Donald Trump made headlines when he proposed that the United States begin to place Muslims in a federal database without due process. A furious wave of criticism crashed down on the Trump campaign. Unabated by the critique, Trump upped the ante, saying that Muslims should be temporarily banned from entering the United States for security purposes.
The awkward thing is that the American federal government is already carrying out a version of Trump’s proposals—and it has been incrementally growing for over a decade.
Established after the 9/11 attacks, the “No Fly List” has been a standard bearer for the anti-democratic targeting of Muslims in our country, and it has often been used to bar entry into the United States without an ability to appeal.
So how does one end up on such a list? The list of names is fairly extensive, and has grown significantly since its inception: from 47,000 names during Bush’s presidency to 680,000 under Obama—a 1,346 percent increase.
Many would think that engaging with a terrorist network or expressing sympathies toward such groups would be a start, right? Leaked documents indicate that of the approximately 680,000 names on the list, 280,000 of those individuals—roughly 40 percent—have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”National security agencies used a
malleable definition of “reasonable suspicion” in their efforts to identify terrorists. The result, according to the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi during an interview with The Intercept, is “a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future.”
Many names on the No Fly List have been “added in error” because they are similar to other terrorist suspects. Back in 2006, Edward Allen was preparing to visit his grandmother. He was not allowed to board because of his name being flagged by the No Fly List. The problem: Allen was four years old at the time.
Until recently, many American citizens were placed on this list for unknown reasons. Furthermore, they had no ability to appeal their placement on the list. It wasn’t until October 2015 that the courts ruled in favor of allowing American citizens to challenge and appeal their placement on the No Fly List.
In the process of broadly defining terrorists, Muslim-Americans are disproportionately targeted. After reviewing the Terrorist Screening Database at length, The Intercept found that the second most common hometown of those targeted was Dearborn, Michigan.
Dearborn is a smaller community (roughly 96,000 residents) and stands as an outlier that is outnumbered by bigger municipalities like Houston and Chicago. Dearborn also contains a large Muslim population—roughly 40 percent of its populace. It would be difficult to infer anything else except ethnic and religious profiling as the reason for targeting this quiet Michigan suburb.
As mentioned before, those being targeted by the intelligence community rarely demonstrate any connection to terrorism. In fact, as the Edward Snowden leak demonstrated, many are prominent Muslim-Americans who are active in academia, law, and activism.
Stories of countless detained Muslim-American citizens not being able to travel have been the norm since the creation of the No Fly List. And these stories keep growing in quantity.
Recently, Saadiq Long—an Air Force veteran—was flagged and detained in Turkey because of his name appearing on the list. Unfortunately, false claims emerged, depicting Long as an ISIS operative and turning the ordeal into a national smear campaign against the vet.
American voters by and large reject Donald Trump’s targeting of Muslims. In fact, the negative response forced Trump to backpedal on his original comments.However, American voters are increasingly less skeptical about the very style of profiling and intelligence gathering that Trump actually proposed. In fact, many of the post-9/11 security measures—most of which continue to be challenged for their violation of civil liberties—possess an overwhelming amount of support.
In a report published by the American Enterprise Institute, research found that 47 percent of Americans believe that the government has “not gone far enough to adequately protect the country”; only 32 percent said that the government has “gone too far.”
The same report found that 76 percent of Americans support monitoring citizens who “the government is suspicious of.”
This cognitive dissonance of this issue becomes even more apparent with recent gun control efforts. During his response to the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama proposed utilizing the No Fly List—a federal database that has proven to disproportionately and unfairly target Muslims—as part of a “common sense” solution to gun violence in the United States.
And Obama’s proposal has gained traction quickly: A few days after Obama’s address, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy issued an executive order that banned the sale of guns to anybody on this watch list in his state. Furthermore, a recent online poll found that 84 percent of participants agreed that people on the No Fly List should be banned from purchasing firearms.
One week, Americans are against Muslim databases; the next week, they consider them a vital component of “common sense” legislation. This is why we can’t have nice things.