I wonder whether there might be any long-term effects from shouting ‘racist’, ‘fascist’, ‘misogynist’ all the time? It is possible that it is hard to think while your fingers are in your ears and you are shouting names at everybody. I just put the thought out there.
Certainly the consequences of not thinking much seem to be all around us. Though the Trump administration has decided to put temporary travel restrictions on people from certain countries, the policy seems to have certain internal inconsistencies. For instance, as Gordon Brown said in 2008, 75 per cent of Britain’s security threats originate from Pakistan. As anybody involved in the American security apparatus in recent years could tell you, one of the biggest – and for a period the biggest – security threats to America has been from Pakistani nationals or people of Pakistani heritage with UK passports heading to America via the UK. So if the Trump administration wants to impose blanket bans on any particular group of people, UK citizens of Pakistani heritage would be a better place to start. Another example of the inconsistency is that the country which most of the 9/11 hijackers came from – Saudi Arabia – is not on the list of countries whose nationals now face a temporary hiatus in their ability to travel to the US.
So there appears to be a certain lack of thought on some of the details of this policy. But it is nothing compared to the lack of thought among the policy’s critics. Indeed the opposition to the ban – from Lily Allen down – is striking for the fact that it has clearly thought about none of the central questions which should have preoccupied us all in recent years. Thus the people who are portraying the ban as something which is illegal, fascist etc are – if I may say so – making a huge long-term mistake. If you decide that border restrictions are fascist then you are declaring the views of most people to be fascist, because most people believe in border security. If you believe that restricting people coming in to your country or any other country is bigoted then you are claiming that most of the world is filled with bigots. If you believe absolutely everybody from everywhere should be treated in exactly the same manner (i.e. that immigration controls should everywhere and always be origin-blind) then you are arguing against the security protocols of every border security agency on earth.
In my own view it would help immensely if the people who are lambasting the Trump administration had at least given some thought to the following questions and could go some way to giving answers to such questions as:
1 – Do you accept that America (like many other countries in the world today) has security problems? Do you recognise that despite the giggly charts on social media showing lawnmowers to be more of a threat to American life than terrorism, there are legitimate security concerns that reasonable Americans might hold?
2 – Do you recognise that Islamic terrorism is not a figment of a fevered imagination, but a real thing that exists and which causes a risk to human life in America and many other countries? This isn’t to say that other forms of terrorism don’t exist – they obviously do. But how might you address this one (assuming you can’t immediately solve global peace, poverty, unhappiness, lack of satisfactory sex, masculinity etc)?
3 – If you do recognise the above fact then would you concede that large scale immigration from Islamic countries into the US might bring a larger number of potential challenges than, say, large scale immigration from New Zealand or Iceland?
4 – Is everybody who wants to visit Disney World morally akin to Jews fleeing the Holocaust? If not then what are the differences, and is it always wise to conflate the two?
5 – Would you recognise that Iran is one of the world’s leading state-sponsors of terror, and that, for example, an Iranian-born American citizen in 2011 was caught planning to carry out a terror attack in Washington (against the Saudi Ambassador)? Would you recognise that aggravating though a temporary halt on all Iranian nationals visiting the US might be, and many good people though it will undoubtedly stop, there is a reason that some countries cause a greater security concern than others? Might citizens of a country whose leadership regularly chants ‘Death to America’ present a larger number of questions for border security than, say, citizens of Denmark whose government rarely says the same? What would your vetting policy be to distinguish between different Iranians seeking to enter the US?
6 – Does the whole world have the right to live in America? This is a variant of the same question we Europeans should have been asking for years. If you do not think that the whole world has the right to live in the USA then who should be allowed to live there and who should not? Who might be given priority?
7 – If you believe in giving some people asylum, as I do, who should be given priority? Should asylum be forever? Or should there be a time-limit (such as up until such a time as your country of origin is deemed safe)? How do you deal with people who have been given asylum, whose reason for asylum is over (i.e. their country has returned to peace) but whose children have entered the school system (for instance)?
8 – Is it wrong that the Trump administration says it wishes to favour Christian refugees over Muslim refugees? This is a fascinating and difficult moral question. Many Christians refuse to accept that the plight of Christians – even when they are the specific target of persecution – should be given priority over anyone else. This is a noble example of Christian universalism, but is it wise or moral when you consider the limited numbers that can come in and if you accept that the entire persecuted world cannot arrive in America?
9 – How do you identify the type of Muslims who America should indeed welcome? And how do you distinguish them from the sort of Muslims who the country could well do without? In other words, what would your vetting procedures be? There are some people who have thought about this. But what is your policy?
If you think all of the above questions are simply ‘racist’ or ‘bigoted’ then I suppose the rest of us will just have to accept that we’re going to lose you to four years of shouting on the streets in vagina hats. But the rest of us should try to address these questions. We’re not going to be able to shout them away you know.
Harry Mount and Michael Segalov debate the merits of protesting: