US Public Is Waking Up To Islamophobia, But Will the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Follow?

Dr. Maha Hilal says that Trump’s Muslim ban is another attempt to criminalize followers of Islam and justify further violence against Middle Eastern nations

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DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor, joining you from Baltimore. The Ninth Circuit of Appeals will hear oral arguments this evening to determine the immediate fate of the temporary restraining order against Trump’s travel ban. In the hearing three Federal Judges will determine whether the travel ban should be reinstated before a final decision is made on its legality. As a recap on the ban on January 27th, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order barring citizens of seven Muslim majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, from entering the US for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. The Order also indefinitely stops refugees from Syria from entering the US. Trump has repeatedly attacked the temporary restraining order on his ban. He says it jeopardizes national security. Here is some of what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP: You know this is a very dangerous period of time because while everybody is talking and dealing a lot of bad people are thinking about, “Hey let’s go in right now.” But we’re being very, very tough with the vetting, tougher than ever before.

And if you remember, ISIS said, “We are going to infiltrate the United States and other countries through the migration.” And then we’re not allowed to be tough on the people coming in? Explain that one.

DHARNA NOOR: Joining us to discuss today’s case, along with its wider implications is Dr. Maha Hilal. Dr. Hilal is the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. She’s a human rights scholar, an advocate and an activist. Thanks so much for joining me today.

MAHA HILAL: Thank you for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: So, could we start off by discussing the significance of today’s hearing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals? They won’t be determining whether the ban is actually constitutional but talk about what they will be determining and its significance.

MAHA HILAL: So, today’s decision will be quite important, right. It will be to basically decide on whether or not Trump’s Executive Order will be reinstated. So, essentially whether the ban will continue to go into effect, or if it will be halted as it has been in the last couple of days because of decisions made out of Washington State.

DHARNA NOOR: And what have the short-term consequences been of the bans so far? What do you think the long-term consequences will be?

MAHA HILAL: So there have been numerous consequences of the ban. Many individuals have not been able to enter the country. The ban has separated families; has destroyed families’ lives. People have been deported. People have been made to stay in airports for hours on end, who have been detained in airports. Additionally, it has also caused American citizens to be stopped at airports and to be subjected to secondary screenings. So, it has been quite far-reaching. Despite an explicit focus on seven Muslim majority countries, it has had significant ramifications for anyone who can be reasonably thought of as Muslim, whether or not they identify as such.

DHARNA NOOR: Uh huh, but not all Muslim majority countries are officially affected by the travel ban, right? And interestingly enough all of the countries on the travel ban list have been bombed or attacked by the United States but have not contributed to terror attacks on US soil. So, how exactly do you think Trump and his team determined which countries were to be officially affected and which ones were not?

MAHA HILAL: The Trump team, from what I had heard, was claiming that they were basing this on a visa labor program that was instituted under the Obama Administration. Where the truth lies, I’m not sure. However, I think, you know, the crux of the matter is these are countries, right, that the United States wants to further criminalize to justify the oppressive policies that they’ve continued to implement, whether we’re talking about the use of drones; whether we’re talking about direct warfare — it’s quite clear that what the United States is trying to do is to solidify this narrative around Muslims and Muslim countries as posing this threat to the United States. Now, the Muslim ban is just one piece of that. We can ostensibly believe that under Trump and his Administration, policies that are exponentially more dangerous will be implemented. So, I think that this is not only designed to create a short-term impact in terms of disrupting travel for many Muslims around the world, but also to again, solidify this narrative around who are posing dangers to our country, where do these individuals come from and which countries do we then have legitimacy to further attack and demonize and criminalize?

DHARNA NOOR: And refugees are attempting to come into the US, already faced a number of security checks before this ban was even put in place. Syrians face even additional checks to that. That process can actually take years. So, talk about the vetting process that existed before this travel ban and some of the issues that were found with that vetting process as well.

MAHA HILAL: So, I’m no entirely familiar with what that process looks like. I know that it would often take multiple years. It had to be vetted through various government institutions, such as the State Department, such as DHS, etc. So, this salacious claim that it’s very easy for individuals to enter the country is absurd because anyone who comes to this country as a refugee has gone through extreme vetting. So, I mean, I think the important thing here is think about, you know, what is the narrative that’s being constructed around entry into this country? Again, I’m not entirely familiar because it’s not my area of specialty or expertise around what exactly is the process that refugees have to go through. But really using this ban to solidify this narrative that it’s so easy for these dangerous individuals to come into the country, right, and furthermore, we know from the data that there hasn’t been a single attack perpetrated by a refugee in the United States. Now, I don’t say that to justify any sort of ban had there been an attack, but I say that to say that when administration is utilizing such policies it’s not only to create disruption in people’s lives, but to also lend themselves legitimacy to construct other future detrimental …

DHARNA NOOR: And how do you respond then to Donald Trump’s claims that courts are jeopardizing US national security by pushing back his travel ban?

MAHA HILAL: I mean, first of all, we have to question what should our national security policies look like? Now, is it defending our national security to bar individuals from entering the country simply because they adhere to Islamic faith? Is that what makes us safer? I don’t think so. So, does it make us less safe, if these individuals are allowed to enter the country? Absolutely not. Does it make us less safe if we… or more safe if we continue to utilize the premise of collective responsibility? No, absolutely not. What I think it does is to marginalize and exclude a group of people, a community of believers based on their religious identity and does nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing to even remotely convince these people that the United States is in any way shape or form trying to rectify any harms that have been caused whether you’re coming from Yemen, or Pakistan or whatever country it is, right, and I apologize, Pakistan is not on the ban at present. But I think that there are a lot of things that need to be dissected when we talk about this idea of national security. Because the narrative has been extremely skewed and has been extremely problematic in terms of what does it mean to keep our country safe? What are the actual strategies that work? So, I will stop at that.

DHARNA NOOR: And what are you expecting from this evening’s case? What do you expect the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule regarding the temporary restraining order?

MAHA HILAL: I’m hoping they will rule against the ban. I know that there have been numerous companies, numerous organizations who have filed Amicus briefs in support of, you know, basically putting this Muslim ban to a halt. So, I’m hoping that because of the precedent that has already been set, as well as the significant public pressure, that the Court will rule against this Executive Order.

DHARNA NOOR: The Attorneys General for Washington and Minnesota are both challenging the ban and defending the temporary restraining order. And then there’s also ten former US national security and foreign policy officials who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, they filed an overnight declaration in the court case against the Executive Order. They said the ban serves no national security purposes and then in the streets, you know, in New York and in DC and across the country there’s been resistance against the travel ban. So, why do you think that there’s been so much resistance against the travel ban? How has that resistance been fostered? How does it relate to what’s happening in the courts and how will it be affected by tonight’s decision?

MAHA HILAL: So, you know, this is a very interesting question to me, especially because I’ve been working on addressing and challenging policies of the War on Terror for about ten years now. And throughout the course of my research and professional work, it has been quite clear to me that the policies of the War on Terror have indeed been designed to explicitly target Muslims. So the fact that we have yet another policy doing exactly the same, is not really surprising. I think what caused a shift in attitude towards this particular policy is the fact that Trump has utilized such explicit rhetoric that has demonized and criminalized Muslims. And I think that in many ways Americans, despite the deep historical legacy of racism and xenophobia and all sorts of other forms of oppression, I think in many ways they have a visceral reaction to explicit and overt forms of racism, at least a segment of the population. So, I think the segment of the population that has been awakened have been awakened precisely because of this explicit rhetoric aimed at demonizing Muslims. And I think that the fact that people have been able to see this policy for what it is, is actually quite significant. You know the fact that we’re calling the Executive Order the Muslim ban, is in my opinion, again very significant because we haven’t previously referred to the existence of prisons such as Guantanamo Bay, for example, as a Muslim prison, despite the fact that all the prisoners who are housed in that facility are Muslim. So, I think that there’s sort of this awakening and this recognition of the fact that indeed many of the national security policies that have been designed under the guise of the War on Terror, have targeted Muslims and it’s actually quite heartening to see at this point, despite the obvious challenges, that after all these years, that finally people are beginning to respond to these claims that these policies have in fact … Muslims.

DHARNA NOOR: And as the awakening continues, we’ll be sure to bring you more updates on the travel ban and what’s happening in the White House and what’s happening in the streets. So, we hope to talk to you again.

MAHA HILAL: Thank you so much.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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