The smart and beautiful in both parties have been prostrate with the vapors ever since Donald Trump called for a temporary timeout on admitting all Muslims into the United States until “we can figure out what the hell is going on.” Such a blanket exclusion, his critics claim, not only would be illegal (questionable), but would alienate “moderate” Muslims whose cooperation is essential to combating jihad terrorism (arguable).
After all, everyone agrees that not every Muslim is a jihadist.
Conversely, though, all jihadists are by definition Muslims.
So how do we sort them out? That is, if we don’t exclude all members of the larger set (Muslims), how do we define and identify the subset (active or potential jihadists)? On that score, Trump is correct on one essential point: we don’t know what the hell is going on.
Here’s an illustration. Most Americans probably assume that when we screen people for admission into the United States, we not only look for terrorist connections but also weed out people promoting the radical ideology and goals that motivate the terrorists. This should at least include advocacy of creating a worldwide Caliphate state and imposition of Sharia law in place of the U.S. Constitution. One should also expect exclusion of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the international pro-Caliphate political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, and similar organizations.
That assumption is dead wrong. Members of such groups and partisans of jihad ideology are not barred from entering our country unless there is a link to “terrorism” narrowly defined to include only detectable violent activity (“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents,” 22 U.S.C. 2656f(d)). This is because a 1990 statutory revision virtually abolished so-called “ideological” grounds for exclusion as had previously been used against Nazis, communists, and anarchists.
Today, no one can be barred for adhering to the political and moral principles that justify jihadism or for advocating doctrines contrary to the U.S. Constitution and American values, such as Sharia’s blatant discrimination on the basis of religion and sex. Indeed, one can come into the U.S. even while pushing for the legal adoption of such barbarities as stoning adultresses, beheading apostates from Islam, slavery and sex slavery, or pedophilic “child marriage” – or maintaining the legitimacy of such horrors as “honor” killing or female genital mutilation, which are not strictly Islamic but endemic to some Muslim-majority countries – so long as there’s no indication the applicant actually intends or has been linked to “premeditated, politically motivated violence.” (Interestingly, an 1891 inadmissibility of “any immigrant who is coming to the United States to practice polygamy” (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(10)(A)) – directed at the time against Mormons, not Muslims – remains on the books, though it’s unclear how strictly it’s enforced.)
Indeed, not only are Sharia and Caliphate advocates not barred from entry, under applicable standards such advocacy might actually help qualify them for admission as refugees, or for claiming asylum if already present in the United States. That’s because in many countries the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and similar groups are illegal and subject to government repression. In such countries, repression may under U.S. law constitute “persecution” for purposes of establishing asylum or refugee status. In effect, we’re issuing an invitation: Is your nasty government giving you a hard time because you’re calling for Sharia and the Caliphate? You poor dear! Come take refuge in the U.S. so you can freely call for the same here – if you promise scout’s honor to keep it non-violent.
(Contrast that with the virtual exclusion of Syrian Christians under the same criteria. Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, but they make up less than three percent of Syrians admitted so far as refugees or asylees. Why? Because under US law, only government persecution counts. Being raped, tortured, enslaved, and beheaded by non-governmental jihad groups such as ISIS doesn’t. Since the Syrian government protects Christians, few of them qualify for admission, but a Muslim Brotherhood member calling for a Sharia-ruled Caliphate might be quite qualified).
Preferably, Congress should fix this egregious omission by legislating appropriate exclusions. However, President Obama – who reminded us he has a pen and phone – certainly could do it himself, at least temporarily until Congress acts, under statutory authority that allows him to bar any class of aliens he deems a danger to the U.S.: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” (18 USC 1182(f), emphasis added)
I’m not holding my breath. But the slim expectation that Mr. Obama might do the right thing isn’t a reason not to try to force the issue. Conveniently, Mr. Obama has provided a mechanism to do so – on his own White House website. (A recent petition asking to list Turkey as a terrorist state reached almost 40,000 signatures, despite an almost total lack of media attention until the final two days.)
So on February 22, I posted a petition on the White House site, as follows:
We want the Obama Administration to:
Exclude or deport from the US and bar from naturalization any person who, regardless of religious belief, advocates or condones the following principles that are contrary to the American Constitution and values: Sharia law, a Caliphate state, violent jihad, child marriage, slavery or sex slavery, “honor” killing, stoning adulteresses, killing apostates, female genital mutilation, or devaluation of inheritance or of legal testimony based on gender or religion; or who is or has been a member of any organization, or a participant in any of its activities, that advocates or condones any of the above. Such exclusion should not depend on any connection to terrorism or other violent actions, and should apply to visitors, immigrants, and refugees/asylees.
With the White House site only allowing 800 characters, this text is just an outline building upon programs for excluding Islamic radicals on ideological grounds proposed by Srdja Trifkovic, Daniel Pipes, and James Edwards, among others. If any such standard is adopted, it would have to be fleshed out and codified. Regulations would have to be issued to set out the methodology, including a well-crafted battery of questions to identify the targeted individuals and groups. It would not be perfect, any more than other law enforcement measures are perfect. But it would constitute a start towards figuring out “what the hell is going on.”
Under White House rules, there are only 30 days from the time of posting to reach 100,000 signatures to trigger an official response, which anyway would amount to just some fibs drafted by the State, Justice, and Homeland Security departments. More important than any expected response, the petition allows an official government site to be used as a bulletin board for excoriating the Obama Administration’s (and let’s be honest, most Republicans’) malfeasance in “Keeping America Safe”©.
Anyone wishing to sign the White House petition may do so here. (Only your initials are posted, and entry of zip code is optional).
Jim Jatras, [email him] is a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership. He currently is the only announced prospect for the Republican vice presidential nomination. He comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram.