Web Only / Features » June 28, 2017
The Supreme Court’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Ruling Forces Me to Live in Fear
If the war on terror has taught us one thing, it’s that harsh laws targeting non-citizens will eventually be extended to citizens, too.
The government wins not only because of whom it targets directly, but because of who else becomes an indirect target.
This piece first appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.
I’m a U.S. citizen. I’m also Muslim. And the Supreme Court decision on the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban scares me.
In a June 26 ruling, the court decided to leave in place parts of the Muslim ban while the merits of the case are debated, effectively barring individuals from six Muslim-majority countries without a “bona fide” relationship in the U.S. — say, with family members, an employer, or an educational institution — into the country. This decision may also prevent entry for all refugees for 120 days.
The ruling has been hailed as a victory for the Trump administration — not just on the legal end, but also in the degree to which it instills fear in Muslims. The fear is real, and not just for those who may be directly impacted, but for the larger community, too. After all, what the travel ban is ultimately meant to do is to hold all Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of a (miniscule) few.
As a Muslim American of Egyptian descent, will I be legally impacted by the decision? In theory, no. But will I think twice about leaving the country, knowing that I could return to the possibility of being harassed, interrogated, and/or denied entry back into the U.S.? Absolutely. Because after almost 16 years of the war on terror, you come to learn — or become conditioned to fear — that one day you could be next.
The distinction between citizen and non-citizen becomes ever more perilous when you “look Muslim,” have a Muslim sounding name, or work on issues relating to Muslims. This doesn’t mean I’ll experience the same consequences as Muslim non-citizens, but neither does my citizenship reassure me that my fellow Muslim Americans and I will be protected, especially in light of this administration’s history over the last few months alone.
And that’s exactly the intent of policies like these — they target some while causing others to reel back in fear that they too will be impacted. They generate enough fear to make anyone with any relationship with a targeted group censor themselves and modify their behavior. The government wins not only because of whom it targets directly, but because of who else becomes an indirect target.
These are precarious times for Muslims. And while we’re told to trust in our democracy and our judicial system, decisions like these — which come on the heels of a long history of discriminatory, racist, and Islamophobic policies under several administrations — magnify the legitimate fear that one will either be targeted by state violence or become a target of societal violence.
Worryingly, not a single judge dissented from the unsigned Supreme Court ruling — and in fact, three conservative judges, including the newly seated Neil Gorsuch, concurred that they would’ve gone even further and implemented the ban in full. So we know to expect that yet again, the highest law of the land is in favor of institutionalizing Islamophobia. Where then do Muslims turn for reprieve?
As a Muslim American, I’m tired of explaining my fear. I’m tired of pointing out how negatively the war on terror has impacted by community, and I’m tired of being treated as a means to a security end.
I’m tired of explaining the legacy of the war on terror and the fact that under the Bush administration, security policies that began by targeting non-citizens ended up, through a long and thoroughly calculated process, targeting citizens as well — something that also continued under Obama, who spied broadly on ordinary people’s communications and even ordered lethal drone strikes on U.S. citizens.
I’m tired because I know this isn’t the end, but the beginning of a new war on terror — one whose thinly veiled racist manifestations have become explicit.
The Muslim ban means that Muslims will be in the spotlight even more and viewed almost exclusively as national security pawns. Non-citizens, of course, stand to lose the most. But let’s remember what the war on terror has always been designed to do: demonize all Muslims — citizens or not — to justify the most egregious, abusive, and racist laws and policies.
I don’t know what’s yet to come, and I’m afraid to find out.
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Maha Hilal, Ph.D., is the Michael Ratner Middle East fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s also a steering committee member of DC Justice for Muslims Coalition, an organizer with Witness Against Torture and a board member of the DC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
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