It’s been around a year since then Republican candidate for President Donald Trump embraced identity politics, when he said:
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
– At a later date, Trump, defending his proposed ban, then said:
“They knocked down the World Trade Centre. They tried doing it twice. There are people who have tremendously bad intentions.”
– And then in July 2016, on Meet The Press, Trump changed his wording, because people were annoyed that he mentioned Muslims:
“I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word ‘Muslim.’”
– This was before he then called Rudy Giuliani and asked him how to go about banning Muslims, asking the former Mayor of New York:
“…the right way to do it legally”
– In summary, there’s a linear progression from rhetoric, to defence, to inquiring how to do it, to doing it. He specifically says he intended to ban Muslims, he then asked Giuliani the legal way to ban Muslims, because they might commit an act of terror like 9/11, only changing his words ever so slightly to avoid outrage. This culminates in the recently signed Executive Order by the now President Donald Trump says:
“Section 1. Purpose. The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.”
– The Executive Order follows the past few months of his ‘ban Muslims’ policy perfectly. Though it references a gang of Islamists from a country not on his ban list. The reaction has been an odd one from its defenders on the alt-right (and Piers Morgan). They have decided the past few months reveal nothing of motive, and that those motives are not linked at all to the EO, regardless of the similar reasoning & referencing 9/11, they’ve decided it’s completely separate, when they tell us it’s not a Muslim ban, because not all Muslims across the World have been banned. Logic they barely register, when they’re implying all Muslims share part of the blame for an even smaller minority than the number banned from entering the US, commit a hideous attack. It’s very similar to when anti-Semites think they’re being incredibly clever by regurgitating centuries of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories but replacing the word ‘Jews’ with ‘Zionists’, which they qualify with “but, but… not all Jews are Zionists, so it’s not anti-Semitic!” A transparent line of reasoning, if you’ve ever heard one. My point of view is clear; the ban is a Muslim ban based on their nationality. It is aimed at Muslims. But whether it is a Muslim ban or not (it is) it completely misses the point.
Brendan O’Neill disagrees he wrote in The Spectator:
“Morgan also said it is wrong to speak of a ‘Muslim Ban’, because Muslims aren’t banned from the US. Again, he’s right. A temporary restriction on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries (which I think is a bad idea, by the way) is not a Muslim Ban. Eighty-five percent of the world’s Muslims can still travel to the US. Or are we saying accuracy and clarity no longer matter?”
– It is as if O’Neill has decided Trump’s words – that he reiterated several times during the campaign – have no link to the Executive Order at all. For the sake of accuracy and clarity, it is not accurate to say Muslims aren’t banned from the US either. A Muslim from Iran is now banned from the US, on the grounds – not primarily that he’s Iranian – but that he might commit an Islamist attack on the US. Some may argue that it is based on nationality alone. But what an odd argument. Again, it ignores Trump’s actual words and his policy expectations, and secondly it presumes the Trump administration fears the minority of Iranian atheists are just as likely to commit terror attacks as Islamists. But again… this misses the point. It is identity politics played by a section of the political spectrum that insists it hates identity politics.
Even if being a Muslim had nothing to do with this ban (which it does), even if it were based solely on nationality (which it isn’t)… that doesn’t make it less illiberal, or less bigoted. It doesn’t suddenly become more acceptable, if Muslims aren’t the target, but a nationality is. The exact same bigotry is still there. The presumption implicit in suddenly stripping an individual of a liberty they once enjoyed, in this case, is one of guilt of an individual based on the identity box that they’re placed into by others, rather than a crime, or evidence-based suspicion that the individual is likely to commit a crime. No vetting. No questions. No background checks. Nothing. Just a restriction on liberty based on nationality not character. This is the definition of bigotry, and so I’m not sure if it matters what trait the ban is based on, the result is the same.
What we’re left with is a newly empowered, illiberal, bigoted, right wing that challenges us to wonder whether it is actually acceptable after all to judge people on the nation they were born, or – by extension – the colour of their skin, or the shade of their hair, or the length of their arms, or any other trait, rather than the content of their character, without asking them a single question or even bothering to try to know them. And if liberals who spent a good part of the past five years rightly fighting a regressive left for its descent into identity politics & the bigotry it produced when it saw Nathan Lean refer to Maajid Nawaz as Sam Harris’ “lapdog”, or CJ Werleman refer to Ali Rizvi as “brown face, white masked”, don’t also pour scorn on the idea that it is acceptable to suddenly erect barriers – rather than smash them to pieces – to liberty based on nothing but identity, if they suddenly start looking for excuses for illiberal policy, if they get bogged down into arguments about whether to call it a “Muslim ban” nor not, if they find reasons to reject applying principles of individual liberty and agency to those in other countries instead choosing to defend right-winged identity politics… then they don’t deserve to call themselves liberal.