The Ethics Of… The Immigration Ban

No arsing about with an introduction this week; you all know what this is about. Donald Trump has surprised everyone by actually following through on his campaign promises, and has instituted a temporary ban on immigration and refugees from a number of countries – specifically Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya.

This obviously is not quite in line with his election promise to ban any Muslims from the country, but in light of the fact that such a ban would be massively unconstitutional, he’s found a work around and banned people from countries that just so happen to be undeveloped and majority Muslim.

Naturally the reaction to this has been outraged fury, on the grounds that such a blanket ban is racist/bigoted in the extreme. And naturally this was met in turn with a storm of counter-criticism along the lines of ‘he’s doing what the silent majority want’, criticism of political correctness, and celebration of Trump for ‘standing up for national security’.

You know what’s funny? Trump thinks all that diplomacy, aid and trade dealing the USA did was AGAINST its national interests. Can’t tell if he’s too cynical or too naive.

But oddly enough the question that’s getting lost in this debate, as it was last year when the idea was first floated, is whether banning Muslim immigration a good idea or not, and why? It’s easy to call out either side of the debate as ‘racist’ or ‘politically correct’, but unless we can demonstrate that our particular argument is backed up by evidence and logic, then we’re just yelling at each other.


So, let’s have a look at the arguments:

The plan to ban Muslim immigration (yeah I’m aware that’s not what is actualy in place, but that’s obviously its function) is based on a couple of fairly solid observations:

The cultural norms of many Muslim nations, and of Islam itself, are contrary to the values of western nations such as Europe, the USA and Australia. It’s argued that allowing immigration from these groups leads to conflict, which may lead to violence and the erosion of our values by outsiders.

The major threat from this is obviously Islamic terrorism; people motivated by Islamic-based ideology to attack western peoples and nations, as seen throughout the world for the last 15 years, but particularly in Europe following the mass-migration of Muslim refugees that is still underway.

For anyone looking for more detail on this crisis, I can’t recommend this video strongly enough.

Both these observations are factually true (to a degree) and very serious problems. Islamic immigrants often do bring very different cultural norms with them, some of which I personally find repulsive – the burqa for example, not to mention some of the more extreme sexist practices. These values becoming acceptable or normal in Australia would be a very serious problem due the harm they cause, and as such should be opposed wherever possible.

Furthermore Islamic terrorism is a serious danger in the world today and national security is absolutely crucial, not just to keep us safe, but also to ensure we can enjoy a good quality of life. Those who seek to advance their political goals via violence must not be allowed to prosper, and we need to take whatever measures will ensure that they don’t.

With these two goals in mind, the idea that we should ban all Muslim immigration appears to make a lot of sense – sure it might be extreme, heavy-handed or even bigoted, but if it works then it’s worth the cost, right? Banning all members of a community associated with dangerous values and behaviours may not be accurate or fair, but it’s guaranteed to solve the problem, isn’t it? And would you be willing to look the family of a victim of terrorism in the eye and tell them that not being racist was more important than their loved one still being alive?

It’s a compelling case, right? As a utilitarian I have long argued that anything, no matter how vile, can be justified provided it will lead to the best possible outcome – if a bit of racism could end the threat of Islamic terrorism and regressive values/behaviours in Australia, then shouldn’t we at least consider it?

But by the same measure, if it turned out banning Muslim immigration wouldn’t keep us safe from terrorism and/or destructive values, then we should reject it completely, right? Because then it would be racist and pointless, wouldn’t it?

Want to have a guess where this is going?

It won’t bloody work

Ok so we demand that every immigrant discloses their religion and we reject anyone who says they are a Muslim. If you were a Muslim who wanted to get into Australia, then how would you get around this hurdle? It’s a challenging question I know, but by really straining my brain I think I may have a solution! If you could – and bear with me here – somehow contrive to pretend that you weren’t a Muslim (even though you’re actually Muslim) then the customs guy might not realise that you are in fact a Muslim, and he might let you in the country! Genius!

Sarcasm aside, all you need to do to get past a ban on Muslim immigrants is to lie about your religion. Simple as that and hardly a sacrifice that many Muslims (not to mention friggin’ terrorists) are going to struggle with. Sure you might argue that customs officials would take lies into account, but how else can you detect religious beliefs? Ban people that look Muslim? Make them eat bacon? Or shall we just go whole-hog here and ban anyone who’s brown? I hate to burst certain peoples’ bubbles here, but there is such a thing as a white Muslim.

Of course the Trump administration’s solution to this has been to ban everyone from nations that are mostly Muslim, and hope that this will effectively cover the demographics they are targeting. Sure it also happens to trap several thousand innocent people out of the country, including non-Muslims, a sizable contingent of scientists, and several volunteer translators for the US military, but such is the price of safety, right? Small problem with this theory however is that no one from any of the target countries as committed a terrorist attack since 2001, though a few (and we’re talking 17 people total here) have tried and been caught. The 9/11 attackers that started this enormous mess? They were largely from Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of which are on the ban list.

But even if this is an administrative oversight and we did ban anyone from coming from any suspiciously brownish country, here’s another small problem: terrorists don’t play by the rules. If you were planning a covert attack on the USA then ask yourself the question; would you simply catch a plane (let alone a ship full of refugees), wander into customs and ask for a tourist visa? Or would you fake a passport, go through all the proper legal channels and otherwise do everything in your power to ensure that your entry into the country would be successful? Contrary to popular belief, these aren’t sheep-herders in the desert we’re talking about here; leaders of successful terrorist organisations are highly educated, extremely well resourced and intelligent enough to survive the combined efforts of the developed world to find/kill them. They are not going to run afoul of something as simple as ‘everyone from these countries isn’t allowed’ – especially when that list doesn’t cover the countries they come from.

