Wednesday, February 22, 2017

President Trump’s immigration executive order, law and politics: Questions and Answers

President Trump’s immigration executive order, law and politics: Questions and Answers
A community united, building broad coalitions, can push back*

President Trump issued an immigration executive order that caused a lot of controversy, even turmoil at airports. Why did he pass this order? Why did the judges rule against Trump? What does the future hold for Muslim Americans?  Below are commonly asked questions and their answers.

-What is an executive order? 

An executive order is an order issued by the President of the United States to the executive branch officers directing them to engage in a particular action. The legal authority for it comes from the inherent authority of the position of the President of the United States or from statutory authority given to him by Congress. This order has the force of law.

- What is the controversial immigration executive order about? 

This order suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, suspended the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspended the entry of all aliens from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days.

-Why did President Trump issue this order? 

The official Trump line is that the order is needed to keep the country safe from terror.  The wording of the order cites the 9/11 attacks. However, many see it as a fulfillment of a campaign promise. During his campaign he called for a ban on Muslims entering the US and flatly stated “Islam hates us.” Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stated that Trump asked how he could legally ban Muslims from entering the US. Trump also told a Christian broadcasting station that the ban does not apply to Christians. The US also assured Israel that the ban does not apply to Jews from these countries. Therefore, it is a Muslim ban in all but name.

- Why was there pushback from the American public?  

There was a humanitarian crisis on US soil, a crisis that one usually sees on TV in other countries. Families separated, individuals turned away at airports or detained not because of what they did but because of who they are as members of a religious group.  Immigrants are so an integral part of American society and even Americans not directly impacted by immigration are indirectly impacted in important ways. The actions of the President were perceived as going against American values- against core American values and the Constitution.  Many Americans thought the measures that Trump took were unconstitutional and un-American. America does not use a religious test for citizenship or admission to the country. 

-Why was there pushback from the courts? How could the courts side with foreigners against the President of the United States? 

 The courts did not side with foreigners against the President. They sided with the law and the Constitution. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 authorizes the President to suspend “the entry of any class of aliens” whose entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The judicial standard of review here is the rational basis test- the lowest standard of review.  Judge Robart during oral argument asked for evidence that the executive order was based on facts not fiction.  The government had no facts to justify the suspension. Their basic argument was that Trump is the President of the United States and his actions in that area are basically unreviewable. But, the President is not above the Constitution. The judiciary branch is a co-equal branch to the executive and legislative branch. They have a final say on what is constitutional and what is not. And insulting judges does not help.  Trump stated: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law- enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.”  This insult has shocked the public and the judiciary and did not help Trump’s case at all. Interestingly, all the court events so far have been preliminary- courts have not studied the merits yet. But the judges were convinced that the plaintiffs are likely to win on the merits and that not ordering a stop to the president’s order would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs.

-Trump said he is issuing another order. What do you expect to happen?

The Wall Street Journal attributed Trump’s losses in the courts to the executive order being “conceived in secret, sloppily written and overbroad, and sprung on a confused public.”  These are all factors that contributed to  Trump’s judicial ignominious defeats but the real reason for the loss is whether the order is based on facts or on fiction, on facts or on biases and prejudices. Judges read the newspapers, watch the news and have access to Twitter. They knew the real reason for the ban and the Trump administration did not even bother to manufacture facts to justify the order.  My sense is that the judiciary is more wary as to the administration’s antics and they will scrutinize closely any future order.

- Are you optimistic about the future? 

Americans, by definition, are optimistic people. Islam requires us to be optimistic- otherwise we have lost faith in God. But being optimistic is not the same as being na├»ve and unprepared. We are in treacherous times and we should expect anything from a President Trump. But, the reality that Trump has declared the media an “enemy” and insulted the judiciary invigorates the media and the judiciary.

- Do you think Arab and Muslim Americans are up to this challenge? 

Yes, they can push back hard it they organize and let go of petty politics and form coalitions with the broader American society. American Muslims are merely 1% of the US population, this underscores the importance of coalition making with sympathetic segments of the US population. But, there were no Muslims in the US Congress before the 9/11 attacks- now there are two- one elected in 2006 and the other in 2008. This underscores the importance of political participation- from the simple act of voting to running for office.    

-What do you think of the Arab and Muslim American community in Detroit?

The Detroit Arab and Muslim American community is on the radar of every anti- Muslim anti-Arab bigot in the US. The high profile of the community, as stated by others, is a blessing and a curse. First, importing conflict from overseas will not help bring the Arab and Muslim American communities together. Second, there are voices in the community that are struggling to remain relevant so they stir the pot of division to get attention. One of these voices, Osama Siblani, has a newspaper that he uses as a tool to advance his control the way the Soviets used Pravda.  Siblani wants to run the community as a Middle Eastern dictatorship, a fiefdom- and he is known as a cheerleader for dictatorships in the Middle East.  Just last week Osama’s paper resurrected a writer, Mohmed Ozeir, from the past to attack prominent voices in the Arab American community. One of the people attacked told me he and others attacked by Ozeir had done much more than he had ever done to the community himself and Ozeir in particular is in no position to judge others.  My source noted that Ozeir is an excellent writer but is one of Osama’s frenemies and Osama provided him a platform to sow division in the community. My source asked rhetorically: What has Ozeir himself done to the community when he could? Again, you ask yourself why? Why sow hatred and division? The community faces extraordinary challenges and does not need manufactured conflict driven by ego and petty personal agendas. 

* Will appear in the Forum and Link, 2/23/2017,

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

America and Iran: Taking “death to America” “too literally"

Ayatollah Shirazi

America’s relationship with the theocracy in Iran is complicated. While Iran always makes anti-American noises, reality is more complicated.

In his book, Dining with al Qaeda, published in 2010 Hugh Pope, a British reporter who used to write for The Wall Street Journal, relates an instructive episode on Iran’s attitude to the US, in Pope’s words:       

The slogan appeared on the compound wall of Khamenei’s representative in Shiraz, Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri Shirazi, who kept his offices in a jumble of box-like concrete constructions softened by palms and eucalyptus trees.
          The ayatollah was mocking my reporter’s need for neat categorizations, and he tossed his chaff into the chair with a trouble-loving twinkle in his eyes. He clearly did not often have the chance to address “the West.” He moved to a subject close to his heart: Why, why did America not realize that Iran was its friend?

          Surprised at this turn in the conversation, I mumbled something about Americans finding it hard to think well of a country that kept saying “Death to America.”
          “Oh, Americans take all that stuff far too literally!” said the ayatollah, happily hitting his stride. “It’s just propaganda. We are at war after all. The difference between Americans and us, though, is that we are only waging a war of words. How many Americans did we kill? None. But in our war with Iraq the Americans were helping the Iraqis use chemical weapons, you were selling the Iraqis Phantoms and Mirages.”
75 – 76

The Soviet role in one of the most bloody chapters in Palestinian history: The Abu Musa rebellion

Abu Musa

The demise of the Soviet Union is considered by some Palestinians as a major setback for the Palestine cause since the Soviets supported them and the US supported Israel. The history of the Soviets is more complicated. The USSR played a role in one of the bloodiest episodes in Palestinian history: The rebellion of Abu Musa.

In Dining with al –Qaeda, Hugh Pope, a well-known reporter with a long experience in the Middle East related the following, in his words:

A few days later she took me across town to the compound housing the Soviet embassy. It looked  then like many U.S. embassies look today, surrounded by high concrete walls and solid metal gates The guards were expecting us and ushered us in, deeper and deeper, until we reached a building with a plaque announcing it to be the Soviet-Palestinian Friendship Society. There, waiting for us, was a dignified gentleman with silver hair, a military uniform, and a cravat.
          His name was Colonel Mousa Abu Mousa, and he was something in the PLO. I’d never heard of him, but I tried to keep my cool, partly because the embassy had put in a minder to watch over our conversation, and mostly because I didn’t want to be mocked afterward by Slobodanka for any ignorance. Abu Mousa soon got my attention, however, shocking me by denouncing Yasser Arafat as a traitor to the Palestinian cause and insisting that Arafat intended to betray the Arabs by doing a separate peace deal with Israel. (Such plans were indeed afoot with Jordan at the time.) He, Abu Mousa, was now raising the flag of rebellion against Arafat. This new defender of the purity of the Palestinian cause would prevent imperialist America buying off the Palestinians like it had bought off Egypt with the gift of a billion dollars per year.
          I didn’t think to ask: Why are you doing this in a Soviet embassy building? Why are we doing this in front of a KGB minder?