Waiting for the Barbarians…or the Islamic Terrorists

The Muslim ban executive order signed into law by Donald Trump on Saturday has alarmed and enraged people all over the country over the past few days, myself included. Trump and his cronies of course have a problem with people calling this what it is and what it was intended to be: a Muslim ban. Of course we have plenty of reason to believe that a Muslim ban is exactly what this is, since a large part of Trump’s presidential platform was a ban on ALL Muslims entering the United States. And on Sunday he tweeted that we should be concerned about the Christians being killed in the Middle East, even though Muslims have been killed in far greater numbers. His order also gives preferential treatment to Christians attempting to enter the U.S. from these countries. There is also good reason to believe that the Muslim countries not included in the ban were excluded because of Trum’s business ties there. So let’s not beat around the bush: this is a Muslim ban.

Now that we have established that, the question is why is this happening? Why has Trump continually emphasized the danger that “radical Islamic terrorists” pose to this great free Christian nation? In thinking about this issue over the last year or so, I find myself drawing parallels to one of my favorite books, Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. The book is about a great unnamed Empire threatened by an indigineous group of barbarians who are plotting to overthrow it. The barbarians are frequently painted as less than human, and though as a whole they demonstrate no ill-will towards the Empire, they are singled out as the enemy and the potential downfall of civilization. Of course, the Empire has actually invaded the natives’ land and attempted to force their culture and civilization on them. The Empire labels the natives as barbarians in order to justify their imperialism and to give its people a feeling of purpose and a common enemy.

It’s not hard to see the parallels here to the United State’s relationship to the Middle East. For decades we have invaded its lands, stripped these countries of their natural resources, overthrown their governments from the inside out, and attempted to force Western democracy on them. In doing so we have created terrorist organizations within the region whose main purpose is rebelling against Western influence and seizing power in instable countries that are vulnerable. Their aims have little to do with Islam, and much to do with the human instinct to seek and retain power. Make an entire region feel powerless and ruled by an alien external force for years and you are bound to create people whose sole aim is to take that power back and wield it with cruel intentions. Of course, I am oversimplifying the problems that have created so much instability within the Middle East. I couldn’t possibly write a post long enough to detail all the factors that have contributed to the instability in the region, and I don’t claim to be knowledgeable enough to do so. But, my point is that the U.S. has played a decisive hand in this instability and bears the responsibility for much of the chaos that is driving people to seek refugee status in more stable Western countries. Coincidentally the other day Trump said we should have kept the oil from Iraq after we withdrew our troops, because the oil was the only reason ISIS was able to financially support itself. He also suggested that the next time we invade a sovereign country, we will be sure to take all their resources so there is no wealth left to prop up any kind of a successful government or terrorist organization.

Now we have people fleeing from the terrorists that we created (and in some cases armed), and we will deny them access to our great free country because they pose a threat to it. And to top it off, rather than acknowledging the nuances of terrorism and its relationship to Islam, we now have a president and a large group of Americans who claim that the problem is Islam, not the terrorists who have corrupted it and twisted it to justify their actions. Muslims are being painted with a broad brush, as an enemy of Christian America, as people who seek to do us great harm. It seems to me to be no coincidence that after a particularly disastrous first week in the presidency, Trump attempted to draw our attention back to our common enemy: Muslims. In claiming that Muslims from this region pose a great threat to the safety of our country, Trump creates an atmosphere of fear, chaos and mistrust, primed for the consolidation of power and wide-spread approval of his actions that seek to “protect” America.

As in Waiting for the Barbarians, America is awaiting the barbarians that we believe to be Muslims to strike, only to find out that the barbarians are here, within our midst, masquerading as saviors. Make no mistake: turning our back on refugees fleeing the terrorism and instability that we helped to create, is barbaric. What we should have learned from ISIS and from the recent executive orders and from the entire history of war and persecution, is that cruelty and the seeking of power has nothing to do with religion. The dark side of human nature can flourish wherever there is suffering and chaos. Attrocities and injustice can be commited falsely under any God’s name, in the haze of fear and instability. Many attrocities have also been commited in the name of Christianity. The actions of few do not justify the condemnation and persecution of an entire group of people. Just as I hope that the rest of the world does not condemn all Americans for the actions of the ignorant, hateful demogauge that is currently running our country, I refuse to condemn all Muslims for the actions of a few. The act of pitting Americans against Muslims is nothing more than the desperate attempt to unite a fractured country and distract us from the real problems that we face such as poverty, climate change, gender inequality, racial ineqaulity, and the high cost and low coverage of our health care system. These are problems which this administration is unlikely to find solutions to, or to even address in any meaningful way, and they know this. So their solution is to distract us with fear and mistrust of foreigners and the rest of the world. It is important to note, that this tactic is not only manifested in this administration’s policies towards Muslims from the Middle East, but also in their policies towards Mexican immigrants. While we are waiting for the barbarians, our country is crumbling. How long will it take this country to realize that our threats come from the inside, not the outside?

-S

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