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The View From Asia

US travel ban brings out best and worst of America

US President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries has stoked tensions anew in the region. Here are excerpts from commentaries in Asia News Network papers.

Making the world less safe

Moh Zaki Arrobi
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

President Donald Trump has sprung yet another shock: Banning travellers from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

It is particularly ironic that Trump's decision came on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan 27). Seven countries from the Middle East and North Africa, namely Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, were included in the ban list in his recent executive order.

Citizens of these countries are deemed to pose a serious security and terrorist threat to the US. In addition, the order clearly states that it is just the beginning of a broader ban in the future.

In other words, other Muslim- majority countries may be added to the list.

The order is extremely dangerous not just because it represents a racist and extremely xenophobic paradigm, but also because of the consequences that might follow after the implementation of such a policy.

There are at least three serious consequences that might follow.


Activists have gathered outside US airports, as seen here at Portland International Airport on Jan 29, to protest against Mr Trump's travel ban. PHOTO: REUTERS

First, the ban may galvanise protests and anger not only in the seven countries but also in the rest of the Muslim world. This anger could lead to violent protests, as happened when Prophet Muhammad was insulted in the European publications Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo in previous years. Furthermore, it will harm relations between Muslim citizens and minority groups that are associated with the West, such as Christian communities in Muslim-majority countries, including Indonesia.

Second, this discriminatory ban will equip extremist groups with "a weapon and ammunition" in radicalising and recruiting Muslims around the world.

Third, it will reproduce the divisive discourse of the global war on terror after 9/11. It will resonate with former US president George W. Bush's controversial tenet of the global war on terror that nations of the world must be "with us or against us".

Rather than making America and the world safer, Trump's policy will benefit extremist groups as well as generate anger and hostility against the West and all things associated with it in the Muslim world.

Spirit of America?

Martin Swapan Pandey
The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Slamming the door shut on innocent people fleeing murderous men and machines from parts of the world which, in President Donald Trump's own words, are "in a horrible mess" defies everything America stands for.

In airports across the Land of the Free, there have been heartrending scenes. Families have been separated, students and teachers barred from class, executives stopped from attending meetings despite having valid travel, work and stay permits. Many of them have dual citizenship. Their "fault"? They are originally from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen.

This discriminatory decree is baffling because America is a country of immigrants. In fact, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), one of America's founding fathers, was an immigrant. Born an Englishman, Paine is credited with inspiring the rebels to declare independence from Britain in 1776, within two years of his migration to the US.

The intent of the order, of course, is to protect US citizens from the threat of "radical Islamic terrorism". But targeting an entire nation, seven nations in this case, or a race or a religious group is counterproductive and only plays into the hands of those radicals Trump wants to protect the US from. It's hard to believe how his administration can't see that.

Characteristically though, Mr Trump defends all this and insists: "It's not a Muslim ban… Tt's working out very nicely."

No, it isn't. Much of the world sees it as a Muslim ban and has described it as such. Iran, which banned all American nationals from travelling to the country in response, said the move "will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters".

The heat of the injunction has spread far and wide. European Council president Donald Tusk has labelled Mr Trump an "existential threat" to Europe. Germany and France reacted sharply, if not angrily.

But the whole thing has also brought forth perhaps the most beautiful aspect of American democracy in the form of resistance of its people, defiant enough to challenge their president when they think he is wrong.

Even as travellers were being held, thousands of Americans took position outside airports, demanding the release of the immigrants; no one was beaten, tear-gassed or arrested. As opposed to Mr Trump's declaration that "we don't want them (immigrants) here", the demonstrators thundered: "Let them in" and "All people are legal".

Why the silence, Muslim rulers?

Rafia Zakaria
Dawn, Pakistan

Since the night of the ban, crowds of protesters have gathered outside US airports holding signs and banners welcoming immigrants and refugees.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed and won injunctions whereby judges barred border officials from enforcing the ban and from deporting those who had valid visa documents. Teams of lawyers gathered at most major US airports to provide legal representation to those being detained in violation of judicial orders.

It is impossible to imagine crowds of Pakistanis standing at airports to welcome Christian refugees.

Internationally, the outcry in the US was also seen in Europe.

The Canadian Prime Minister issued a statement condemning the ban and offering temporary emergency refuge to those that the US was turning away. Even Israelis came out on the streets of Tel Aviv to protest against America's Muslim ban.

Here is who did not care.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump called several world leaders. This included, among others, the king of Saudi Arabia. The press releases issued following the telephone call said that the two leaders had talked about creating a safe zone in Syria for those displaced by the war. They did not talk about the Muslim ban that Mr Trump had just instituted in his own country. If the issue was raised, neither official Saudi nor American sources said anything at all about it. It was as if the events of Friday - the innocent people detained at US airports for hours, the crowds supporting them, the outcry and outrage around the world - had just not happened.

The contrast raises a question that few in Muslim countries wish to consider. It reveals first and foremost how self-serving some of the richest and most influential Muslim countries are.

Even as ordinary Americans were braving extreme cold temperatures to protest against what they saw as gross injustice, Muslim rulers did not seem to consider the issue worthy of attention.

Hatred, whether it appears at home or abroad, is the same venomous beast; the constrictions of borders and the imposition of bans based on generalisations is always wrong, not there or here, but quite literally everywhere.


  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'US travel ban brings out best and worst of America'. Print Edition | Subscribe