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.

Maha Hilal June 28, 2017

Activists protest the Muslim ban. (Jack Taylor, Getty Images)

This piece first appeared in For­eign Pol­i­cy in Focus.

The government wins not only because of whom it targets directly, but because of who else becomes an indirect target.

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.

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.
Dr. Maha Hilals research and exper­tise is on Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Islam­o­pho­bia in the War on Ter­ror. She’s the co-direc­tor of the Jus­tice for Mus­lims Col­lec­tive, an orga­niz­er with Wit­ness Against Tor­ture, and a coun­cil mem­ber of School of the Amer­i­c­as Watch. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she was the inau­gur­al Michael Rat­ner fel­low at the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Studies.
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