Trump’s goal is not to exclude Muslims from our country; it is to exclude sharia supremacists, a significant subset of Muslims.
President Trump’s temporary ban on entry into the U.S. by various categories of aliens has caused a firestorm. That owes in part to the rash implementation of perfectly legal restrictions, but the hysteria is out of proportion to the minimal harm actually done.
One of the most dismaying parts of the debate has been the banter over whether Trump has imposed a “Muslim Ban.”
It is no surprise, of course, that Islamists — along with their friends and stooges on both sides of the political aisle — have used the opportunity to agitate and hand-wring over the specter of America “at war with Islam.”
That, after all, has been page-one of their playbook for a generation.
There has also, however, been indignation on the other side, from Trump defenders denying that the executive order (EO) is in any way a “Muslim ban.” Time after time this weekend, right-of-center news outlets and commentators could be found defying their guests and counterparts to find the word “Muslim” or “Islam” in the EO. I sympathize with the frustration. The EO is clearly not a ban on all Muslims, or even of any specific Muslim. Since the other side is slanderously suggesting otherwise, there is an irresistible urge to seize on anything that proves them wrong.
Yet the only reason there is an EO is the threat posed by sharia-supremacism, which we inexactly refer to as “radical Islam.” You can’t have radical Islam without Islam. Therefore, the people the EO seeks to exclude are, of necessity, Muslims — not all Muslims, of course, but a significant subset of them nonetheless.
Trump got to the EO (which is a temporary stop on the way to a more refined policy) by starting — during his campaign — with the proposal of a temporary categorical ban on all Muslims. I highlight temporary because it is important. Trump never took the position that all Muslims outside the U.S. should be banned from our country for all time. He recognized the need to separate our Muslim friends from our radical Islamic enemies. He was groping for a way to do that while protecting the country.
For decades, Washington has been suicidally unwilling to target our radical Islamic enemies for fear of offending Muslims in general. Trump’s more security-minded approach — which many Americans outside Washington regard as common sense — was to call a temporary halt to the admission of Muslim aliens until the government could figure out an effective way to screen out Islamists from pro-constitutional Muslims who would be an asset to our country.
During the campaign, then, Trump asked Rudy Giuliani — the former New York City mayor and renowned federal prosecutor — to help him develop a policy that would solve this dilemma. Rudy then put together a team of advisers, of which I was a member, to work the problem. Trump’s proposals consequently evolved away from a coarse categorical ban, adopting instead a threat-based approach that would rely on vetting rather than banning, and that would target the places where the threat is most prevalent.
Again, since the threat is radical Islam, the geographical focus would necessarily involve places where that ideology is most prevalent. Those are Muslim places.
As president, Trump is now moving national policy in the direction of the threat-based strategy of heightened vetting (which he calls “extreme” vetting) that he called for during the campaign. It is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Thus, just as he did during the campaign, Trump is starting with temporary exclusions that are categorical: an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, a four-month ban on other refugees, and a three-month ban on aliens from seven Muslim-majority countries that were cited by Congress and President Obama because of vetting challenges.
These bans are not the ultimate objective. The goal is to give the public immediate protection while the government has a few months to refine threat-based vetting procedures.
As already noted, there were implementation problems with Trump’s EO. Nevertheless, if our choice is (a) the Washington approach of never getting to a good national-security policy because it could offend Islamists and the Left, or (b) Trump’s approach of imperfectly implementing a good national-security policy at the risk of offending Islamists and the Left, then give me Trump’s approach every time.
All that said, though, we should not hide under our beds in shame every time an Islamist, a Democrat, or a media talking-head spews: “Muslim ban!” Of course we’re banning Muslims. We’re moving to an exclusion of radical Islam, and radical Islam is exclusively made up of Muslims.
Go through the EO. Refugees in general and those from Syria in particular are problematic because of the heavy concentration of Muslims, some percentage of which are adherent to radical Islam. The seven countries in Congress’s Obama-era statute were cited as vetting problems because they are Muslim-majority countries embroiled in savage wars and terror promotion, which have resulted in governments that either hate the United States or are too dysfunctional to provide background checks on their nationals. It is not our fault that majority-Muslim societies tend to breed such pathologies.
Our goal is not to exclude Muslims from our country; it is to exclude sharia supremacists, a significant subset of Muslims. They reject our Constitution. Many of them would like to kill us. All of them want us to submit to their law. The threat they pose is not hypothetical — they have killed thousands of Americans and are actively plotting to kill thousands more. I make no apologies for wanting to keep them out of my country. Nor do I look at excluding them as excluding religion. It is, instead, the exclusion of a totalitarian political ideology — something that our law already explicitly endorses. See, e.g., Section 1182(a)(3)(D) of federal immigration law (“Immigrant Membership in Totalitarian Party”): “Any immigrant who is or has been a member of or affiliated with the Communist or any other totalitarian party (or subdivision or affiliate thereof), domestic or foreign, is inadmissible” (emphasis added).
If we are serious about banning sharia-supremacism — or, if you insist, “radical Islam” — that is inescapably going to involve banning Muslims. All sharia supremacists are Muslims, just like all members of the Irish Republican Army are Irish.
Sharia supremacism is an interpretation of Islam that traces to both its seventh-century origins and to the cementing, a millennium ago, of its classical legal code — which is totalitarian, discriminatory, and in some particulars, brutal. That code holds that all the world must be governed by Allah’s law, sharia. It is, to repeat, less a religion than a form of totalitarianism under a religious veneer.
Sharia-supremacism is not the only interpretation of Islam — not by a long shot. It is, however, an aggressive interpretation of Islam. That matters: Since other interpretations of Islam tend to be passive, and since tens of millions of Muslims identify with Islam more culturally than canonically or theologically, sharia-supremacism is far more influential and threatening than its mere numbers indicate. Whether its adherents constitute a quarter, a third, a half, or some other percentage of global Islam is beside the point. As we see throughout Europe, it punches way above its weight in countries where Islam accounts for less than 10 percent of the population.
It is true that only a small percentage of sharia supremacists become violent jihadists. That is not much comfort since we’re talking about a small percentage of millions of people. More significantly, though, jihadism is not the totality of the threat against us. Communities in which sharia-supremacism is prevalent are supportive of jihadist goals and thus become safe harbors for radicalization, as well as jihadist recruitment, training, and fund-raising. As illustrated by the deterioration of Europe under mass-immigration by Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, sharia-supremacists aim to establish anti-assimilationist enclaves that breed jihadism while challenging the sovereignty of the host country.
That is the threat we must confront. That doing so involves restrictions against Muslims is unavoidable. We should not pretend otherwise. And we should not apologize for saying so.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.