Is the Religion-line the Problem of the Twenty-First Century?

By: Farid Hafez

May 16, 2018

Responding to: Trump v. Hawaii: Constitutional, Moral, and Ethical Dimensions

Is the Religion-line the Problem of the Twenty-First Century?

“When I make promises, I keep them.” These words by the forty-fifth president of the United States still echo in the ears of many listeners after hearing Donald Trump’s statement that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. And it might be the explanation for why the Supreme Court is currently tested with what has been infamously become known as the “Muslim Ban 3.0” after the appeals court ruled against it.

The president, who came to power with promises to build a wall along the border with Mexico, ban Muslims from entering the United States, and be tough on Iran, seems to fulfill the promises to his electorate to secure the support for his own party to protect his own position. We are witnessing the age of an American president, learning from his far-right fellows in Europe, who have experienced electoral success by agitating against the politically and socioeconomically weakest minorities in their societies: Muslims.

At this point, there should not be any doubt about the intentions of this third version of a travel ban–one that originally targeted only Muslim countries–and in its third version now singles out Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as prevents certain visitors from North Korea and Venezuela from entering the United States. According to the Trump administration, this is due to legitimate national security issues. But it is obvious that this move is to keep to his campaign pledge. “Islam hates us,” he unequivocally had declared. Trump has also appeared on a national Christian broadcasting station to explain to the viewers that the order meant to favor Christian refugees over Muslim ones.

We will see if the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority will uphold the third version the Muslim ban or not. This will also determine to a considerable extent the future legitimacy of how to deal with minorities in general, and Muslim minorities specifically. The U.S. political system will set an example for the globe. Not only will many of the far-right political parties in Europe applaud in approval, but also the question of the separation of power is at stake.

What we can observe throughout the last 17 years starting with the war on terror is a boost in the tendency to legally discriminate against and implement surveillance on Muslim people in the West. We have also seen legislation implemented in Europe, including bans on the construction of mosques and minarets and on women’s ability to wear the hijab. But this travel ban is different, because it is quite symbolic, declared and championed by the president of the United States himself and obviously comprehensible by most watchers of these scenes. What we are witnessing is a discriminatory legal treatment by the federal government based on religion.

W.E.B. DuBois argued that the color-line was “the problem of the twentieth century,” so has the religion-line become the problem of the twenty-first century? The question is whether this will be added to the many failures of the American project, beginning with its establishment that went hand in hand with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African people, followed by white supremacy and the segregation of African-Americans. All these discriminations were based on the discursive exploitation of marked differences. The ban is a symbol that will estrange a whole group of people, divide the country even more, and lay the basis for extremist groups to openly spread their hatred and for lawmakers and politicians to further mobilize on these exclusionary and discriminatory politics. Let’s hope the Supreme Court will put a stop to this.

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