Mildred and the Muslim Ban

I have to share with you all a really touching interaction that I had with a sincerely concerned mother/grandmother, I’ll call her Mildred, who was telling me that we should do our best to support Donald Trump in his efforts to make us safe. The Facebook conversation pertained to the recent ban of immigrants by Executive Order – an action that I, as many an American, was vocally opposed to this week. After a little back and forth, I had asked her what the ban was going to do to make her safe, and she did the noble thing (Hoorah!!) – she took some time to think it over and looked up the terrorist attacks on US soil in recent memory – and said that Trump’s actions would help to ensure that her and her family (including a son who is a 20 plus year veteran in the armed forces) would be more safe.

I will say seeing all of the terrorist attacks on US soil listed in one place (see list below) really made my heart sink. Quite sobering.

So now I’d like to think about these events with my policy analytic hat for a moment. Breaking it down a bit, I see some real problems with the ban – some that had not entirely occurred to me before. I’ll do my regular disclaimers: I’m not a national security expert. This is me writing on the weekend using the best information I can get my hands on quickly, so if there are experts out there that want to challenge these rough thoughts and estimations please fact-check and debunk me to the high heavens.

As I see it, those problems with Trump’s Immigration Ban and the incompatibilities of this tool to preventing the terror events that my new Facebook friend sent to me are:

1) It targets the wrong countries
2) The ban would not make your and your family (much) safer. It expends a large resource to prevent a very small amount of violence (albeit spectacular and psychologically debilitating violence)
3) It increases the recruit-ability of young men by radical terrorist organizations that proclaim that America marginalizes Muslims and unfairly attacks them.
4) It fixes a problem that is already being handled thoroughly and effectively.
5) This is a Muslim Ban. We just don’t ban people from our country based on religious beliefs.

In review, Trump’s Executive order was to ban immigrants and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries. The seven countries are Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia. The ban was put in place in the name of national security – a perfectly reasonable goal. After some digging around, the real headline for me was that all of the attackers minus one (the man who attacked people on the Ohio State campus this last year) were either American born or are nationals of countries that are not covered in this ban. Here is the rough detail:

A list of the attacks on US soil since 1993, the perpetrators, and their country of origin:
* “C I A Headquarters in Virginia – January 25, 1993”: Perpetrated by a Pakistani national who entered on falsified papers. Pakistan is not on the list (2 killed, 3 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “World Trade Center in N. Y. C”. – February 26, 1993: The planners were Kuwaitis trained in Afghanistan. Most of the group was traveling on fake passports. Note: Kuwait is a country with which we share friendly and cooperative relationship. (6 killed, 1,042 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Los Angeles International Airport – July 4, 2002”: This attack was perpetrated by an Egyptian national who had been in the US for 10 years. Egypt is an ally primarily as an ally necessary to the security on the Sinai Peninsula. (3 killed, 4 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
*“Little Rock Recruiting Office – June 1, 2009”: this terrorist act was committed by a Tennessee Baptist who had later converted to Islam. (1 killed, 1 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Boston Marathon – April 15, 2013”: One brother was Soviet born, the other in Kyrgyzstan (both identified as Chechen). Had been in the US for over 10 years at the time of the attacks. (6 killed, 280 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “4 Policeman, brutally attacked w/ hatchet on NYC subway – October 23, 2014”: this attack was homegrown by a US born man who was radicalized by ISIS social media. (3 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Curtis Culwell Center – May 3, 2015”: Perpetrators were Americans. One perpetrator born in Illinois and moved to Phoenix. Another perpetrator was born in Dallas. The third was born and raised in Philadelphia. (1 death, 1 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Chattanooga shootings – July 16, 2015”: Shooter was an American citizen who had been in the US for 25 years. From ally nation Kuwait. (6 deaths, 2 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “San Bernadino attack -December 2, 2015”: Perpetrator (Farook) served in the US Navy in Iraq and was awarded medals for his service for the War on Terror. His wife was a Russian from near Moscow. (16 deaths, 24 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Orlando nightclub -June12, 2016”: This was committed by an American born in New York, raised as a Muslim. (50 deaths, 53 wounded)
(Current ban would not have affected)
* “Ohio State University – December 19, 2016” – Here is one individual who may have been caught in the current Trump Ban. He had left Somalia in 2007 and had lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan for seven years. (1 death, 15 wounded)
* “9 / 1 1”: 19 Al Quada terrorists. Fifteen of the 19 were citizens of Saudi Arabia, 2 from United Arab Emirates, 1 from Egypt, and 1 from Lebanon. (2,996 deaths, 6000 wounded).
(Current ban would not have affected)

