White House

Can We Stop Calling It a 'Muslim Ban' Now?

The list of restricted nations never included some of the largest Muslim countries. Now it includes North Korea and Venezuela.

Trump's doomed ban brought protesters out in force.

Photographer: Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images

When President Donald Trump came into office, one of the first things he did was issue a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. It was an early flash point for the so-called resistance, prompting Americans to protest the executive order by going to airports.

It also prompted legal challenges and rebukes from the courts, and its implementation was chaotic.

On Sunday, the White House announced a new version of the policy, and it bears little resemblance to the president's campaign promise to ban Muslim travel to America.

There are a few reasons. To start, two Muslim-majority countries -- Iraq and Sudan -- are no longer affected by the executive order. Considering that other countries with large Muslim populations -- like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and India -- were never on the list, even the earlier iteration hardly fulfilled Trump's crude campaign promise. 

Also two non-Muslims countries have been added to the list: North Korea and Venezuela. (Of course, North Korea does not allow its citizens to travel….) For Venezuela, the new policy affects government officials and not citizens. Chad is also added to the list. According to a 1993 census, a little over half of the population in Chad is Muslim.

This leaves five countries from the original executive order: Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya. There are some exceptions here as well. Somalis will be able to travel to the U.S. but not emigrate here. Iranian student exchanges will continue, but other travel will be restricted.

It's worth asking why certain countries are included in the travel ban. According to U.S. officials, it's because they could not meet basic standards for improving their visa systems. In the case of Iran, this is because the government in Tehran is engaged in a proxy war against U.S. allies in the Middle East, and it has a bad habit of detaining U.S. dual national citizens on trumped-up charges.

For Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya, the answer is much more straightforward. These are all basically failed states with weak governments. All four are still fighting civil wars, to varying degrees. The ability of the state to perform basic services, let alone seriously screen travelers to the U.S., is almost non-existent in many cases. Just this month, the German press reported that Berlin assesses the Islamic State holds 11,000 blank Syrian passports.

None of this is to say that a ban is the best policy. There are more subtle ways to deal with this problem. It has the unintended effect of turning away talented citizens who would otherwise help make America great again. A ban is a crude instrument.

But it's important to evaluate the president's policy for what it is. As a candidate, Trump proposed a ban on people from an entire religion. He also promised to deport all people who are in the U.S. illegally, to appoint a special prosecutor against his Democratic opponent and to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Trump has not delivered. Instead of decrying a phantom ban on Muslims that never came to pass, his critics should take the win.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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