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Usaid Siddiqui

Trump's #MuslimBan only possible thanks to Bush and Obama

Refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from enetering the USA [AFP]

Date of publication: 30 January, 2017

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Comment: Bush and Obama's policies provided the foundation for normalising Islamophobia in American society, which the current President is now brazenly exploiting, writes Usaid Siddiqui.

On Friday evening US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the country for 90 days. The order concerns those nations his administration accuses of being "hotbeds of terrorism".

Though the ban was allegedly designed to target refugees and asylum seekers, valid US green card holders (a US style permanent residency status) from any of those nations were being detained as well. A disabled elderly couple from Iran, both over 80 years of age, were questioned for hours before being finally released.

While the Trump administration is trying to pass of the ban as an "anti-terrorism" measure, the move essentially confirms what many Muslims have always believed; the "War on Terror" was always a war against them.

For the past 15 years both Republican and Democrat administrations have routinely targeted people from these very nations, providing Trump the tools, both moral and legal, to justify actions that will negatively impact millions of Muslims around the world.

The Bush and Obama years

As Trump's candidacy became a real prospect early last year, politicians and pundits encouraged the 43rd US president George W. Bush to save his party as Trump's uniquely xenophobic tone struck a surprising chord with the Republican base.

Yet some forget it was Bush whose belligerent policies in the aftermath of 9/11 that paved the way for massive systematic abuses of American institutions and international law, which overwhelmingly targeted Muslims in the US and abroad.

After the successful passing of the Patriot Act in October 2001, a piece of legislation essentially providing law enforcement blanket authority to detain anyone it suspected of terrorist ties, the law disproportionately targeted American Muslims.
While Bush repeatedly said that the "War on Terror" was not against Islam, his policies failed to demonstrate that sentiment
According to a report published by the American civil rights organisation Muslim Advocates, nearly 500,000 Arabs and Muslims were questioned by the FBI under so-called 'voluntary' interviews between 2001 and 2005 alone. In 2011 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the FBI for illegally spying on a Mosque in Orange County in Southern California.

Last year the New York Police Department settled a lawsuit brought forward by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York chapter of the ACLU that charged the NYPD with illegally detaining Muslims and surveiling their places of worship in New York.

While Bush repeatedly said that the "War on Terror" was not against Islam, his policies failed to demonstrate that sentiment. From the occupation and bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq, to the inhumane physical and mental torture of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo, the Bush administration world helped shape public perception that saw "terrorism" as a uniquely Muslim phenomenon.

Moreover, it was he who invoked the usage of the word "Crusade", a reference used to denote the religious wars between Christians in the West and Muslims in the Holy Land over a millennium ago.
Read More: Obama's parting gift targets Muslim American communities
The term would become part of the "Good versus Evil" narrative Bush pushed in his attempt to sell the "War On Terror" to the American public; framing the conflict for many as a cosmic conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic world.

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Muslims in the US and abroad were hopeful things would change for the better.
Unfortunately Obama's comforting words in Cairo did not translate into meaningful action
In his famous June 2009 Cairo speech, Obama said "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect… America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

In the same speech, Obama admitted America's errors during the Bush years, including its policy in Iraq, and he rebuked torture techniques that had become emblematic of the disastrous legacy of the "War on Terror" and Muslim angst concerning US foreign policy.

Unfortunately his comforting words did not translate into meaningful action.

Writing days before Obama's departure, Joyce Karam of Arab News wrote "There aren't many in the region who will be sorry to see Obama go". She added that Obama's achievements in the Middle East "are either non-existent, drowned by chaos or greatly diminished". Last year alone, the Obama administration had dropped over 25,000 bombs in seven Muslim countries, of which five are now under Trump's travel ban.

By sanctioning hundreds of drone attacks (a hallmark of Obama's national security policy) in countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Obama continued his predecessor's wars in Muslim countries, proliferating the presence of groups like Al-Qaeda in the Middle East region.

Trump's current National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a noted critic of Islam, criticised Obama's unabashed use of drones arguing they only helped to embolden the enemy.

Leaked documents reveal that the previous White House administration's arbitrary methods to determine those it considered a legitimate target in a drone strike - such as all military aged males in a conflict zone - an assumption similar to that made by virulent Islamophobes that all able-bodied brown Muslim men are a threat to the Judeo-Christian West.
Bush and Obama's policies provided the foundation for normalising Islamophobia in American society
His pledge to close Guantanamo in 2009 fell flat as Muslim prisoners continued to be held without charge or were sanctioned for release. Though Obama made it illegal, Muslims all over remember with anguish when in 2013 the former president ordered the force feeding of mentally sound inmates while they were carrying out hunger strikes in protest of their unlawful detentions, including during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.

The move was widely condemned by human rights organisation as well as the US military, which admitted that "'forced feeding' of a mentally competent person capable of making an informed decision is never acceptable".

Though much is being said of the cruelty in Trump's travel ban, it is in fact a direct extension of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 passed in the aftermath of the San Bernardino attack in November 2015.

The seven nations targeted by Trump's executive order were first designated as "countries of concern" by the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration in 2015/2016, a fact Trump shrewdly pointed out in response to the public outcry over his actions.

While both Bush and Obama consistently reiterated that Islam was a religion of peace, and Muslims a righteous people - with little reason to believe they were being insincere - their policies provided the foundation for Islamophobia to normalise in American society which the current President is now brazenly exploiting.

Moving forward

Amid the horror one is witnessing in the ongoing Trump presidency, there are some silver linings. From San Francisco Airport to JFK International in New York thousands across America are protesting Trump's illegal overtures. The sight of non-Muslims chanting "You pray, we stay" while Muslims prayed in the halls of some of the world's busiest airports was heart-warming and inspiring.
Such attitudes will take years to overcome
Yet it is worth remembering that Trump is not the first offender to regularise this xenophobia, even though he has certainly contributed immensely to the negative attitude towards refugees and Muslim immigrants today. Refugee intake by most western nations has been embarrassingly dismal, with only 2% of Syrian refugees were resettled in some of the world's wealthiest nations, including many European ones.

Years of rampant Islamophobia on both sides of the Atlantic, from policing Muslim women's clothing in France to the unlawful targeting of Muslim communities by US law enforcement agencies, helped to foster the anti-Muslim/anti-refugee sentiment that exists; and did so long before Trump came along.

Such attitudes will take years to overcome and a Trump presidency may just be the beginning. Studying how the current system was set up - one that allows the real estate mogul to carry out his inhumane policies - would be a start.
After all, he is standing on the shoulders of those who came before him.

Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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