BAN WOULD NOT MAKE YOUR FAMILY MORE SAFE (statistically speaking):
I don’t want to be ghoulish or to minimize any terrorist act or the memory of any of the victims, but I want to bring up some raw numbers and put this in perspective. Assuming the 60,000 immigrants who would have been affected this year is typical – if we had a ban in place like the one President Trump enacted with his executive order over the last 24 years (since the 1993 attacks you referenced) – we would have restricted immigration from almost 1.5 million people. An expensive, isolationist, I would argue counterproductive task, but let’s say we did all that to prevent the Ohio State attack toll: 1 death and 15 injured. (the only attacker who would have been affected by this ban) — OK OK alright let’s assume that you banned all people from all of the Muslim majority countries where the terrorists actually came from. Yes let’s add in all of the other attacks by Facebook friend mentioned, we are at a little over 3,000 deaths (mostly from 9-11) and 7,500 injured over 24 years.
In the US, a country of over 300,000,000 people, that translates to 0.04 deaths per 100,000 Americans or a 0.00004% chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack over that 24 years period. The chance of being struck by lightening in one’s lifetime is 0.0025%, so you are over 60 times more likely to be struck by lightening in your lifetime than to be a fatality in a terror attack.

In other words, the probability of you dying (or being injured) in a terrorist act on US soil is essentially zero.

Again I will say I am running these numbers to calculate risk of death and I mean no disrespect to anyone who has suffered a terrorist attack, just saying that they live in rarefied air.
* Compare this to a typical US murder rate of 4.5 per 100,000 which generates about 15,000 deaths per year or conservatively the equivalent of 360,000 over the last 24 years… or compare it to the 200 aggravated assaults per 100,000 Americans per year which generates hundreds of thousands of victims of violence year in and year out at the hands of naturalized and US born Americans.

“So what – who cares about statistics?!” some would say. “Even one death by a terrorist is too much”, to which I honestly have no response. So let me move on to the part where I feel like a muscular response like this ban actually makes American’s less safe. I would argue, that this ban makes our military men and women abroad and Americans here in the US less safe and more prone to being attacked. The Islam-phobic rhetoric from Trump that is manifested in this Ban plays right into the terrorist recruiters hands. It props up a small group of young foreign and American Muslim men spoon feeding them a narrative that they are being marginalized, their culture is under attack, and that Western governments need to be taken down in order for them to survive. On a related front I feel that Trump could do well by supporting a general pluralism, tolerance, and celebration of our Abrahamic (monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as well as our Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, other religions, atheistic, agnostic and other brothers and sister. It would go a long way to making our communities safe, resilient, independent, and less unnecessarily agitated.

On the tactical front, the Ban also reduces our ability to recruit and retain assets in the countries where we need them most. Human intelligence is very difficult to generate if the people who work with American intelligence and military (those that fought alongside the US in Iraq for example) are not given assurances of safe passage to the US in return for their help.

Beyond this, there is already a very high level of vetting that goes into making the determination as to who gets to come into the US. For example, right now only 1 in 100 Syrian refugees makes it into the US, and this is after on average 18 months of interviews and vetting by the United Nations and the US Department of Homeland Security. And on a side note, these are typically people who are trying to escape the horrors of terrorism and war in their home countries. Being helpful, and welcoming to those in need is the underpinning of what has made America great for over 200 years.

A week ago Rudy Giuliani bragged that Trump asked him how to pull off a Muslim ban and instruct him on the “right way to do it legally”
See three minute mark on the embedded Fox News video here:
Again we are looking at clear evidence of an attempt to do something in violation of the US constitution, with high level party individuals who are complicit in the plan. This delegitimizes this administration and potentially weakens our standing in the world.

My point is that doing “something”, like this Ban is “something” but probably not the right thing.  Keeping the status quo would likely be a more constructive approach until the President can take the time to consult with experts and figure out a more thoughtful approach.

My overall suggestion would be that this administration take the next 86 days (nothing we can do about the last 14 days) to convene some real experts, study and learn about the issues they want to affect, and THEN go about it in a well considered, legal, appropriate way that is not going to leave middle America less safe than it was if they had done nothing.

I thank Mildred for prompting me to think about this and I look forward to more discussion on the topic.

14 thoughts on “Mildred and the Muslim Ban”

  1. Is doing nothing impossible? Politically perhaps, but the experience of jihadi terrorism in India suggests that it works at least as well as Doing Something in the Sir Humphrey sense. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 were on a large scale, and killed 164 people. They were carried out by a jihadi group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba. A normal police and criminal investigation led to the trial and execution of Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker taken alive. The policy response was to tighten up the main national security law UAPA. A proposal to set up a new national anti-terrorism agency was stillborn, due to opposition from the states. So effectively the response was as close to nothing as makes no difference.

    Why? In spite of grave suspicions of the involvement of Pakistan's powerful ISI intelligence agency in sponsoring the attacks, India could not risk further worsening the already bad relations with its nuclear-armed sibling. Nor could it carry out a crackdown on the 170 million Indian Muslims, a community far too large to be alienated. India stuck to the policy in spite of a second, smaller attack in Mumbai in 2011 (26 killed), very probably carried out by home-grown jihadis.

    It has worked out all right. Given the numbers of angry young Muslim men in Pakistan and India, the scale of jihadi terrorism is negligible. Fear of it does not seem at all prominent in day-to-day Indian politics and culture. Stuff happens. Keep Calm And Carry On.

  2. I disagree with point 5; I've seen it made in multiple venues, but SameFacts seems like more-thoughtful venue so I'm answering it here.

    If ALL the refugees the US took in were from Syria, we would be taking in less than 1% of the refugees. Given that, it seems to me to be reasonable and appropriate to focus on the refugees at particular risk–which in this case will not be Sunni Muslims (Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims would be much more at risk in ISIS-controlled territiories.)

    I think of it like Germany in the 1930s; I do not think it would have been in any way an unconstitutional or unreasonable religious test to say that Jews are at partuclar risk,and so can immigrate preferentially to Christian Germans.

    1. A significant portion of the vetting of refugees is determining that they are, in fact, in danger from remaining in their home country. So, priority is given to those in danger. You're also looking at only half of the problem. Yes, Christians, Yazidis, and Shi'a would be more in danger in the ISIS controlled portions of Syria, however there are also the portions of the country under assault from the Alawite Assad regime, and those are primarily Sunnis.

  3. Editing suggestion on the penultimate heading: "IT FIXES A PROBLEM THAT IS BEING ADDRESSED THOROUGHLY ALREADY." I would change that to "it purports to fix a problem that is . . . ." In fact, as you note, it fixes nothing and indeed risks increasing the problem.

    Audience being vital, I wonder if Mildred would be persuaded by comparison with the numbers of people killed by American terrorists not associated with ISIS, specifically right-wing terrorists like Dylann Roof.

  4. ISTM that you have omitted one of the larger terrorist events that is in no way addressed by this ban – the Oklahoma City Bombing.

    1. It would be interesting (and, I fear, saddening) to learn whether Mldred and others like her feel that the OKC bombing, Roof's work, the murder of Philando Castile (and, i would add (but others might not), the murder of Lennon Lacy) were terrorist acts. Why do I say saddening? B/c to the extent that these are not also on the list, it tells me that it's not about terrorism, but about racism.

      I'd really like to have underestimated Mildred and her con-soeurs and -freres.

    2. Also, the Beltway Sniper Attacks. (Submitted a couple of hours ago, hasn't appeared, so resubmitting).

  5. Even if the ban addressed any noticeable fraction of terrorist attacks inside the US, you would still need a very particularized definition of "us" to claim that it "makes us more safe". Obviously, it increases the chances of injury or death for any of the thoroughly-vetted refugees who will now be barred from the US. A ban on green-card holders and non-citizen family members of US citizens almost certainly makes them less safe, stuck in countries far from their new home. And, given the ongoing level of anti-muslim, anti-"foreigner" rhetoric that continues to come from the current administration and its surrogates, the ban and its ramifications increase the threat to life and limb for millions of americans who just happen not to share Trump and Bannon's coloration.

  6. American obstetricians, midwives, cabbies, cops, paramedics and firefighters deliver more murderers, rapists, child-abusers and white collar criminals into this world than their counterparts in the rest of the industrialized world. We should stop people from having babies until we can figure out what's going on. Even two year-olds have shot people, although we're so politically correct we call these murders an "accident" without so much as interrogating the trigger-toddler, much less putting the screws to them. It's terrible. We are so soft. We're gonna be so rough, folks.

