By Laurence De Looze, professor, comparative literature
It is Monday afternoon, and I am fresh from a solidarity gathering at the London Muslim Mosque on Oxford Street, in the wake of the massacre of Muslims praying in Quebec City Sunday night. It has been less than three days since Donald Trump (I have a hard time putting the word “President” before his name) announced his travel ban on people coming from seven Muslim majority countries unless they are part of the religious minority (code for non-Muslim).
Over the past week, people around the world have put forth many arguments for why Trump’s ban makes no sense. Since the 1970s, there has been no one from any of the seven countries who has committed a terrorist act in the United States. The vetting of refugees going to the United States is a rigorous two-year process. None of this makes any difference to Trump and his team, who have redefined lies as, to use the term of his advisor Kellyanne Conway, “alternative facts.”
The world has reacted quickly. Seasoned diplomats and State Department officials have signed on to a letter opposing the travel ban. Some countries have promised retaliation. In the United Kingdom, more than 1,500,000 have signed a petition to rescind the Queen’s invitation to Trump to visit in the summer. It is highly telling that the closest ally of the United States would be debating whether it was willing to let the sitting president set foot on their soil.
One of the most alarming aspects of the ban is Trump gives legitimacy to racism and discrimination. At New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport, a Trump supporter kicked an airline employee wearing a hijab, insulting her with obscenities and shouting that Trump “will get rid of you.” Closer to home, the tragic events at the mosque in Quebec demonstrate Canada is not immune to the “Trump effect.”
As members of the university’s humanist community, we must be ready to stand up and defend whoever is the target of discrimination. We have all been brought up with stories about Nazi Germany, and we like to think we would have been among those who defended Jews and hid them from the Gestapo.
Well, now we are being put to the test. In the 1930s in Germany, they went after Jews. In 2017, in the United States, Trump is going after Muslims. This means we cannot stand passively by. It means we might have to cancel a trip to the grocery store, or a squash court reservation, or any of hundreds of daily activities in order to make our presence known immediately and publicly when an urgent need arises, as it has done this week. It means we need to be vocal and active in our support.
When the Homeland Security Office argues that only one per cent of the 300,000 travelers coming into the United States last Friday were “inconvenienced” by Trump’s executive order, they are suggesting it is legitimate to discriminate against a group, if the numbers are kept small. But discrimination is not like unemployment statistics, where anything under four per cent is considered just fine. To give an order that legitimizes the discrimination against one religious group is unacceptable in all cases.
I am a dual citizen, Canada-USA. I love both countries, and I especially cherish the tolerance and multiculturalism of Canadian society. Growing up in the United States, I had the words that open the Declaration of Independence imprinted on my consciousness. The affirmation we are all equal and all have inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” was behind the great liberating social movements of the 20th Century – women’s suffrage in the early decades and the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
It is clear that Trump could not care less about the founding principles of the country that has made him rich. Nor does his team. The very First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Trump’s advisor, Steve Bannon, has told the press to “shut [its] mouth,” and Trump’s advisor Rudy Giuliani has told Meet the Press that Trump wanted him to draft a ban on Muslims but to somehow “make it legal” by expressing it differently.
I have a duty as an American to stand up for the principles in the Constitution. And I have an obligation, as a patriotic Canadian, to demand my fellow citizens, beginning with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but stretching down to all of us, vociferously resist the evil emanating from the White House.
Laurence De Looze is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at Western and a fellow in Western’s School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities.