Trump and the Future of Muslim Students in America
The Republican frontrunner’s proposed policy has low benefits and high costs.
Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entry to the United States started out as a political anomaly. Yet as the idea is repeated in the media, it is gradually slipping into the subconscious of American public opinion till the odd becomes the norm. Even if Trump doesn’t win the Republican primaries or the presidential election, the “Trumpization” effect would push other Republican candidates to offer similar ideas, dragging the whole platform into a “race to the bottom.”
Being a Muslim student in America, I am in the first category of Trump’s “untouchables” that includes African Americans, immigrants, the disabled, the poor and so on.
According to the Institute of International Education, about 105,000 international students in the US, in the academic year 2013-14, came from seven Muslim countries that are among the top 25 nations of origin of international students in America. In 2014, students from the Middle East and North Africa had the highest growth rates among international students with a 20% rise. In 2015, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Nigeria were some of the highest growing countries of foreign student bodies in the US. This doesn’t even include Muslim students coming from non-Muslim majority countries like India and China.
Hence, America is host to no less than 100,000 Muslim students on its campuses, in the most conservative estimate. So, what does Trump’s proposal mean for them?
Most of these students might not be able to continue their studies in the US. They are more likely to get their visas terminated and their entry denied. Nowadays, Muslim international students tend to wait for months to get their student visas. Many students have to defer their university admission, for a semester or a year, till they get their student visas.
Even with a valid US visa, Muslim students are highly subject to “random” security checks at airports by the Homeland Security Department. I remember my first experience when I was taken out of the passport queue to a room full of policemen roaming around for investigation. I had to sit there for two hours without any right to use my phone, and without being told what was happening. Usually, you are released in a couple of hours, but after receiving your share of anxiety and humiliation.
The bottom line is that Muslim students do not have it easy as Trump and his supporters think.
The typical justification for these procedures, and the proposed policy, is that international Muslim students have a higher likelihood of committing acts of terrorism. Sayyid Qutb, the father of modern jihadist thought, formulated his extremist views while he was a student in the US. Many of those involved in the 9/11 attacks were international students in America at some point.
The debate over whether Muslims are more likely to commit terrorist attacks is beyond the scope of this article. However, the question is whether a ban on Muslims’ entry to the US is likely to reduce the risk of terrorism.
Benefits vs Costs
Trump’s proposed policy has two characteristics: low benefits and high costs.
Even if the US banned Muslims with 99.9% accuracy, it would still take just one terrorist to trigger a bomb or buy a gun in a heavily armed nation like America. Unintentionally, Trump’s policy could end up stopping the good guys instead of the bad ones. This low expected benefit is paralleled with insurmountable expected costs.
Such a discriminatory policy makes America more vulnerable to retaliatory acts by Muslims. This could range from disrupting diplomatic connections—where it is most needed in the Middle East—to more terrorist attacks against Americans inside and outside their borders.
The long-term costs would be severe. Since most students who come to the US go back to their own countries to be their future elites, their negative experiences might shape how they view the world and their place in it. This could have implications on the future of American global hegemony.
The morale of the story is that Donald Trump’s proposal puts the future of tens of thousands of Muslim students at risk.
With almost no expected benefits from such a policy, the costs are high for America. The biggest of all is the moral cost. The strife to keep America “exceptional” is justifiable, but Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were also exceptional. Therefore, it is important for Americans to think of which paths to “exceptionalism” they want to take.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.