On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order (EO) banning citizens of seven Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—from entering the United States. In addition, the EO suspended the already anemic refugee program for ninety days and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. Chaos ensued as two hundred inbound travelers with valid visas, green card holders, and dual citizens were detained in US ports of entry. Some unfortunate few were deported, while others remained in limbo as the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations contested the constitutionality of the ban before Judge Ann M. Donnelly of Federal District Court in Brooklyn. Donnelly subsequently ordered that the detained travelers not be deported. Another US District Court judge, James Robart of Washington State, halted the ban altogether on February 3, 2017.
At the heart of what later came be known as the “Muslim ban” is an attempt to vilify Muslim bodies, ban their mobility, and invade their privacy by activating the invading, terrorist other narrative. Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency was the culmination of a fearmongering rhetoric that pitted disenfranchised white Americans against minorities and immigrants of numerous ethnicities or faiths (Mexicans, Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims). It portrayed a dismal picture of a vulnerable America in crisis—one whose borders are constantly penetrated by immigrant invaders looking to steal American jobs and inflict harm on unsuspecting civilians. The old Cold War rhetoric has been reactivated, only this time the Soviet/Russian enemy is supplanted by the Muslim enemy. The “invading” Muslim bodies have to be invaded in return, disrobed, prodded, questioned, and forced to leak information pertaining to matters of faith and its practice. Some travelers report being asked if they pray regularly and to what extent they subscribe to shariʿa law. Others were ordered to surrender their smartphone passwords, subsequently being detained further if any Quranic verses appeared in their chats or Facebook posts. To be admitted into any US port of entry, Muslim bodies have to submit to various forms of physical and digital inspection, X-rays, and questions violating their privacy to the point of eliminating their dignity and essence. They have to be transparent, self-erasing to the point of nonexistence. Only then can their perceived threat be neutralized.
This Muslim hunt did not stop at citizens of the seven countries referenced in the EO but extended to American citizens of all ethnicities. There are reports of twenty-five American citizens who were stopped at the border, asked about the relevance of their names to the Muslim faith, and ordered to surrender their smartphones and passwords. On February 7, 2017, Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of the late boxer Muhammad Ali, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, were detained at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International airport (Vales 2017). Camacho-Ali was released upon showing her picture with her late ex-husband. However, Muhammad Ali Jr. was detained for another two hours and asked whether he was a Muslim, and what was the reasoning behind his unabashedly Muslim name, Muhammad, despite his African American ethnicity. On March 9, 2017, he was prevented yet again from boarding a flight, this time in Washington, DC, because of his name.
The most pernicious aspect of profiling and targeting the Muslim citizens of the seven nations in the EO travel ban is the way that it normalized prejudice and gave license to hateful rhetoric and violent extremists. On February 22, 2017, two Indian engineers were shot at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, by Adam Purinton, who hurled racial slurs and shouted, “Get out of my country!” (Eligon, Blinder, and Najar 2017). The subsequent death of thirty-two-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla and the deafening silence of the Trump administration in condemning this hate crime speak volumes to the challenges minorities and immigrants face in the era of Trump. The unseen benefit of this unprecedented attack on our constitutional and civil liberties is the mobilization of US citizens from various backgrounds against prejudice and tyranny. Uniting in collaborative resistance, residents of New York organized an “I Am a Muslim Too” rally on February 19, 2007. Thousands of people filled Times Square in protest of the Muslim ban, declaring that an attack on one Muslim American is an attack on all Americans. Non-Muslim women donned the hijab as they listened to Linda Sarsour, the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and cofounder of MPower Change. Invoking their shared humanity, she stated, “While you are saying, ‘I am Muslim too,’ I say to you, ‘I am unapologetically Muslim all day, every day.’” (Chow 2017). The focus on resisting through an intersectional coalition that brings men, women, and members of various ethnic and religious communities together is key to defying the encroachment on American civil liberties. Indivisible movements sprouting all over the country are the best forms of civil and feminist advocacy in defiance of Trump’s Muslim ban. Akin to the millions of Arabs who protested tyrannical autocrats by occupying public squares during the Arab Spring, American citizens invading city squares and congressional offices represent the antidote to Trump’s poisonous, divisive rhetoric, and the triumph of American democracy.