Daily Archives: February 2, 2017

Mapping Bannon’s Ban

We learned about the impending arrival of Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries before the executive order on immigration and refugees was released, or able to be read or appeared online.  For Trump described its arrival with a flourish in his visit to the Pentagon, relishing his arrival in the center of military power on which he had long set his eyes.  Perhaps because this was Trump regards the Ban, championed as “border security measures” needed to defend national safety, as a promise made to the American people during his Presidential campaign–rather than an action undertaken as a sitting President.  In ways that set the stage for his administration’s current plans for deporting illegal immigrants from the United States by thousands of newly-hired border agents, the massive remapping of who was able to enter the United States–and the suspension of the rights of those applying for visas as tourists or workers, or for refugee status–eliminated the concept of according any rights for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on the basis of the danger that they allegedly collectively constituted to the United States.  The rubric of “enhancing public safety within the interior United States” is based on a new way of mapping the power of government to collectively stigmatize and deny rights to a large section of the world, and separate the United States from previous human rights accords.

It has escaped few that the extra-governmental channels of communication Trump preferred as a candidate and is privileging in his attacks on the media indicates his preference for operating outside established channels–in ways which dangerously to appeal to the nation to explain the imminent vulnerabilities to the nation from afar.  Trump has regularly claimed to undertake “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in a speech made “directly to the American people,” as if outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.  And while claiming to have begun “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in speeches made “directly to the american people with the media present, . . . because many of our reporters . . . will not tell you the truth,” he seems to relish the declaration of an expansion of policies to police entrance to the country, treating the nation as if an expensive nightclub or exclusive resort, where he can determine access by policies outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.   Even after the unanimous questioning by an appellate court of the constitutionality of the executive order issued to bar both refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump insists he is still keeping every option open and on the verge this coming week of just filing a brand new order designed to leave more families in legal limbo and refugees safely outside of the United States, in ways that have sent waves of fear among refugees already in the Untied States about their future security, and among refugees in camps across the Middle East.  The new order–which exempts visa holders from the nations, as well as green card holders, and does not target Syrian refugees when processing visas–nonetheless is directed to the identical seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, while retaining a policy of or capping the number of refugees granted citizenship or immigrant status, taking advantage of a linguistic slippage between the recognition of their refugee status and the designation as refugees of those fleeing their home countries.  While the revised Executive Order seems to restore the proposed ceiling of 50,000 refugees chosen in 1980 for those fleeing political chaos with “well-founded fears of persecution,” the new policy, unlike the Refugee Act of 1980, makes no attempt to provide a flexible mechanism to take account of growing global refugee problems even as it greatly exaggerates the dangers refugees admitted to America pose, and inspires fear in an increasingly vulnerable population of displaced peoples.

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Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration rather openly blocks entry to the country in ways that reorient the relation of the United States to the world.  It disturbingly remaps our national policy of international humanitarianism, placing a premium on our relation to terrorist organizations:   at a stroke, and without consultation with our allies, it closes our borders to foreign entry to all visa holders or refugees in something more tantamount to a quarantine of the sort that Donald Trump advocated in response to the eruption of infections from Ebola than to a credible security measure.  The fear of attack is underscored in the order.  The mapping of danger to the country is rooted in a promise to “keep you safe” that of course provokes fears and anxieties of dangers, as much as it responds to an actual cause.  And despite the stay on restraints of immigrations for those arriving from the seven countries whose residents are being denied visas by executive fiat, the drawing of borders under the guise of “extreme vetting,” and placing the dangers of future terrorist attacks on the “Homeland” in seven countries far removed from our shores, as if to give the nation a feeling of protection, even if our nation was never actually challenged by these nations or members of any nation state.  The result has already inspired fear and panic among many stranded overseas, and increase fear at home of alleged future attacks, that can only bolster executive authority in unneeded ways.

 

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The genealogy of executive prerogatives to defend the borders and bounds of the nation demands to be examined.  Even while insisting on the need for speed, security, and unnamed dangers, the Trump administration continues to accuse the courts of having made an undue “political decision” in ways that ignore constitutional due process by asserting executive prerogative to redraw the map of respecting human rights and mapping the long unmapped terrorist threats to the nation to make them appear concrete.  For while the dangers of terrorist attack were never mapped with any clear precision for the the past fifteen years since the attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, coordinated by members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, Trump has misleadingly promised a clear remapping of the dangers that the nation faces, which he insists hat the nation and his supporters were long entitled to have, as if meeting the demand to remap the place of terrorism in an increasingly dangerous world.  The specter of civil rights violations of a ban on Muslims entering the United States had been similarly quite abruptly re-mapped the actual relation of the United States to the world, in ways that evoke the PATRIOT act, by preventing the entry of all non-US residents from these nations.  Much as the PATRIOT act led to the detention of Arab and Muslim suspects, even without evidence, the executive order that Trump issued banned all residents of these seven Muslim-majority nations.  The above map, which was quickly shown on both FOX and CNN alike to describe the regions identified as sites of potential Jihadi danger immediately oriented Americans to the danger of immigrants as if placing the country on a state of yellow alert.

There is some irony hile terrorist networks have rarely been mapped with precision–and are difficult to target even by drone strikes, the executive order goes far beyond the powers granted to immigration authorities to allow the “territoritorial integrity of the United States,” even as the territory of the United States is of course not actually under attack.

 

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What sort of world do Trump and his close circle of advisors live–or imagine that they live?  “It is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country,” Trump tried to clarify on February 1, as the weekend ended.   We’re all too often reminded that it was all about “preventing foreign terrorists from entering the United States,” as Trump insists, oblivious to the bluntness of a blanket targeting of everyone with a visa or citizenship from seven nations of Muslim majority–a blunt criteria indeed–often not associated with specific terrorist threats, and far fewer than Muslim-majority nations worldwide.

 

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The recent revelation of Trump’s own preference for declarative maps within his daily intelligence briefings–a “single page, with lots of graphics and maps” according to one official familiar with his daily intelligence briefings–not only indicate the possibility that executive order may have indeed developed after consulting maps, but underscore the need to examine the silences that surround its blunt mapping of terrorism.  PDB’s provide distillations of diplomatic, intelligence, and military information, and could include interactive maps or video when President Obama received PDB’s on his iPad, even encouraging differing or dissenting opinions, and demand disciplined attention, lest one is distracted by uncorroborated information or raw intelligence—or untrained in discriminating voices from different areas of expertise.  Is the synthesis an act of intellectual engagement Trump is experienced?  Given his longstanding plans to limit the role of a Director of National Intelligence, tasked to synthesize the sixteen intelligence offices in government, and the confirmation of the Director after the Executive Order was issued, Trump most probably based the decision on the information-gathering system developed on the campaign trail.

 

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The sudden and dramatic shrinkage of the  increasingly streamlined Presidential Daily Briefings to but a page omits more information than it is bound to include.  As maps are apt all the more to mislead–and indeed, to present and privilege only a single point of view–Trump prefers the inclusion of a map within increasingly streamlined Presidential Daily Briefings from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, without dissenting views or conflicting opinions.  While continuing a brief summary of recent breaking events deserving Presidential attention, and are given to the President-Elect to allow she or he to get “up to speed” with global events, tand for the intelligence community to prevent the President’s team and administration to “settle into a narrative” of policy-making:  the regular provision of the PDB provides intelligence officials an opportunity to challenge the worldview of the president-elect’s political advisers with a dose of reality.  Former CIA Director Michael Hayden described its provision as the “phenomenon of the unpleasant fact,” when “You’re telling them something they don’t want to hear and don’t want to believe” to challenge their world view, delivered in -person “to shake the preferred narrative of the policymaker,” and to do so “with your tone, and your words and your body language to communicate, as opposed to just throwing it over the transom.”  Already as President Elect, Trump revealed not only ambivalence to the standard routes or channels of intelligence-provision–“I get it when I need it,” Trump told Fox News Sunday–and a certain arrogance, rather than hearing from a broad array of experts.  Its focus reflects a geographic preoccupation or concern:  if President Nixon’s briefing focussed on Vietnam and China; Ronald Reagan’s was almost singularly obsessed with the Soviet Union; recent PDB’s focus largely on the Middle East and Russia.  How much gets through?

It should escape no one that the Executive Order on Immigration arrives at a time when the sudden contraction diminished the provision of information from intelligence officials and powerful filters in Presidential advisors’ hands to create or fashion their own narratives:   the advisers are charged to distill global conflicts to the dimensions of a page, double-spaced and with all relevant figures, that give prominent position to a single map.   Such distilled Daily Briefings have recently varied in length considerably.  But one might worry about the shortened length by which recent PDB’s provide a means for the intelligence community to adapt to a given President:  Trump’s President’s Daily Briefing on security threats around the entire globe reduced to but one page, including charts, the maps included are dangerously likely to perpetuate the distorted images of the dangers of Islam perpetuated in maps that are used as guidelines for Border Control.

For such maps suit the purpose of foregrounding one perspective, if they digest information in a way easy to understand.  The immorality of the ban on visitors and refugees from seven countries is a gift to hard-line rulers, rather than effecting terrorism.  But it bears noting that the Travel Ban may actually reflect the currency of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories within Trump’s cabinet:   for Bannon, a former film-maker turned Breitbart executive, has distortingly labeled Muslim-American groups as “cultural jihadists” intent on destroying American society and Western Civilization,  in the past offered a podium to groups Americans of the cultural danger of Islam, hoping to make Americans feel threatened by Muslim organizations.  His planned 2007 bizarre proposal for a film conjuring the spectre of America’s takeover by an Islamic “Fifth Column” about a Muslim takeover that produced a regime change that lead to the imposition of Sharia religion–The Islamic States of America, which set a bizarre precedent for the willful conflation of the legal code of Islam with a terrorist threat.   Bannon’s proposed film script may seem a bizarrely indulgent fantasy, but led Bannon to caution against the threat of the “Muslim World” in the Vatican in 2014, asserting “There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global.”  He has now gained a platform for airing his views, irrespective of civil liberties.

