Sunday, December 27, 2015

Discrimination by Proxy


Obama Signs $1.8 Trillion Tax And Spending Bill Into Law. “The spending bill also makes changes to the visa waiver program. Now people who've traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria in the past five years will face higher scrutiny if they wish to enter the U.S. Hard-line conservatives lost their fight to include language in the bill pausing the Syrian refugee resettlement program.”

The restrictions will also affect those who hold dual nationality, that is, those who are citizens of the 38 partner countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) as well as Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. That is, a citizen of the UK, France, Germany or any of the 38 partner countries who is also Syrian or an Iranian national will now have to apply for a visa to enter the U.S., contrary to other British, French and German citizens who do not hail from these backgrounds.

The U.S., then, has taken it upon itself to divide the citizens of VWP countries into two groups: one Kosher, the other in need of further vetting, not on the basis of any extremist opinion its members might have, but simply on the basis of their ethnicity. This is racism, pure and simple. But the Congress passed it, with strong bipartisan support, and President Obama, the man whose election to the high office comes a major milestone in the struggle for civil rights in this country, signed it into law.  

No less significant is the fact that this happened despite stern warnings from Europe and other VWP partners that they would treat U.S. citizens in a similar manner. Now, then, we just have to wait for the other shoe to drop. Once it does, the world will witness the birth of new phenomenon: discrimination by proxy – the U.S. will discriminate racially against certain citizens from VWP countries, and VWP countries will reciprocate the gesture by adopting similar laws and regulations affecting U.S. citizens hailing from the same national background. The fact that there will be citizens from other backgrounds, who will be affected as well because they have recently travelled to these four countries should not detract us from the fact that there exists this group comprising millions of people from Europe, the U.S., Japan, and other VWP partner countries who will be singled out for additional vetting simply on the basis of their national and religious background. 

Personally, and as a political asylee, I already have had to contend with all sorts of restrictions imposed on my ability to travel overseas on account of having to use a special refugee travel document issued under the Geneva Convention of 1950. Arab countries have chosen not to honor this convention for the most part, so, and no matter how much I needed to, I could not travel to that part of the world in over a decade. Other countries required us to acquire a visa, which would normally take anytime between one to three weeks. Since the document is issued for a year at a time, and that most countries require that it has four months left on it in order to issue a visa, the resulting situation seriously undermined my ability to help Syria’s nonviolent revolutionaries, many of whom colleagues of mine and often trained by our Tharwa Foundation, now more or less defunct, at a time when liberal democratic voices where very much in need.

Only Germany and the Benelux countries allowed holders of the refugee travel document to travel to their lands without a visa. This openness gave me some room to maneuver and try to be heard, but only on a limited scale. Now, that I am months away from becoming a citizen and receiving an American passport, I might have to deal with even more restrictions. Most engagements require me to travel on a short notice, sometimes hours, and most of these travels involve the 38 countries partaking in the VWP. I have to deal with all this, while I am supposed to be known, “respected” and “needed.” How is it with others from my background? And how will it be soon?

On a legal note, when an American president signs into law a discriminatory bill that he was amply warned could also lead to similar discriminatory measures targeting American citizens being adopted by other countries, doesn’t this provide sufficient legal grounds for challenging said law? Sympathetic legal minds should begin looking into that. In fact, even if VWP countries refused to enact similar laws, a legal challenge to this law seems amply warranted. Discrimination against a specific group simply on the basis of their nationality signals a return to good old fashioned racism, and should no longer be legally tolerated even when the victims are not Americans, considering that the perpetrators are.

Lastly, and for those concerned with security, let me ask: how many of the extremists involved in the Paris terrorist attacks would have been prevented from entering the U.S. had they sought to do so and this law was in effect? The answer: while few might have been prevented from entry on account of their travel to Syria, many would not have been affected, because they were born in Belgium and France, did not travel to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan and did not hold their nationality. In the case of some, there were insufficient signs in their background to raise alarm bells, so a security check may not have revealed much, and they could have been granted visas. Similarly, could in-kind measures adopted by VWP vis-à-vis American citizens have prevented the terrorists of San Bernardino, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, from entering these countries? The blunt answer is: No. They don’t come from the “wrong” background,” and they have not travelled to any of the four countries listed in the last five years.

What’s the point of all this then?

Ah yes: Congress Quietly Ends Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana. The same law that ushered back racism also lifted the ban on medical marijuana. Figures! And just in time for Christmas. Joy to the World!

One last note: to Iran’s leaders and those supporting their actions in Syria, or who have called for ignoring them for the sake of the nuclear deal, and who are naturally, unhappy with this particular turn of eventsGo fuck yourselves you hypocritical maniacal scumbags! Iran’s actions in Syria and its recent missile test are far worse than what you choose to protest against: after all, they involve active killing, and promise of more to come. As for the letter Secretary John Kerry Obviously sent to his Iranian colleagues, well, what can one really expect from people who pimped out their policymaking to their enemies? The buck these days stops anywhere but the White House, obviously!  

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