The executive order is an effort to keep Muslims out of the country and has nothing to do with security, says New Internationalism Project director Phyllis Bennis
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
News that President Donald Trump will enact a visa freeze and a ban on refugees from some Muslim countries, sparked fear among their citizens this week that it could mark the beginning of a new era of hostility from the West. Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis interviewed by Reuters News Agency expressed a sense of dismay and grievance about the presumption that they pose a security threat.
Here’s what one Syrian refugee in Turkey had to say about the new refugee policy.
KIM BROWN: The United States has taken about 12,000 Syrian refugees, compared to 2.8 million in Turkey and approximately a million in Lebanon, and 650,000 in Jordan. Also more than 650,000 Syrians have arrived in Europe and requested asylum, mostly in Germany and in Sweden, according to EU data.
Joining us to take a closer look at the new immigration policy and its effect on refugees, we’re joined by Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is a Fellow and the Director of the Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s also the author of many books, including, “Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer”.
Good to have you back, Phyllis. Thanks for being here.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Great to be with you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: Trump has said that the ban on refugees from various Middle Eastern countries is based on the concern that those refugees could become involved in acts of terrorism here in the U.S.. What are your thoughts on the new refugee policy and its justification?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: There’s no question, this is an anti-Muslim ban. This is an effort to keep Muslims out of the United States. The notion that this is somehow going to keep people in the United States safer or protect refugees in any way is simply not the case. What we’re looking at is an Executive Order that essentially bans Muslims for all Muslims and indeed all people for at least 30 days, perhaps longer, but also for a much longer period excludes anyone, refugees, immigrants, or anyone else from seven named Muslim-majority countries. Now, those countries, of those seven, the U.S. is actually bombing five of them – that would be Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia – it has troops deployed and military bases established, U.S. military bases established, in the 6th, which is Sudan, and has consistently imposed very harsh sanctions and frequently made threats against the 7th, which is Iran.
Now, the other thing that these seven countries all have in common, besides being countries at which the U.S. is attacking, none of them have Trump Industry projects. None of them have Trump Hotels, for instance. If you look at other Muslim-majority countries where there has been a much more direct link to terrorism, ironically enough, such as either Egypt or Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia, as we know, has long been accused of funneling money in various forms to ISIS and to other terrorist organizations, and, of course, in Egypt, largely because of increasing government repression, you have significant acts of terror being committed on their soil – neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia is included in the list, and, what a surprise, in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Trump has significant commercial holdings, hotels, et cetera.
So, do we assume that that’s just a coincidence? No, clearly, this is somehow linked here.
The order also violates international law which requires countries to provide refuge to desperate people that are fleeing persecution. This simply says we’re not going to do it because we don’t want to. And, indeed, there has not even been the illusion that this is designed for anything other than supposedly keeping Americans safe. It has nothing to do with the rights of desperate refugees coming from these countries.
It also is clear that it is designed to attack and to exclude Muslims. There is language in it that explicitly says that only minority religions, people that are the followers of minority religion forces in these countries will get some special exemptions. What that means is: Christians. So, Iraqi Christians will be given special dispensation. Syrian Christians will be given special dispensation for at least part of that time, when only Syrian Muslims, Iraqi Muslims, by far the vast majority of the population and the vast majority of the people targeted by ISIS and other terrorist forces. The reason that people are leaving in such numbers is because they are fleeing either U.S. or Russian or other bombs, or they are fleeing ISIS. And when you say that only the religious minorities will get special dispensation, you’re saying Christians will be privileged. It’s clearly not constitutional.
KIM BROWN: There was another element mentioned this week, during the press briefing regarding what President Trump’s immigration policy would be, and that is that the U.S. would engage in “extreme vetting” of refugees from those affected countries. So, Phyllis, what effect could this extreme vetting have on refugees, and what is extreme vetting compared to what refugees already go through now in terms of security scrutiny to enter the U.S.?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: What refugees go through now is extreme vetting. Refugees are drastically subjected to incredible levels of multiple agencies investigating everything about them in ways that are not applied to immigrants, to tourists, to businesspeople, to anything entering this country. Only refugees are subject to this kind of extreme vetting. And what it looks like is spending between two and three years in a refugee camp, maybe in Jordan, maybe in Turkey, maybe somewhere else, desperate to get out. And that’s after you or your family has been designated by the United Nations as possibly being qualified for resettlement in the United States.
Only at that point – and that’s after some period of time already – then the U.S. agencies, the FBI, DHS, all of these agencies then start to examine your background, your family, your friends, where you came from, your health, your work, all of those things. It can take two to three more years. That’s absolutely unconscionable. And yet they’re saying now, somehow there’s going to be even more extreme vetting. It’s hard to imagine what more there could be.
KIM BROWN: What do you think this policy will mean for U.S. relations with the countries that are being targeted and with the Middle East more generally?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: It’s going to make everything worse. It’s going to make diplomacy more difficult, something that we’re already seeing with either the quitting or the firing – we’re not quite sure which – of the entire top management team at the State Department, so that the ability to carry out diplomacy has now been shredded. So what happens is, the military side, the Pentagon, Department of all the security agencies are going to… the Department of Homeland Security and others, are going to have much more power. And it’s going to be dealt with – the issue of refugees – is going to be dealt with as a military issue, as a security issue, not as a diplomatic issue that’s designed to protect vulnerable communities, vulnerable people. So it’s going to antagonize people enormously across the region, most especially in those countries, but others, as well. People who are looking at what this means, for example, for Syrian refugees who are now crowding into refugee camps across Turkey. As you mentioned earlier, there are two and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They’re desperate to get permanent placement somewhere. Some of them want to come to the United States. Not too many. Most want to stay in the region. But those who need permanent resettlement in a place like the United States will suddenly be faced with permanent life in a refugee camp. That’s going to make everything harder in terms of ending wars. What this is doing is saying that the victims of the wars that in many cases the U.S. has actually started, are now going to be excluded from getting protection from the United States. And that is absolutely unconscionable.
KIM BROWN: Phyllis, what about U.S. relations with Europe? As I mentioned in the introduction, European countries have so far taken in more than 650,000 Syrians and are struggling with the issue politically, and as you mentioned there’s been some sort of shake-up at the State Department. It’s not exactly clear what. And even prior to that, Donald Trump made disparaging remarks about German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel. So, what does this bode for our relationships with our traditional EU partners after this policy is officially enacted when Trump signs the Executive Order?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, it’s a very dangerous moment, because what it says is that the current administration is looking to build up its relationships with the far-right populace. The right-wing populist movements that are rising across Europe that are characterized by the same kind of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny that have characterized the Trump campaign and indeed what we’re seeing in the beginnings of this administration.
So it’s a very dangerous moment, because although there are all kinds of problems of neo-liberalism and support for wars and other things, it’s not to say that the European governments are all goodness and light. But at a moment when Europe is itself struggling about how to deal with the issue of refugees — and one of the unfortunate realities is that a right-wing xenophobic racist movement is rising in response — this administration looks like it’s going to building up relations with those forces, rather than with the legitimate leadership of the European countries. Or, indeed, the progressive parties that are also part of the European Parliament, et cetera.
So, this is going to be something that has really global implications.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Phyllis Bennis. She is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. We’ve been discussing the impending signing of an Executive Order from President Trump, restricting immigration from seven majority Muslim countries.
Phyllis, we appreciate your time and analysis as always. Thank you.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thank you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.