Reactionaries in the driver's seat

Reactionaries in the driver's seat
4 min read
20 Dec, 2016
Comment: The America Trump inherits is one traumatised by years of "War on Terror" policies on top of institutionalised racism, writes Yousef Munayyer
President-elect Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Sumter, South Carolina, February 17, 2016 [Getty]

"There are other forms of racial profiling that goes on in America. Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what is called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we have to do something about that."

These were the words of George W. Bush, then Governor of Texas, while debating Vice President Al Gore in a 2000 Presidential election debate.

Of course, after winning the election, President George W. Bush ushered in some of the most significant restrictions on civil liberties in the modern era which had a particularly harsh impacts on the Arab and Muslim community in the United States. The attacks of September 11, 2001 transformed the United States and the world.

But the strong statement against racial profiling and the targeting of Arabs by the security state in America by George W. Bush then, is a reflection of just how different the United States is today, compared to before the start of the so-called "War on Terror".

After the attacks on that September day, the president of the United States assumed largely unchecked authority to initiate significant changes to the security state. The Department of Homeland Security was formed, the Patriot Act was passed, a prison camp was set up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an Office of the Director of National Intelligence was formed, and so on.

Along with these changes came the creation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registry system. The programme, known as NSEERs, required immigrants from specified countries, to register with the Federal government. Of course the specific countries were all Muslim majority countries, with the exception of North Korea, which was thrown in for good measure.

Immigrants from Muslim majority countries were 79 percent of all those targeted by this interagency operation

The database generated by the NSEERs registry was mined to conduct anti-terror operations by an interagency effort in 2004 and 2005 called "Operation Frontline". The operation was launched to "detect, deter, and disrupt terrorist operations" among US immigrant communities.

While immigrants from Muslim majority countries made up a microscopic fraction of the immigrant population in the United States, they were 79 percent of all those targeted by this interagency operation. This meant that Muslim immigrants were 1,280 times more likely to be the targets of this operation than other immigrants.

Read More: Refugees and xenophobia: When pragmatism trumps compassion

The use of profiling was clear. But so was the abject failure of this approach. Thousands were investigated and hundreds were arrested but exactly ZERO national security related charges were ever made. The NSEERS program was ultimately halted under Barack Obama but the government's capacity to profile never waned.

This most recent presidential transition moment is radically different to the pre-9/11 world. We arrive here after 15 years of the so-called War on Terror during which these sorts of policies were normalised.

Thousands were investigated and hundreds were arrested but exactly ZERO national security related charges were ever made

The next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has specifically spoke specifically on the campaign trail of targeting Muslims, and he is surrounding himself with advisors who share some very dangerous views about Muslims and the relationship between the West and Islam.

His National Security Advisor believes that Islam is an ideology and not a religion and that it is "like a cancer" and has promoted an Islamophobic video claiming fear of Muslims "is rational".

At the same time, there seems to be a growing split in the American security apparatus. The FBI and the CIA appear at odds over the role of foreign intervention in the American election, and many believe that the FBI's behavior in the weeks and months before the election was politicised.

America today is a place where the next president of the United States campaigned and won on fear of outsiders, specifically spoke of targeting Muslims, surrounds himself with islamophobes in the highest positions of his government, and may well have a law enforcement agency that will do his political bidding.

Al-Qaeda and IS are likely itching at the opportunity to strike the US under a reactionary like Trump

Donald Trump is a very different candidate to George W. Bush, and the America he inherits is one traumatised by years of War on Terror policies on top of racism.

The floodgates of Bush's attacks on civil liberties opened after 9/11 and it now fall to us to ask what on earth might we expect from Trump, should another attack take place against the United States?

For their part, actors like Al-Qaeda and IS share the view that Islam and the West are incompatible, and are likely itching at the opportunity to strike the US under a reactionary like Trump.

It is a scary thought, but reactionaries on both sides of this ideological divide are in increasingly in the world's driver's seat, though it is unclear where they are taking us.

Dr. Yousef Munayyer is a Middle East Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC and Executive Director of US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Follow him on Twitter: @YousefMunayyer

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.