Is the notion of such a threat behind Trump’s proposed Islamic Ban, and the image of “unifying the country” the Trump puts forth?  Indeed, in singling out Muslims to whom it attributes “hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles” of the United States, as “those who would place violent ideologies over American law,” the conjuring of Shariah law as a separate civilization and tradition creates not only a narrative that opposes Islam and the West, but Islamic nations against the United States of America, giving validity to anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the bluntness of Bannon’s own views that ‘Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise,” and lends currency to the anti-Islamic fears of the threat Islamic codes posed to American freedom of the sort Bannon fostered in his film, and in the fake news that circulated on Breitbart News of a “stealthy, subversive jihad.” Indeed, wrapping anti-Islamism in patriotic rhetoric encourage the urgency of containing “Radical Islam” as a way to purge, cleanse, or protect our nation, society and culture from impending threats, and of conflating religion and state in truly un-American ways.

 

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In a manner far removed from American foreign policy expertise, the recent ‘Islamic Ban’ unjustifiably maps the danger of Islamicist menace, however.  And its fears have been echoed by the bizarre insistence that its suspension has already allowed an “onrush” of refugees from seven “suspect” nations to occur, in ways that frame a geography of distrust and spatial imaginary of national vulnerability in urgent and quite dangerous ways.  In ways that recall the sudden large scale “detention without bond” of Arab and Muslim non-citizens in the panicked months after 9/11, as ad hoc  laws legitimated the “haphazard and indiscriminate” suspected terrorists, the  expansion of the executive prerogative mirrors presumption until proven otherwise of large numbers of non-citizen residents and foreigners.   Detention until presumed relation to the threat of terrorism was proven, or the suspect removed from the nation, in the PATRIOT Act during the Bush administration was expanded grounds for immigrants’ detention for national safety, as the denial of all visas or recognition of refugees from war-torn regions as Syria, Sudan, and Iraq–all without ties to terrorist networks–was suddenly decreed.  The executive order erased individuals’ guilt or actual involvement by subsuming their fate within a question of border security and national security.

 

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By suspending civil rights and refugee processing in order to “ensure our immigration system is not a vehicle for terrorists,” national dangers needed to be mapped.  The definition of seven nations asserted the perception of a source for danger with no discernible legal basis, by naturalizing the citizens of these nations as enemies of danger to the state, in ways that seem to mask quite half-heartedly its targeting of members of the Islamic faith.  For the executive order creates a map of terror to magnify actual threats of a terrorist strike on United States soil in unprecedented ways.    Although the ban asserted only to allow faithful execution of immigration laws already on the books, and only to last three or four months, the practices of detainment until the threat of terrorist ties was in fact assessed has been radically expanded in the promotion of Islam into an existential threat by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, and Steve Bannon.  While President Trump, obliviously, has asserted the “very, very strict ban” was “working out very nicely,”the roll-out was not only disastrous, but placed many in places of panic, led flights to be cancelled, and others to be returned to their destinations or prevented from travel.  The result was to implement a “Constitution-Free Zone” not only at our borders, but in our airports–oddly analogous to the shrunken borders of rights in this image of the zone where United States Custom and Border Protection agents operate, and enjoy broad powers and often justify warrantless searches.

 

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While such warrantless searches are only conducted with “reasonable suspicion” in this border zone near “ports of entry,” the restrictions of entering the nation was intended to prevent all citizens of Islamic-Majority states without justification from entering the United States.  And no sleight of hand is able better to convincingly manufacture and embody the danger of such an unidentifiable threat as a map.  And the certainty by which the map demonstrates the ability by executive fiat to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens,” according to the Cold-War era Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 19522, judged “detrimental to the interest of the United States” has created a basis for invoking the territorial borders at the nation’s airports in ways oddly jarring in an age of international air travel.  It seems all too fitting that the time-travel supposed President expands the detention of immigrants deemed dangerous to the nation in the PATRIOT Act, designating a broad range of nationals as in danger of exporting terror to the United States–in a particularly effective exercise of collective psychology.  In ways that seem to spawn a newly increased level of fear–and to use fears to justify the new needs for national defense–Trump seems to have begun from a new attempt to map and concretize the existence of actual threats that endanger our democracy, albeit in quite disproportionately exaggerated and deeply unjustified ways.

The map of “nations impacted” by what was designated in shorthand as a “Travel Ban”that policy adviser Miller called “beyond question” was widely mapped as covering an expanded region identified as dangerous to the nation’s domestic security.  The residents have been placed at a pen-stroke at a collective remove from the United States that will be difficult to bridge for some time, even if the executive order designed to obstruct mobility and travel has been issued to play to audiences of Trump supporters at home.  Trump is said to be fond of maps, requesting multiple maps and graphics in single-page policy papers–the President likes maps,” said an official in the Trump White House–and the direct signifying power of a map with clear borders seem to have provided him with the clearest way to get a handle on terrorist threats early in his administration.

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Filed under Customs and Border Protection, Donald Trump, human rights, Immigration Ban, refugees