‘Alternative Facts’ and Forced Migration: America, Muslim Countries, and the Refugee Crisis

T
here is an awful lot of emotional kvetching around the recent Trump executive order about banning entry to people from seven specific countries to the United States. Word of warning: this piece is not going to be diving into the symbolic wrist-cutting people on the left are doing or the hyper-defensive quasi-arrogant self-justification being pushed back from those on the right. If the initial period of the Trump presidency has shown us anything, it is that it is going to be full of great gusts of emotional wind from both sides of the spectrum.

Unfortunately, most of that emotionality seems to be little focused on elucidation or even just calm, rational, objective logic. Instead, its sole purpose seems to be only to enflame each side against one another even more deeply than before. And that is saying quite a lot, given how each side right now absolutely despises one another.

I do not actually believe this executive order is some attempt by Trump to become a quasi-fascist dictator bent on bringing about further suffering to the oppressed refugees of the world. However, having said that one small caveat, the initiative is also horrendously inefficient and useless in terms of keeping America safe, the thing that is supposed to be its fundamental purpose. Perhaps worse still, it further justifies people in America to only become MORE ignorant on the issues of forced migration, refugee distribution, and global accountability. So, allow me to take a few moments to give to the world, but especially to Americans who support Trump, some very basic but crucially important points.

One of the common justifications being offered by Trumpets (my word, trademarked, copyright in queue) is that ‘major Muslim countries’ are not doing their fair share or stepping up to the plate to cover the burden that is right now a decidedly Middle East phenomenon. This impression is what makes critics feel emboldened to declare limits on just how many refugees (and from where) the United States should receive. However, let us consider actual numbers taken directly from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (which is basically the global gold standard on all issues dealing with forced migration):

  • Iran: 979,000 refugees received
  • Jordan: 664,000 refugees received
  • Lebanon: 1.17 million refugees received
  • Pakistan: 1.5 million refugees received
  • Turkey: 1.8 million refugees received
  • America: 267,000 refugees received (and Trump apparently whining suspiciously about every single one of them)

Not only does the United States not crack the Global Top 10 in terms of refugees received, its general institutional attitude about refugees over a generation has to be considered decidedly pessimistic: in 1990 it had 464,000 refugees. This means the progression from Generation X to the Millenial Generation has seen a 42% DECREASE in refugee acceptance. The overall world population in refugees over that same time has seen a slight increase, so the American trend is not indicative of the overall international tendency. For goodness sake, Uganda has presently received more refugees than the United States and has been a stronger beacon of international conflict amelioration. Uganda!

While it is true that the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have famously refused to participate in alleviating the refugee crisis, this is not so much a reflection of their belief that refugee populations harbor significant numbers of radical Islamist terrorists (yes, they state this publicly but one needs to make distinctions between political narratives offered as justification without evidence and reality) as it is an admission that these countries fear any social, economic, or societal welfare disruption in their own precariously balanced communities. But even this disappointing fact cannot dismiss how much of a commitment countries like Turkey, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon have made already. Especially if you compare it to the self-proclaimed leadership of the United States. Indeed, all of North America at the moment has just over 400,000 refugees (so, Canada, you’re not off the hook either) while the Arab world currently accounts for 8.3 MILLION. Given that there are just over 17 million refugees around the world because of various conflicts, wars, and displacements, this means the Arab world is covering nearly half of the total amount. And yet, all anyone discusses in America is how ‘major Muslim countries’ are not doing their fair share of carrying the burden. Ridiculous.

A second, more recent, retort coming from the Trumpets is that this executive order is nothing new at all and is in fact a continuation of a policy Obama began during his Presidency. In this case people are referring to 2011 when Obama suspended the processing of Iraqi applications for six months. This stemmed from a very specific situation in which two Iraqi refugees already living in America were caught trying to arrange weapons transfers back to the Middle East for terror purposes. The ‘ban’ by Obama was specifically done as a pause for law enforcement agencies to follow up on the arrests and process the full consequences of the actions of the two arrested. So, in reality, the Trumpets are playing a bit fast and loose with this claim, perhaps reacting to all this criticism in an overly sensitive way. But, trying to couch the Trump maneuver as an ‘extension’ of the previous Obama decision – which was both incredibly brief in terms of time and incredibly specific in terms of application - is inaccurate at best and egregiously misleading and manipulative at worst. In addition, while Obama did halt the refugee program for those six months, at no time did it impact valid green card holders or anyone else with a legal visa. It also had no application or impact on refugees who had already gone through the extensive vetting process successfully. Trump’s travel ban bars entry to those groups, causing a chaos that has no legal or political connection to the previous Obama decision. So, trying to lay this at the altar of Obama legacy does not hold water, but I suppose it does sound a bit sexier to Trumpets who are desperately seeking ways to support the order without letting their man be culpable for it.

Finally, the last point I want to leave people with is a consideration of democracy and what it is meant to symbolize. WorldAudit.org puts out yearly rankings on Democracy, covering 154 countries across an impressive number of analytical factors, including corruption, civil liberties, religious freedom, press freedom, rule of law, and human rights. America, the country that envisions itself as the standard-bearer for all other democracies, comes in at 16. Americans might want to take issue with that but it does mean America is legitimately in the top 10% and would have scored higher if it was not so economically cutthroat in terms of health care and women’s equality, especially when compared with Northern European countries. What I want to focus on, however, are the democracy ranks of those five Muslim countries mentioned earlier. The ones who have taken on an incredible amount of the refugee burden from Syria specifically:

  • Iran: #145
  • Jordan: #79
  • Lebanon: #98
  • Pakistan: #107
  • Turkey: #101

So, there we have it. The United States, a country that prides itself on being the land of the free, the home of the brave, the world’s only remaining superpower, when it comes to freedom, justice, and opportunity to people who are displaced and suffering because of no fault of their own, comes in pathetically behind states that justifiably and consistently rank in the bottom third of all countries. I offer this not as a demand that America opens its doors and accepts all refugees in desperate need of relief and hope. Though that would in fact be properly representing the creed and tradition of America. If you have any doubts just go over to Ellis Island and reacquaint yourself with what is written on the Statue of Liberty. Rather, I offer these facts as a necessary counter to the anti-intellectual atmosphere currently wreaking havoc in America. This atmosphere shuns simple research and lauds ‘alternative facts.’ America right now is entering a phase where too many people are not about the ivory tower but instead are all about the echo chamber. Willingly. Voluntarily. Debaucherously. In the end, I can only hope this trend is as short and forgettable as the original Obama ‘ban’ was on Iraqis.

Dr. Matthew Crosston

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and member of the Editorial Board at the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

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