    More seriously, we can never be 100% safe; there are always trade-offs. We could reduce traffic fatalities by limiting vehicles to a top speed of 10 MPH. Or eliminate motor vehicles altogether. We could triple the amount airlines spend on maintenance and safety, and raise prices accordingly. If, say, a 737 crashes, we could ground all similar aircraft until the accident investigation is complete, and ground the airline's pilots, in case it turns out to be pilot error due to deficiencies in training. Taxpayers could reimburse the sidelined airline for the interruption in business. There are all sorts of things we could do reduce gun deaths short of full confiscation.

    We don't do these things, but instead accept a certain number of deaths as the price we pay for efficiency. We don't ignore safety altogether (except for guns), but recognize that past a certain point, gains in safety are offset by too much loss of utility. Put bluntly, raising taxes or prices, or reducing utility, affects us, including Mildred, and we complain. Banning refugees/Muslims affects them, not me, not Mildred, so we say, "Why not?"

    So, why should Mildred care about Muslims, immigrants and refugees? If she's religious, her faith requires her to, that's why most refugee resettlement in the US is carried out by religious organizations. If she's not religious, most secular moral philosophers (other than Ayn Rand) believe we have a duty to relieve suffering when we can. If she loves America, she loves a country that, always in aspiration and sometimes in practice, has been a haven for the oppressed and downtrodden. It's a big part of what makes us exceptional.

    There are also practical considerations. Incurring the enmity of Muslims, calling them inherent enemies to our way of life, helps ISIS. It decreases the likelihood that Muslims will report suspicious activity. It impedes assimilation. Plus, Trump's order broke a promise we made to many Muslims overseas who have helped us in combat, occupation and intelligence, at huge risk to themselves, to resettle them here out of harm's way.

    Finally, I would wager that if Mildred knows any Muslims, immigrants or refugees, she thinks highly of them. "Such good people, such hard workers, such good Americans. If they were all …." The ones she knows are the rule, not the exceptions. If she reads the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan resettled here, she will be inspired, and probably tearful. If she thinks of the contributions some of the world's wretched refuse have made to America, from military service to Nobel Prizes and everything in between, she will be grateful. If Mildred thinks of a woman, her life in danger, who risks everything to get her and her child to safety, who spends two years living in terror while she's vetted for a visa, she will not want to turn her away. Steve Bannon, Steven Miller and Donald Trump have absolutely no compunction, and may even feel a certain glee, telling her to go back. Not Mildred. She's not a monster.

    1. "I would wager that if Mildred knows any Muslims, immigrants or refugees, she thinks highly of them."
      This is always a vexing question – its the near vs. far morality that Singer writes on. Somehow we have trouble making sacrifices for abstract people who we would help in an instant were they at our door.

      And so we see again and again how conservatism has little empathy for an out-group until they know one – gay, trans, drug addict, migrant worker, refugee, etc. What is it about this political sensibility that sets up this dilemma?

      Last note, as a behaviorist, I imagine people close to you are more reinforcing – that is, there are behaviors we have been reinforced for engaging in – or behaviors we have been punished for – in our interactions with others. I wonder if this presents an issue of time and distance, whereby – much like smoking or dieting – the further the reward is in time and space, the more difficult it is to engage in the behavior. In the literature, things like stimulus prompts are helpful in "bridging the gap", so for instance, place a picture of yourself at a slimmer weight in the pantry next to the snacks. Liberalism provides many more prompts of this sort, in that it actively seeks to understand out-groups. So, even though I have never met a syrian refugee, I can engage in the behavior of sacrificing for them more easily. (I'm really shooting from the hip here and it is all much more complex. But interesting to ponder!).

  7. The problem I have with the ban is the poor implementation. There was no emergency that justified the US government showing utter disregard for the implied promises it had made by issuing green cards and visas, or for the cruel disruption of people lives and fortunes. There was not going to be a "rush of bad guys" if there had been two weeks notice of the temporary halt to insure a smooth immigration process was not turned upside down for the purpose of security theater..

  8. Thank you to several of you for connecting this to the general problem of evaluating and tolerating risk. I have seen Trump and some Trumpsters defend the ban by saying something like "What would you say to someone whose family member was killed by one of those let in?" I know the answer – you say the same thing that the NRA says to the Sandy Hook parents – I value my Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms more than I value your safety."

    I scream this reply but apparently my TV only works in one direction.

  9. It pales beside the effectiveness of monitoring the social media communications of any Southern Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist boy at TCU or Virginia Tech who has just been turned down by a co-ed. I mean, there's your calling-all-cars red flag, a white Christian conservative with access to guns has got his dander up about some girls who made fun of him being such a pig.

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