Supreme Court decision on travel ban promotes bigotry

By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.

This opinion appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

As the executive director of an organization whose mission is to counter Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry, I am deeply disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to preserve the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. This decision sets a dangerous precedent by declaring as constitutional a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that religiously and racially profiles Muslims.

As we grapple with the implementation of the ban, we would do well to also remain mindful of the larger context of the policy. The Supreme Court was willing to accept the government’s claim that Muslim immigrants posed a threat to national security. When the highest court in the nation fails to confront such an argument, it is a sign that our country has taken another step down a dangerous road, with consequences well beyond the restrictions on Muslim entry to the United States.

The Muslim travel ban is a symptom of bigotry and Islamophobia, and ultimately, symptoms inevitably return and grow until one cures the underlying illness.

This ban is based on and reinforces a consistent series of statements by President Trump demonizing Muslims and declaring them aliens in their own country, and so preparing the ground for other measures to disenfranchise them. President Trump has a history of making false and inflammatory statements against Muslims. He has declared, for instance, that “Islam hates us,” that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks, that Muslims in the United States want to live by Sharia instead of American law, and that a quarter of them believe that violence against this country is justified.

President Trump feels free to repeat these stereotypical falsehoods because a substantial section of the American public already has a very negative view of Muslims and Islam. A 2017 voter survey shows that Americans believe, on average, that 41 percent of American Muslims sympathize with terrorism and that 34 percent would commit a terrorist act. A 2016 poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe that “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.” Not surprisingly, Republicans and white evangelicals, who are the dominant portions of President Trump’s base, hold even more negative views: 79 percent of Republicans agree that Islamic and American values are incompatible, and only 36 percent of white evangelicals believe that American Muslims are committed to the well-being of their country.

At the root of these beliefs is a long history of stereotyping Muslims as backward, violence prone and hostile to the West. These stereotypes are centuries old, but they continue to be propagated in our media and, at least until recently, in school textbooks and classrooms.

The consequences of these beliefs are discriminatory policies like the Muslim ban that are based on religious profiling. These widespread beliefs explain why a 2016 voter poll and a 2017 survey found that 47 percent of Americans support a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, 55 percent favor surveillance of mosques and 52 percent favor targeting Muslims at airports, and that 16 percent of Americans would go so far as to deprive Muslims who are U.S. citizens of the right to vote. And, predictably, Republicans and white evangelicals will go even further: 21 percent of Republicans favor depriving U.S. citizens who are Muslims of the right to vote, and 79 percent favor banning Muslim entry to the United States. Even beyond the Muslim travel ban, the threat of other measures threatening the rights of Americans remains.

This unfortunate decision, however, will not deter us; on the contrary, my organization and I will double down on our mission of promoting interreligious and intercultural harmony. Through our school visits, presentations and interfaith work, we provide the education and face-to-face contact with Muslims (and those of other faiths) that social scientists like David Brookman and Joshua Kalla have found to be the most effective way to dispel stereotypes and prejudice. We eliminate bigotry at its roots by changing the beliefs and attitudes that underlie it.

The American people have beaten back bigotry before, and they will do so again, until we have an America that lives up to our founding ideals and welcomes people of all religions and cultures.