Opinion

Attempts to silence Muslims, Arabs and South Asians won’t work

A woman exits the closed international arrivals hall during protests of President Trump's travel ban outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Charles Mostoller

(RNS) We’re just a few weeks into the Trump administration, and already Muslims of all races, Arabs and South Asians in the United States and around the world are under siege.

While Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-refugee executive order has been the focus of the news, in part because of its immediate impact on people’s lives, this is just one piece of the new government’s coordinated effort to silence these communities and erase the voices of people of color.

Using every tool available, the administration has launched a deliberate plan to push Muslims, Arabs and South Asians into the corners of society, assuming that no one will come to our defense.

They have already learned that they were wrong when it came to one executive order —it’s time that they learned that they were wrong on all fronts.

Days before the order commonly referred to as the Muslim ban was released, the administration released two other executive orders on immigration enforcement in an effort to create fear and silence Muslims, Arabs and South Asians as well as other communities of color.

A person is detained during a protest against President Trump's immigration policy and the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in New York City on Feb. 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stephanie Keith *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAHEED-OPED, originally transmitted on Feb. 14, 2017.

A person is detained during a protest against President Trump’s immigration policy and the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in New York City on Feb. 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stephanie Keith *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WAHEED-OPED, originally transmitted on Feb. 14, 2017.

These orders roll back the Obama administration’s enforcement priorities, which focused largely on removing those with criminal convictions, and widen the enforcement net to include virtually all immigrants. The orders target individuals who have never been charged with a crime — any undocumented persons who overstayed visas and those who may have worked without permission.

The new administration is already terrorizing communities of color in at least six states, knocking on doors, stopping people in shopping centers and conducting roadway checkpoints. The orders also deputize state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws and reinstate a program called Secure Communities, while simultaneously threatening to defund “sanctuary cities” that do not follow these new terms.

These actions are further exacerbated by the three additional orders signed last week, which criminalize “illegal immigration” and ensure prosecution of minor immigration offenses. While all these orders claim to make America safe, they instead terrify immigrant communities and deter them from reporting crimes, in fact, making America less safe.

Like other communities of color, Muslims, Arabs and South Asians often do not trust or rely on law enforcement to protect them; each individual’s experience plays into that decision. A black Muslim will likely have different experiences and fears from a Sikh person when deciding whether to contact law enforcement. In the current climate, those fears are increasing.

At the same time, bullying, harassment and attacks on our communities are on the rise, especially since this new administration has failed to acknowledge such acts. Yet, these orders serve to ensure that our communities have less access to law enforcement and less protection from harm.

The administration simultaneously moves forward with its new version of “Countering Violent Extremism.” Reports indicate administration officials plan to rebrand this program “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” focusing exclusively on Muslim communities, rather than relying on fact-based threats or patterns.

Protesters outside the White House on Jan. 29, 2017, demonstrating against President Donald Trump's refugee ban. RNS Photo by Jerome Socolovsky

Protesters outside the White House on Jan. 29, 2017, demonstrating against President Trump’s refugee ban. RNS Photo by Jerome Socolovsky

Like the anti-Muslim immigration executive order, this rebranding stereotypes Muslims as suspect and dangerous. It signifies a lack of experience and sophistication regarding threat assessments or dangerous behavior, and instead allocates resources to police a huge swath of people based only on their religious affiliation.

To disregard other threats when the KKK is rising up and proponents of white supremacy are in the most powerful positions of our government is irresponsible at best.

Increasingly, perpetrators are targeting sacred spaces, such as mosques and temples, for vandalism and arson: the mass shooting in Charleston, S.C.; the tragedy at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis. Attacks by those with ideologies linked to white supremacy or extremism have existed for decades, yet this program will deliberately exclude these threats and fail to protect society.

This revamped program will further isolate Muslims and deter them from freely practicing their faith or building relations within their communities. If history is any indication, it will result in government infiltrating mosques, student organizations, businesses and social networks to chill religious freedom, the tenet upon which our country was founded.

Finally, legislation and/or an executive order may designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. Such a designation would likely weaken or dismantle Muslim, Arab and South Asian civil rights organizations and further empower Islamophobia.

The administration will undoubtedly come after leaders and organizations, labeling them as terrorists or terrorist organizations. The administration will claim that these individuals and organizations have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood without facts or evidence to back the allegations up. It’s been done before.

As we saw in the years after 9/11, there are a variety of ways this could be achieved, whether through congressional investigations, Department of Justice prosecutions or both. Those who financially support these organizations might be prosecuted for providing “material support” to a terrorist organization.

As a result, members, donors and foundations will fear that providing such support will implicate them or make them the subject of an investigation or criminal prosecution, thus slowing funding to these organizations, which cannot survive without these resources. And, just like that, Muslim, Arab and South Asian organizations and their leaders might disappear in one fell swoop.

There is one thing, however, that this new administration did not consider. It counted on the silence of communities; it counted on the ability to use fear under the guise of national security to shut out Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.

The administration did not consider that, for the first time in my lifetime, communities around the country would protest and chant in support of our communities. Lawyers would show up in court. Foundations and donors would look for more opportunities to ensure that the rights of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are protected. The administration did not consider the collaboration of communities of all races, ethnicities, faiths, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations.

It did not know that we would not go gentle into that good night. That we — the whole nation — would rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Manar Waheed was the deputy policy director for immigration for the White House Domestic Policy Council under the Obama administration)

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Manar Waheed

ADVERTISEMENTs