30 January 2017

A thought exercise on travel bans

Ask yourself: how many Americans would be protesting if a President imposed a temporary travel ban on Russians, or required them to be vetted in some new way before they were allowed to enter or stay in the country? My answer is that some would still protest, particularly those critical of Russophobia and fearful of escalating conflict between Russia and the U.S., as well as those deeply committed to the "nation of immigrants" ideal. However, I think the number would be less than what we saw last weekend -- and to update the news from my locality, several hundred people protested at the Albany airport on January 29 -- for the simple reason that it could not be argued that a travel ban against Russians was racist. That's actually a marker of the progress made in this country over the last century. One hundred years ago you could find plenty of Americans who'd argue that Russians or Slavs in general constituted a different, inferior race compared to traditional American stock. Since then, to show the limits of progress, Russians and Slavs have been promoted from inferiority, but only because they're recognized as "white." An ironic consequence of this is that it remains permissible to discuss Russian cultural inferiority to the U.S. or the west, since that discussion no longer carries the taint of racism, however bigoted it may be still. Right now, race clouds all debate over restrictions on Muslim travel or immigration during the ongoing war on terror. Even though Malcolm X famously observed at Mecca that there are many Muslims "whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of the blond, and who skin was the whitest of the white," the limited ban imposed by the President focuses mostly on lands (arguably excepting Iran) of darker-skinned people, as those happen to be centers of conflict and terrorism. The ban doesn't cover Pakistan or Bangladesh, where many Muslims are darker still, but the superficial evidence is still enough to convince many dissident Americans that this is just Whitey up to his old tricks again. They may recall how much more selective restrictions and internment of German-Americans and Italian-Americans was during World War II compared to the treatment of Japanese-Americans and assume that racism rather than national security was the real motivation then as now. Their underlying assumption is that Islamophobia is essentially racist, by virtue of the accidents of history that have limited the numbers of white Muslims worldwide. I suppose that's the price this country pays for its heritage of genuine bigotry: to warn against the dangers of immigration in the 21st century is to be the boy who cried wolf, whether the wolf is there this time, as many believe, or isn't again, as many others assume.

Another reason why you'd still see people protesting a Russian ban, of course, is that any such policy, whoever it targets, violates widely held notions of human rights on the individual level often accompanied by hostility to the concept of collective responsibility. On this issue proponents and opponents of restrictions are using two different languages, or two different modes of thought. Opponents of restrictions appeal to a logic according to which it's fallacious to treat all in group X as threats to the country because some in that group have attacked the country. Such a course also violates one of their most strongly held ideas, which is that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Proponents appeal to probability and ask, "Why take chances?" or, more forcefully, "Why take chances with American lives?" They do not wish to wait for the guilty to produce evidence against themselves, since -- and it's hard not to sound like a neocon here -- such evidence may take the form of smoke clouds and pools of blood. They confront the individualist with an uncomfortable choice of priorities, as he often values individuality above nationality and often resents appeals to solidarity with people (e.g. cervix rufus Americanus) whose values or customs he deems unworthy of his empathy. But however unworthy they may be morally or intellectually, they remain his fellow citizens and patriotism unavoidably points toward a duty to protect them. Whether that duty is fulfilled effectively by acquiescence to travel bans or further restrictions may still be debated, but protesters are in error if they think there is no need for debate at all on this subject.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Exactly what "race" is muslim? Anyone who protests that any action taken to defend this country, our values and traditions, against the incursion - nay - INVASION of islamists into this country as being "racist" is a fucking ignoramus who is oblivious to the FACT that islam is a religio-political construct, NOT A DAMNED RACE. It is a construct which does NOT promote freedom - whether of religion, of speech, of free association, or of the press. It is a construct wherein women are, at best, considered half the value of men. In short, it is a construct which stands in opposition to everything America claims to stand for. This isn't a problem of whether we should allow people from specific countries in to the US, but rather, a question of whether we should allow a people, whose culture is the polar opposite of ours, to further their incursion into the West. A question of whether we should even give muslims a chance to establish a foothold in this country from which to spread their "caliphate".

Obviously everyone who voted for tRump said NO! Everyone else should be suspected of either being terrorist or of aiding and abetting terrorists.