In light of the controversy over U.S. president Donald Trump’s executive order that bans people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering America, four speakers joined a lecture moderated by UTM’s chair of the Department of Political Science, Ed Schatz, at the Munk School of Global Affairs on February 15.
The lecture, “The Muslim Ban: Trump’s First Legal, Political, and Security Crisis 2017,” featured the co-director of Islam and Global Affairs Initiative and senior researcher in Global Justice Lab at the Munk School, Aisha Ahmad; the director of the Munk School, Stephen Toope; U of T’s associate professor at the Faculty of Law, Mohammad Fadel; and a regular columnist at The Globe and Mail and author of the acclaimed 2012 book The Myth of the Muslim Tide, Doug Saunders.
In his opening remarks, Schatz highlighted the efforts of Ahmad’s work. Ahmad is the person behind the Islam and Global Affairs Initiative and one of the organizers of the event. She also brought together scholars and experts regarding issues about Islamic global affairs. Schatz stated that on October 7 in 2016, the initiative held an event with the topic, “Banning Muslims?”
“But the question mark signaled, I suppose, hope [that Trump’s] campaign rhetoric that we saw in the U.S. will not in fact become reality,” said Schatz. “Today the ambiguity that is implied by that question mark has basically vanished, and so today’s panel is on the Muslim ban.”
Toope stated that the executive order contravenes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. He added that the ban violates the international law on civil and political rights, as well as the convention on the illumination of any kind of racial discrimination.
“It does so because in one of those conventions, it says clearly that you cannot discriminate on the basis of religion or race in ‘entry decisions’—that means who can come into the state,” said Toope. “And in the other convention, it is very clear that you cannot discriminate on the basis of religion or race when it comes to immigration decisions.”
Saunders stated that although it’s worth looking at what the threat could be from immigrants and refugees, as well as the terrorist attacks and crimes that have been involved in America, there has not been a terrorist attack by a refugee, whether from a Muslim or a non-Muslim country.
“Generally speaking, the history of immigration from Muslim countries to the United States has been different from other Western countries,” said Saunders.
“It’s a population who are better off economically than average Americans, who are much more educated than average Americans at the second-highest university education level, and have a much lower crime rate than average Americans.”
Fadel spoke about how there exists a long tradition that does not question the president’s “purgatives” in issues pertaining to foreign affairs and national security.
He added that there is usually an assumption that the president is going to act in good faith and will exercise his or her powers in conjunction with the constitution’s values.
“This is a president […] who ran a campaign which engaged in vicious attacks against all sorts of minority groups, belittled and demeaned all sorts of constituencies, not just Muslims, and showed complete contempt for international law and international institutions,” stated Fadel.
“And then, as soon as [Trump] became a president, he acted on those impulses.”
The final speaker, Ahmad, shared her experience from working in Somalia and from spending last summer at Syrian borders with refugees. She stated that testifiers from Syria said that the foreign fighters in Raqqa, a city experiencing strong bombings, are not Syrians. They instead come from different backgrounds and some of them speak French or Chinese or Russian.
“When I visited the valley and I went through the settlements, I can tell you that these refugees are women, children, families, who have for years been living in these settlements,” she said.
“The amount of monitoring and vetting that occurs by the UNCHR in these camps is extraordinary. There are children who are born in these camps, there are small infants.”
Shortly after the Munk School email was sent out to students regarding the event details, stating that there were only twenty seats available for UTM students, the registrations were filled up. Attendees ages ranged from students to elders.
Following the talk of each speaker, the audience was given a chance to write down their questions and hand it to the speakers.