Dangerous Intolerance

Three days ago my friend Amadu asked me “What’s the deal with Trump? Is he going to ban me from the U.S. or what?” Amadu is a teacher who works for a study abroad program in Dakar, Senegal. He studied in the United States, loves American culture and is a Muslim. In the summer he goes to a small Midwest town to teach French. He laughs about being the only Muslim and the only black person in town where he teaches – saying it makes him ‘distinguished’.


We were eating shwarma and peanuts. I drank a beer, and took long swig before trying to reassure him. “That won’t happen..It’s totally against our constitution, anyway, you know people would never stand for that kind of shit.” Finally, I stopped babbling and told him the truth, “I don’t know. I hope not.” The next day President Donald Trump signed an executive order that temporarily barred citizens from seven Muslim countries (Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya) from entering the U.S, created religious tests for immigrants and blocked refugees from Syria indefinitely.


With the stroke of a pen President Trump undermined the credibility of the United States among Muslims the world over. The work of State Department officials and NGO reps working on peacebuilding in Muslim nations will be impeded. Human intelligence in Muslim nations will now be harder to come by. The banned nations, places where Islamist extremism revolves around local issues, will be less secure. Our lack of commitment to the victims of extremism in the seven banned nations has been made clear by our refusal to accept refugees. For the perpetrators of violence within those nations, the order is a green light.


The majority of attackers in West have been home grown terrorists – radicalized through the belief that Islam in the West are engaged in a ‘clash of civilizations.’ When President Trump signed his executive order he aided recruiters reaching out to disaffected young Muslims in France, England and the United States over the internet. Islamist extremists with access to funding and training can still enter the United States through nations that were not banned. Terrorists might still enter the U.S. through Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt or the U.A.E – the home countries of the 9/11 hijackers.


The executive order is a lose – lose deal. It has compromised our integrity and undermined our values, all while failing to make America any safer and worsening the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Senegal was not included in the ban. But the executive order as it is makes such little sense strategically, diplomatically and constitutionally a broader Muslim ban would not shock me.


Make no mistake there are violent Islamists in the world, but the executive order helped these enemies and alienated potential allies. I know a lot of people won’t stand for this. Many of my friends will protest or call their representatives many more will spread the word. But we need to gain ground with folks who are not outraged. Too many people in the states have a single idea of Muslims and a skewed view of the threat Islamist extremist pose to the United States.


Amadu likes his trips to the Midwest because being the town’s ‘distinguished’ African Muslim provides an endless supply of teachable moments through interactions with people who have never met a West African Muslim. He doesn’t drink but he’s still the kind of guy you can grab a beer with.


If you don’t have Muslim friends, please borrow mine. Follow this blog to learn more about West African Muslims and Islam in Africa.