It slipped past me! Underneath the entire hubbub about the impending omnibus bill, Christmas holiday, GOP debate versus Democratic debate, “attack on Christmas”, religious freedom, and whether I should buy my brother this type of scotch or that sweater for Christmas, it snuck right past me in plain sight. Under all of it I missed the passage of the new restrictions built into the visa waiver program that was signed into law as part of the massive omnibus bill.
Let’s recap. Following the Paris terrorist attack discussions about the facts quickly morphed into a misguided obsession with refugees from the Middle East, resettlement in the United States, and the larger issue of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment that has festered in the American population since 9/11. Regardless of the fact that none of the Paris attackers were refugees and were in fact homegrown terrorists, once a stolen Syrian passport was found among the wreckage all concentrations shifted from the radicalization of domestic terrorists to the influx and movement of refugees from predominantly-Muslim nations and the assumed threat they pose to our national security.
To be Arab or Muslim in this day and age is to be a suspected terrorist. It doesn’t matter that not a single refugee out of the 750,000 that have resettled in the U.S. since 9/11 has committed a terrorist act. It doesn’t matter that you are more likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist than Muslim terrorist or that since 9/11 nearly twice as many people have been killed by “white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists” than by Muslim terrorists. The fact that domestic, non-Muslim terrorism is more likely to kill you than any Muslim terrorist has been pushed aside for the more popular “radical Islamic terrorist” narrative that has been expertly crafted by the media, politicians, and general population. America has found its boogeyman and now they are out for blood.
In the past few months there have been renewed calls for the halt to all resettlement activity, mosque monitoring activities, and special identifications for Muslims harkening back to the good old days of Hitler and the Third Reich. Such proclamations have not been condemned as they should be but hypocritically greeted with cheers from the segment of the population that is the loudest when it comes to government infringement on American civil liberties. Attacks against Muslims and places of worship have increased at an alarming rate as violence and proposed segregation policies are embraced more and more by our leaders and politicians in their daily speeches.
Part of this hysteria included a more tempered discussion about the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 allied nations to travel to the U.S. without visas. Maybe our politicians felt they needed to do something, anything that showed the American population they are committed to taking action against the ISIS threat. Who knows. But when you find yourself backed into a corner by a pack of rabid dogs you throw whatever scraps are within your reach for fear of your own life – or in this case, political position.
The Visa Waiver Improvement Act of 2015 created an exception to this rule in which any citizen from one of the 38 nations that also holds citizenship (dual nationality) with or has recently traveled to Iran, Iran, Syria, and Sudan in the past 5 years must acquire a visa to enter the U.S. What this bill essentially does is legalize what the ACLU and other civil and humans rights organizations have labeled a “blanket arbitrary discrimination based on nationality and national origin.” Particularly troubling is that this bill seems to single out nations for political purposes, and American anti-Muslim appeasement, more so than legitimate security concerns.
Let’s take Iran for example.
Currently one of the most stable nations in the region both economically and politically, Iran has promoted a democratic agenda since the 1979 Revolution both within its Constitution and through general elections despite the fact it is a theocracy. It is also the second-largest nation in the Middle East by population and since it is a Shia majority nation, a target for ISIS attacks. However, because it supports groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, many Americans associate Iran solely with terrorism. It doesn’t matter that there hasn’t been a single Iranian national involved in recent terrorist attacks against America or Western European nations (9/11, Madrid, London bombings, Paris or San Bernardino) or that following 9/11 Iran actively helped capture and turn over al-Qaeda members to America and our allies in the war against Afghanistan. To many, Iran is and always will be an enemy.
This new visa restriction comes just months after the Obama Administration reached a historic multi-nation deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. Not only is this deal supported by the Iranian population, European nations, and international economic partners, but it clearly signaled the beginning of the end of a hostile and isolationist-fueled relationship that lasted well over three decades between Iran and the U.S. By essentially brokering peace, the Obama Administration opened the door to potential future cooperation on issues of mutual concern that has not been there before. This includes combating the spread of terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda. When it comes to this terrorist threat the U.S. and Iran are actually on the same side.
But by putting this blanket restriction in place that includes Iran we are already damaging a fragile relationship in its infancy. Some have claimed that the visa restrictions actually violate the nuclear agreement and Secretary John Kerry has already had to scramble to save face with the Iranian government. The restrictions will not only discourage travel to Iran by nationals from those 38 nations, including businessman, humans rights activists, journalists, tourists, and diplomats, but is now casting doubt on whether or not our efforts to include Iran in the international community are genuine.
It is difficult to rationalize how a bill that is meant to adequately address security concerns regarding ISIS and terrorist activity both at home and abroad will be effective when it negatively impacts and insults one of our strongest allies in that region. Plus, let’s not forget how this will impede the movement of refugees, IDPs, and victims of political, religious, and cultural violence in the region being carried out by the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. But hey, you’re from a Muslim country so you must be terrorists, right?