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Donald Trump’s immigration ban is ‘foolish’

Expert on Islamic studies says it’s going to worsen the problem

President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries has been condemned as “foolish” by a leading Christian expert on Islamic studies.

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Richard Shumack, Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology, was responding to President Trump’s signing of an executive order last week to ban for 90 days all permanent immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The order also suspends the admission of refugees into the US for 120 days (although the admission of Syrian refugees is indefinitely suspended), and allows for additional screening of those seeking refugee status “to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

Eternity asked Shumack, who is also research fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, for his reactions to the moves, whose legality has been questioned.

What are your general reactions?

It’s indicative of a disturbing trend under the new administration, which is increasingly America-centric, and is going to steer away from generosity and towards protectionism.

Refugees are the most vetted people moving around the world so I think it’s unnecessary to add extra layers of vetting.

The way it was implemented is a bad sign things are going to be done really clumsily and carelessly, so that’s not good.

Is there any merit to it?

I think the idea of vetting is already in place.

Refugees are the most vetted people moving around the world so I think it’s unnecessary to add extra layers of vetting.

I think the particular seven countries are a bit random, and it’s certainly not going to affect terrorism in any great sense because most of the terrorists aren’t from those countries anyway. The idea that the refugee highway is the prime strategy for terrorists is nonsense.

It’s not going to achieve what they’re trying to achieve.

What do you think they are trying to achieve?

What they say they’re trying to achieve is to prevent dangerous people coming into the country, but I don’t think it will do that.

Do you think that we should ban Muslims from migrating?

No, not as a whole group. There are people who have certain Muslim ideologies; we don’t want them in the west – ISIS would be a great example – people who hold to a real extreme Salafi Jihadist ideology. You wouldn’t take them in as immigrants. That ideology is inherently destructive and inherently anti-western.

It’s foolish to have a Muslim ban.

But there are plenty of Muslims, the vast vast majority of Muslims, for whom living in the West is not a problem for the West – they’re great for our country.

It’s foolish to have a Muslim ban.

When you’re talking refugee policy (as opposed to general immigration policy), you just have to pick or prioritise the neediest people. And so, currently, if you’re talking Syria, for example, the neediest people are some Christian and Muslim minorities. They’re needy not because of their particular beliefs, but because they’re the ones who are most persecuted.

Are there dangers associated with Trump’s decision?

The policy doesn’t actually ban Muslims, but that’s the vibe we’re getting from the administration. Steve Bannon (Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist) in the background is clearly anti-Islamic.

…certainly the messages we’re getting from the White House are deeply anti-Islamic.

I don’t know if the policy is, but certainly the messages we’re getting from the White House are deeply anti-Islamic. And I think that’s highly problematic.

Why is that problematic?

Partly because it’s going to worsen the problem. It’s poor diplomacy. It’s going to create even more disaffected Muslims who are going to be grumpy.

But also, it’s just anti-American, anti-human rights. It’s a denial of freedom of religion, which I think is a really risky pathway to go down.

Do you think Christian refugees should be prioritised?

The reality is that at the moment Christian minorities in Syria are the most needy. But I think you’re on fraught ground if you’re making personal religious belief the prime criteria for a refugee policy.

Refugee policy [should be] about showing grace, compassion, [and asking] who is in the greatest danger and greatest need.

Do you think the decision will damage Christian-Muslim relations in US?

I think there’s a risk of that, yes.

There’s a polarisation of responses to Muslims in the US. You’re seeing a very strong liberal and evangelical response. There are lots of younger Democrat-type evangelicals who are responding very positively to Muslims, and they tend to be on the coast. In the centre [of America] there’s a hunkering down, that real right-wing backlash stuff.

It’s hard to know who’s going to be dominant.

Many evangelical leaders in the US have come out against Trump’s decision. Do you think that will do any good?

It may on the ground, in the relationships between individual Muslims and Christians, or the relationships between churches and mosques. I think it will be a very helpful thing. But I don’t think it will change the White House’s position.

…if we’re going to err on either side, I’d want to err on the side of grace, not on the side of protectionism.

The big picture is, and this is really tricky for American Christians, [we need] to make a really clear distinction between the kingdom of God and the nation of Australia.

We need to remember that we are first of all citizens of the kingdom, and kingdom values, kingdom policies have to drive us. And then secondarily, we’re Australians, and so we need to have some wise policies, but our kingdom values need to drive how we shape our policies.

Risks are real in the world, it’s a messy world, sin is real, terrorism is real, totalitarian Islamic ideologies are real. But the risk of that is really small in comparison to the huge humanitarian need and the call of Jesus to respond to needy people with love and compassion and welcome. The Bible just oozes that.

That has to drive us, and if we’re going to err on either side, I’d want to err on the side of grace, not on the side of protectionism.

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Some prayer points to help

Pray that Christians would be given many opportunities to show love to their Muslim neighbours, and ask that they may do so with grace and compassion.

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