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Trump and the Travel Ban.

January 30, 2017

I don’t like wading into politics on this site, but the times they are extenuating.

We are asked to believe that Donald Trump’s recent executive order, which temporarily bans travelers from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and Syria — from entering the United States, was signed in the interest of national security. Is this true, or is it a mostly empty gesture orchestrated to pander to the nativist mindset of certain people?

To start with, who, exactly, is prohibited from entering the United States, and how? What about citizens of other nations who’ve lived in or have visited one of the seven countries? (Haven’t a number of European and Central Asian citizens been to Syria to fight with ISIS?) What about citizens of these countries who’ve been living in, say, Europe or Canada much of their lives? What if you’re a green card holder from one of the seven, living in the U.S., and you travel abroad on a holiday or business trip? Are you allowed to return? And so on. These and other logistical aspects of the order are explained here in pretty good detail. Some of the rules are murky.

The order has its origins in a visa waiver program developed under the Obama administration in 2011. But however partisan you want to spin it, the idea that this is really in the interest of national security seems dubious. Am I the first to point out that not one of the September 11th hijackers came from any of the seven nations on the list? Conspicuously absent, meanwhile — of course, as always — is Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading exporter of violent ideology and from where most of the September 11th cabal did, in fact, hail from. I don’t see Egypt on the list, either. Muhammad Atta was Egyptian. Or Pakistan, which is maybe the most unstable Muslim country on earth. Why isn’t Pakistan on the list? How about Nigeria? Didn’t the “underwear bomber” fly to the U.S. via Nigeria? Afghanistan?

I’m not saying the list ought to be expanded to include these places. I don’t feel there should be a list at all. But if you’re going to have one, it should stick to some coherent line of reasoning.

These other countries aren’t there because either they have large constituencies in America, or their governments have influence in Washington, and would be duly outraged. There are millions of Pakistani-Americans, for example, and lots of people travel between the U.S. and Pakistan each day. Nigeria, same thing. Instead, the President picked six failed states, whose governments have zero influence in Washington because, in large part, they don’t exist. And there’s very little traffic between the U.S. and these countries to begin with. The seventh country is Iran, which is more complicated, but here too a ban makes virtually no sense. All it does is inflame tensions between Washington and Tehran, while giving an implicit thumbs-up to Israel — which, I suppose, though nobody in the administration will admit it, is precisely the point.

Moreover, America’s visa application process is already among the most stringent and thorough in the world. All this does is make things needlessly more laborious for people who’ve already endured that process. Ditto for refugee applications. Refugee admissions, too, have been frozen by the President. Am I naive, or is the idea of a terrorist posing as a refugee in order to sneak into America a little far-fetched? Why endure all the red tape and waiting around when you could just come by way of a non-blacklisted visa from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE or elsewhere — exactly like the September 11th hijackers did.

I’m not sure who I feel more pity for, a refugee family trying to emigrate from Syria, or one of the many brave Iraqis who risked their lives working with the U.S. military, now being told to stay away because they’re deemed a security risk.

In any event, we don’t need to import our terrorists, since by now there are plenty of lone-wolf attackers already here in waiting — American citizens who eventually will be driven to violence, in part, by the nonstop drumbeat of the media talking about terrorism, terrorism, terrorism.

There’s a good article in the latest issue of GQ about the man in Nice, France, who killed 86 people last summer with his truck. Conventional wisdom holds that he was a radicalized fanatic acting on behalf of ISIS. In some ways that’s true, but the story is a lot bigger. The guy was a sociopath long before the attack. Those who knew him described him as a brutal man obsessed with gore — any kind of gore, not just terrorist-related gore. He was also a compulsive sexual predator and just an all-around asshole. It wasn’t until his very last days that he became preoccupied by Islam. I’m not saying there aren’t “real” fundamentalist terrorists out there bent on murder and chaos; obviously there are. But this, too, was a familiar story (see Orlando, et al): a mentally disturbed person looking for a way to channel and idealize his violence. In steps radical Islam. Maybe if we weren’t so fixated on it, and didn’t talk about it so much, these people wouldn’t seize on it.

But I digress.

Frankly, I don’t find Trump’s ban as outrageous or offensive as others do, but I do consider it poorly contrived and, so far as protecting Americans goes, impotent at best. The cynic in me sees it as a public relations move more than anything of practical value — a way to score points with the proverbial “base.” Controversies that handicap other politicians seem only to strengthen Donald Trump, and could prove yet another example.

Among those grappling with the ban are air carriers. The Gulf carriers in particular — Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad — employ pilots and cabin staff from all over the world, and are having to reshuffle crew assignments on some flights to the United States. Smaller numbers of employees from African, Asian, and American carriers are affected as well.

Here, meanwhile, is an Associated Press fact-checking of the order, somewhat rebuffing what’s been said by Trump and some of his supporters.



Iran: Iran Air. I’m old enough to remember Iran Air 747s at JFK airport in the late 1970s. After years of crippling sanctions the carrier is beginning to modernize, and recently placed a massive order for both Airbus and Boeing aircraft. With Trump, the Boeing part of the deal is liable to be scuttled.

Iraq: Iraqi Airways was once a premiere carrier of the region. Its beautiful,’70s-era green and white paint scheme is one of the all-time great airline liveries (see below). Current status of the company is, understandably, in flux, employing a mish-mash fleet and an unpredictable timetable.

Syria: Dating back to the end of World War II, Syrianair, also known as Syrian Arab Airlines, once flew a mix of Western and Soviet jetliners throughout the Middle East and Europe. Together with Iran Air, it was one of the last airlines to fly the venerable Boeing 747SP. Its website is still up and running (“Happy New Year, 2017”) though how often its planes actually take to the air, and to where, is hard to know.

Libya: Libyan Airlines, or Libyan Arab Airlines, dates to 1964. The company claims to have a current fleet of 12 aircraft and up to 22 international routes, though I can’t imagine even a fraction of these are operating. A newer Libyan carrier, Afriqiya Airways, continues to operate a small fleet on regional routes.

Yemen: Yemenia was founded in 1962, and these days maintains a sporadic schedule from its headquarters in Sana’a. Yemenia’s red, white, and blue livery is one of the handsomest around, which is too bad considering how seldom you’ll actually see one of its planes.

Sudan: One of the oldest airlines in Africa, Sudan Airways dates to 1946, and once flew Boeings and Airbuses on both regional and long-haul routes. Today the carrier lists a fleet of only four short-haul aircraft. Most travelers to Sudan arrive on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, or on Emirates from Dubai.

Somalia: Best we can tell, Somali Airlines is defunct. Founded in 1964, the airline’s network once reached Europe. I remember seeing Somali Airlines Airbus A310s in Brussels and Paris as late as 2001. These days, Turkish Airlines is the only major carrier brave enough to fly to Mogadishu.




Now speaking of Donald Trump, a quick diversion here, if you’ll permit me.

It’s amazing, some of the spam that finds its way into my mailbox. I’m on some strange lists. Consider the following picture, for example, which arrived the other day as part of some incomprehensible, pro-Trump political pitch.

I don’t know what this is supposed to be, exactly, but here is my interpretation…

What I see are six True Patriots who have created a little diorama of sorts, embodying the in-your-face spirit of the New America. I love these dudes. The shirtless guy with the ball cap reminds me of me.

Help me out. Let’s start with the clothes: First we have the guy in shorts, on the right, who looks like he’s dressed for the beach. Next to him, Ball Cap Bro is just in from a NASCAR race. And I’m pretty sure the blonde guy on the far left once played keyboards with Kraftwerk. The stocking cap kid looks like any of a thousand hipster assholes you’d see here in Somerville, while the kneeling guy, in front, appears to be wearing some kind of radiation-resistant jumpsuit. Or else he’s a white rapper in an ISIS-inspired track suit — we can’t tell. And don’t you love the way he’s turned his head to profile? It makes him sexier, of course, but this way too he can keep an eye on the border, which is presumably just off to the right, in case any Mexicans try to rush in and ruin the shoot.

But wait, there’s a blooper. Look closely and you’ll notice that Beach Dude’s shorts are emblazoned with the logo of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Now, nobody’s proposing a border wall with Canada, yet, but this isn’t right. Clearly the wardrobe people screwed up. And while it might be just a trick of the shadows, notice also that Beach Dude appears to be sporting a rather pronounced boner, and his face looks to be tightened in a grimace of erotic frustration. Is it the raw excitement of the moment that has him so aroused, or is it his proximity to the buff and bearded NASCAR stud? Either way, what a whole new kind of diversity!

There’s The Wall, of course, centerpiece of the presentation. “It’s gonna be a beautiful wall, a Trump wall,” as the visionary architect himself once described it, as only he could. Here we see it in a kind of hopeful, patriotic miniature, backdropped with Old Glory. Brings a tear to the eye.

Fallout Rapper Dude is blocking the “Make America Great Again” sign — poor set design there — but we can plainly see a copy of Donald Trump’s seminal manifesto, “Crippled America,” (the Donald is right up there with de Tocqueville) perched touchingly atop, for some reason, an orange bucket.

Curiously there are no guns.

Then there’s this — it’s a t-shirt — which will take some time to digest, and may, in fact, be beyond anyone’s capabilities to properly deride, mock, or otherwise decipher…

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