused to use the term Islamic terrorism to avoid lumping together ordinary Muslims with terrorists, his administration struck a nuclear deal with Iran when hard liners within the US were calling for a war, and openly sparred with Netanyahu regarding the issue of Palestine. In the last days of his term, US did not veto the UN Security Council’s resolution against Israeli settlements, and Obama sent aid of $221 million to Palestinians. Additionally, since the introduction of Trump’s executive order, Americans of all backgrounds have joined together to support Muslims by protesting at airports, bringing law suits against the Trump government, and raising awareness in the media. US’s own courts have struck down Trump’s order three times by terming it unconstitutional. Of course, ISIS will never incorporate this in their messaging. Their terrorism always target civilians, the same people who are fighting for the rights of Muslims literally on the streets. ISIS is similar to the white supremacist side of this hate equation. No matter how much evidence you provide that refugees are not the ones involved in crimes or terrorism; or that in the US, more people die from gun violence, domestic violence, while driving or by drowning in bathtubs than terrorism, people opposing refugees will not believe these facts.
Second, this argument assumes that Muslims are MORE likely to resort to violence when faced with grievances, compared to other marginalized groups. However, Trump has been an “equal opportunity offender” (patent pending). For example, Trump’s immigration policy of building the wall will also impact Mexican immigrants. Yet, nobody has made the violence argument in that instance i.e., we should not build a wall because it will increase violence by Mexicans against the US. The opposition to the wall is based on the principal of equality and justice (and that’s how it should be). It is disheartening to see when well-intentioned people don’t see the underlying paternalism in the argument of “don’t ban Muslim refugees because it will make us less secure.” Refugees by definition are seeking “refuge” from something. In the case of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, that group is ISIS itself. If they wanted to join ISIS, why would they risk their lives by escaping it? (Spoiler alert: ISIS does not treat escapees very well). Not to mention that the people in the west who target Muslims with bigotry are not the most knowledgeable regarding the diversity of Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry in the US is directed against all Muslims equally (Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Sufi, Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-e-Hadith, Bohri etc.). Yet will Shias or Ahmadis join ISIS? Unlikely. In short, grievances faced by Muslims are a constant reality and are faced by them across the sectarian and cultural spectrum, yet the number of individuals who join any violent group, let alone ISIS, is very, very small. A cursory look at ISIS shows that within the organization, fighters are refusing to fight, and it is forcibly recruiting children to fight for them. Organizations who have a steady flow of older, capable fighters are less likely to forcibly recruit children since they do not make very good fighters.
Third, it’s true that some individuals from immigrant backgrounds have committed violence. However, these individuals have mentioned issues from Palestine to Drones to Iraq and Syria without the nuance of those policies (e.g., Drones in Pakistan are supported by the Pakistani army itself; Yemen is bombed by Saudi Arabia far more than the US drones; in Syria, apart from western countries, different Muslim countries have different policies and are responsible for oppressing fellow co-religionist etc.). The Times Square bomber, Faisal Shazad, was a naturalized citizen (which is not the same as refugee) from Pakistan. He listed drones as one of his grievances. However, he himself was the son of a retired vice air marshal of Pakistan Army; the same army that has been involved in bombing the Pakistani tribal areas with much less precision than drones, and have arguably killed a lot more civilians. The militant groups such as ISIS have created a negative perception of the US based on incomplete or false information. That perception is not going to suddenly become more negative based on one policy. Furthermore, from a research perspective, using examples of cases such as Faisal Shazad who list their grievances does not give us a complete perspective because of selection bias. If we are only talking to people who have committed violence and have provided grievances as their reason, we don’t get any information regarding a much larger group which also faces similar grievances every day and yet, does not engage in violence. This means that we are missing a whole chunk of data while studying radicalization and recruitment.
Finally, the issue with the grievance argument is its perpetual pessimism. It assumes that until the condition of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world becomes perfect, they will never eschew violence. From Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to the separatist insurgency in Kashmir, to the Palestinian statehood, these issues will take time to resolve. Even if one country was to change their policy completely to favor Muslims on every issue, it doesn’t guarantee that the remaining 195 will follow suit. Progress is not a straight line, it goes forwards and backwards. The issues of power and oppression exist not only between the Muslim-majority and the Western countries, but between Muslim-majority and non-western countries, as well as within Muslim majority countries. The default expectation of violence from Muslims is an illustration of “racism of lower expectations.” The idea that they cannot deal with their problems by becoming lawyers, activists, academics, politicians, artists, law-enforcement officials etc. They only have one option to fight grievance i.e., join ISIS.
Most of our favorite super heroes became super heroes in the face of grievance. From Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi, to Harry Potter and Bruce Wayne (Yup! That’s batman), all these people went through extreme loss and grievance. Yet their encounter with grievance made them stronger in their conviction to fight injustice, as opposed to inflicting it on others. I think it’s time to view Muslims as partners who can fight injustice like super heroes, as opposed to a time bomb waiting to explode the minute it encounters a grievance. As Khalil Gibran eloquently put it, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars.”