Between these blindingly obvious problems and the fact that there are already several hundred thousand Muslims already living in Australia, the USA and pretty much every ‘western’ country on earth, banning Muslim immigration isn’t just impossible, it’s flat out pointless.

It won’t stop terrorism, in fact it will probably make it worse

So if a terrorist is trying to enter the USA or Australia to attack it, then all this ban will do to stop them beyond existing measures is to make them tell a lie about their faith. Not exactly a challenge, even before you take into account the option of radicalising Muslims already within western nations, or the far more successful recent tactic of targeting those who are already unstable, anti-social or disenfranchised, priming them for violence and pointing them in the direction of your enemies. Unless you’re planning on rounding up and deporting all Muslims already within your country, as well as any non-Muslim who could be persuaded to support extremist ideals, then banning future immigration isn’t going to do a damn thing to prevent a terrorist attack in your nation.

In fact if you look at the methods terrorist groups use to recruit new members, then banning Muslim immigration will make terrorist attacks more likely. Why? Because groups like ISIS rely on the idea that the Muslim world and the western world are mortal enemies, and that the west is hell-bent on wiping out Muslims unless they unify and destroy the west first. It’s the same old ‘Us versus Them’ demand we saw all too clearly between the black community and police in the USA last year – extremists from both sides attacking each other and using each attack to recruit more and more people to their side. Left unchecked, this sort of cycle of violence will lead to complete division between the two groups, making resolution impossible and violence the only option – which is exactly what the extremist groups want.

Banning all Muslims from entering western nations may seem like a prudent way to keep ourselves safe, but in reality we’d just be handing Islamic extremists a gold-plated opportunity to prove that ‘the west hates Muslims’ and that ‘all real Muslims must hate the west’ in turn. If you think this will somehow decrease the chances of terrorist attacks against westerners, you have another thing coming.

It will make EVERYTHING worse

Putting the threat of terrorism aside for a moment, I get the feeling that a lot of the motivation to ban Muslims is to do with their culture more than physical danger. And as I mentioned above, this is a concern that I share to some degree. There’s plenty about Islam I disagree with and several cultural practices from Islamic nations that I disagree with as well. I’d hate to see those ideas take serious root in Australia or anywhere else for that matter – surely banning Muslims from coming here is an effective way of doing that?

Well for starters, since that would involve judging individuals based on arbitrary groups they belong to, rather than their personal merit, that would be a remarkably bigoted way of going about things. And trying to prevent the spread of crap values by using crap values is a little like stopping an arsonist by burning down the town before they can get to it. In other words it’s self-defeating, self-destructive and all-round fucking stupid. You’d think that after September 11 was used to undermine civil liberties, institute mass-surveillance, start illegal wars and justify torture, we’d be a tad more concerned about further poisoning our politics out of fear for security, but apparently not.

Image result for tsa glove

Violating your anus to secure your freedoms.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg this time round. If you give the government the power to ban immigrants who are Muslim then do you realise what you’ve just done? You’ve given a government a mandate to regulate based on ideology. To control your movements based not on what you’ve done to others or whether you pose a threat at all, but based on which ideas you believe in. Now maybe you’re ok with that provided it’s only directed at Muslims and other ideologies you disagree with, but what if it doesn’t? What if the government decided to extend these new powers to banning anyone with any ideology they disagree with? The USA is generally no fan of communism or even socialism; why not outright ban that ideology to prevent it ever getting root? Both of Australia’s major parties are fine with locking up asylum seekers (provided they come by boat); why would they allow anyone into this country who is critical of this policy? They’d have plenty to gain and nothing to lose by such a decision. Screw it, what’s to stop any given government from outright banning their opposition based on their ideology? The Australian Labor Party clearly disagrees with the Liberal Party’s views; why not just lock them up and instantly eliminate your opposition? That’d be awesome for Labor, but maybe not so much for the Liberals, their supporters, anyone critical of the government or who opposes censorship in general.

There is a name for a political system that discriminates against others based on ideology; Fascism. And I think we all know how that ends.

This is starting to look less and less like an accident every time it happens.

Ultimately I doubt that most people calling for/agreeing with a ban on Muslim immigration are actually fully-blown racists. More than likely most are just scared by what they see as a growing danger to their safety, happiness and way of life and are latching on to anyone making a stand in their defense. I get that, but we must accept that these are solutions based not on facts or logic, but by fear. And fear is a really terrible way of making decisions. It is in fact, cowardly, and it leaves you vulnerable to being led by the nose by power-hungry pricks who want to use you for their own ends. I am better than that, and so are you.

4 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… The Immigration Ban

  1. As always, well argued! Sorry I’ve been away from reading a lot of blogs lately…mostly because it seems I do enough reading of all the shit coming out of Washington D.C. these days that I have little time to read other things. Thanks for this post, which I shall now share on Facebook!

    • Thanks Swarn! Yeah Washington has descended to reality TV levels recently. Really struggling to keep watching it to be honest. Plus as an Australian we had that fun little incident where Trump hung up on our PM, though none of us like him very much so was pretty funny, if incredibly unprofessional.

      • Yeah I read about that. It’s weird, because I saw an article about your PM supporting Trump and his immigration ban, and given Trump’s penchant for supporting even the most vile of people because they say nice things about him, I expected the conversation to go better. lol

        It’s definitely getting hard to know how to react these days. The onslaught of ridiculousness appears to have no end.

      • Yeah I’ve been having a great time watching our right-wing conservative government try to tap-dance around their ideological support for Trump’s policies, combined with their complete powerlessness against his bombast and ridiculousness. Kinda leaves them in a situation where they have to agree and kowtow to him regardless of how mad he’s being. Plenty of very enjoyable squirming going on at the moment here

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