The Straits Times says

A grave travesty of reason and values

United States President Donald Trump has not enhanced America's security by deciding to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees indefinitely. He also has banned temporarily people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the country. The sudden and arbitrary executive order defies logic. While all countries are entitled to enforce their borders, this "extreme vetting" initiative does not make America any safer, as those who are likely to be swayed by terrorist propaganda and act against the country could well be living there already, or even native born. Misguided religious fervour, destructive anger over the ways of the world and access to the Internet are all that it takes to make people turn against their fellow man.

Mr Trump's supporters could argue that he wishes to preclude the possibility of potential terrorists entering the United States. In that case, it is curious that he has chosen Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for punitive action. According to a study by the Cato Institute, an American think-tank, foreigners from those nations killed no Americans in terrorist attacks on American soil between 1975 and the end of 2015. Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the carnage at a Florida nightclub that took 49 innocent lives last year, was an American-born man whose parents were from Afghanistan. That outrage was the deadliest mass shooting in American history and the worst terror strike on the country since the attacks of 2001.

Quite apart from the particular list of predominantly Muslim countries that Mr Trump has chosen, his decision will fuel anti-American sentiments among Muslims worldwide because his list of threats singles out potential enemies by religion. He appears to be giving legislative credence to the theory of a clash of civilisations, which argues that cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the world after the passing of the Cold War. America's multicultural history and contemporary identity stand tall in emblematic denunciation of such ethnic fatalism. Moves such as Mr Trump's decision could unravel the edifice of that American identity by creating a class of religions and cultures to be trusted and therefore to be preferred over those that cannot. America's feared ethnic "outsiders" seem to be Muslims today. They could be any other group deemed a threat tomorrow.

Mr Trump's move will only sharpen the radical extremists' message. This is that America is hostile to Muslims, not because of what some misguided members of the community individually do, but because of who they collectively are. While he is the most powerful person in the United States, he is not the only embodiment of American power or values. His actions may be law, but that does not make them right.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'A grave travesty of reason and values'. Print Edition | Subscribe