Critics of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration have called it a “Muslim ban,” quoting his campaign rhetoric. But as a Muslim and naturalized American, I believe this is a bold geopolitical decision. In the age of Islamism, these bans are pragmatic and presidential.
The seven affected countries represent 12.5 percent of all Muslim-majority states, a mere 8.2 percent of the world’s Muslims. Because we Muslims make our homes in more than 183 nations around the world, these orders are neither global nor anti-Muslim. The executive order targets lands fertile for Islamism: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Violent Islamism thrives within expanding vacuums formed under weak governments. Unchallenged, within such vacuums, failed states are filled with extremism. Tragically, each of the seven countries has become at once victim, safe haven, patron and incubator of violent Islamism.
Islamism thrives in chaos. In the wake of the last decade defined by the Obama presidencies, chaos stretches from the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa. A devastated Iraq that we exited too hastily, when it was unable to govern itself, is destabilized by the Islamic State. In Yemen, an unfolding humanitarian crisis caused by Saudi Arabia’s operation against the Houthis (precipitated by President Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran and his shunning of the Saudi superpower) is magnified by starvation. Libya, a state crippled by infighting of competing Islamist governments, is powerless as ISIS expands its third front on the shores of the Mediterranean. And despite 25 years of foreign aid, Somalia remains just as destabilized by the jihadist group al-Shabab as by conflicts between brutal warlords.
From such vacuums flow migrants and refugees. Legitimate fears of destabilization concern even the most powerful of nations, as we witness massive influxes in Germany and Canada.
Canadian David Harris, director of international intelligence at consultancy Insignis Strategic Research Inc., notes that ISIS and other Islamist groups prey on international migration streams. Migrants are captive populations in distress, thereby at risk of incubating Islamism. Elias Bou Saab, former education minister in Lebanon, warned in September 2015 of the radicalization within that country’s refugee camps holding more than a million Syrians. Saab has estimated that 2 percent of them are connected to ISIS extremism.
Pope Francis made a similar observation on Portuguese radio. “The truth is that just 400 kilometers from Sicily, there is an incredibly cruel terrorist group,” he said. “So there is a danger of infiltration, this is true.”
That said, most refugees are fleeing the carnage inflicted upon them, and this majority is not Islamist, but rather ordinary Muslim and Christian and other families in distress. The scale of migration may ultimately also be much greater than we imagine.
Documents leaked to the German newspaper Bild revealed that the German government was expecting final numbers of migrants to be four times initial estimates, as each migrant exercises the right to sponsor family members.
President Trump, bearing the burden of our borders, emerges as the consummate pragmatist. He seeks to avoid exactly such destabilization in the United States as he grapples with radical Islam around the world.
Qanta A. Ahmed is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom.”