In an article titled, “One Nation Under Fear,” Mark Edmundson writes:
How did a people who settled a continent, created enormous wealth, and fought and (mostly) won war after war devolve into a nation of such tremulous souls? And how did it happen so quickly? Where once there was the generation of the Second World War, ready to leave home and fight fascists on the far sides of the world, we now have a nation that at times seems composed largely of field mice, prone to quiver when they detect an unfriendly shadow.
In the latest wave of mass hysteria, the barriers of entry to the United States imposed on people with darker skins will once again be raised higher.
The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 does not make any mention of skin color, yet the officials who are responsible for enforcing this law will inevitably notice skin color when determining if it needs to be applied. Since the law will apply, for instance, to British citizens who are also Iranian nationals simply by virtue of having an Iranian father — such an individual might have been born in the UK, have never visited Iran and not possess an Iranian passport — the way in which they will get flagged for questioning will most likely be because they are Middle Eastern in appearance.
Ostensibly, the law was designed to block U.S. entry to Europeans who have joined ISIS.
Let’s imagine how that would work: A British citizen who fought with ISIS in Syria has now returned home and then decides to fly to New York. He shows up at the airline check-in desk, presents his passport and the clerk, seeing the stamp entered when he visited Syria, says: “Sorry mate, no trip to America for you!” The thwarted traveler responds: “Damn that Terrorist Travel Prevention Act!” … except, of course, such an individual would in reality neither declare nor present any evidence that they had been in Syria or belonged to ISIS. The terrorist would — surprise, surprise — break the rules.
In truth, this isn’t a serious piece of legislation. Those who drafted and passed this law were engaged in a piece of political theater. Indeed, anyone who can coin a phrase like “terrorist travel prevention” would be better employed at The Onion than in the U.S. Congress.
The only people who will be reliably prevented from travel are those innocently trying to do what most travelers do — visit relatives and friends; engage in tourism or business.
The terrorists are not so dumb that they would run afoul of such restrictions — just as no terrorist would subvert his own objectives by tangling himself in the vetting process imposed on asylum seekers.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take very long at all for the consequences of bad policies to be felt by innocent people. That was the case at London’s Heathrow airport on Tuesday when Rana Rahimpour, a British-Iranian dual citizen, was denied entry into the US. As the Guardian reported, Rahimpour was on her way to visit her brother and attend a surprise birthday party. Despite being British, she was rejected because of her Iranian citizenship.
In December, the US Congress passed a new law seeking to stop terrorists from traveling freely to the US. With a mind to thwarting the frightening prospect of an attack in the US by a growing crop of radicalized Muslims from western countries, the law changed the rules of the visa waivers afforded to citizens of some 38 countries.
People from those countries used to be able to come to the US without obtaining a visa, but now if they hold dual citizenship from Syria, Iraq, Sudan or Iran or have visited any of those countries over the past five years, they must obtain a visa in advance through the normal processes, including an in-person interview.
Rahimpour, however, is no terrorist. She is a news presenter at BBC Persian, the Farsi-language outlet of the United Kingdom’s state broadcaster. That carries with it a special irony: far from being radicalized in the vein of Iran’s Islamic Republicans, BBC Persian instead serves as a bête noire of the Iranian government.
Now, thanks to the new visa waiver rules, BBC journalists of Iranian origin can add the US Congress to their list of antagonists, even if for the more minor offense of giving them an undue burden to travel to the US. That burden has been extended despite the Iranian government’s hatred for these BBC reporters. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the US government hates Iran so much that they’re willing to pour their hatred onto all Iranians.
That’s evident in the extension of the new visa waiver restrictions to anyone who holds dual citizenship. That means that some of my great uncles living in Europe who served time in Iran’s revolutionary prisons, even facing looming death sentences (that, thankfully, were never carried out), must now jump through extra hoops to visit family like me in the US.
This restriction is ineffective and non-nonsensical. It only makes sense when you consider Congress’s Iran hawkishness – think of all the bipartisan attempts to kill Barack Obama’s now-fruitful diplomacy – and the fact that it is supported in this demeanor by a bevy of right-of-center pro-Israel think tanks.
One of the few think tankers vociferously defending the new visa waiver restrictions is the sanctions architect Mark Dubowitz, of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Dubowitz has supported the visa waiver restrictions exactly as part of his monomaniacal opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran – which is really what the Iran measure is all about.
It’s no secret that Congress hates Iranians; one need only remember the spectacle of a leading Republican anti-Iran hawk calling for sanctions against Iran that would “take the food out of the mouths” of ordinary Iranians whose government represses their political will. But this takes it to a new level – not only because it affects those Iranians in Europe and elsewhere who themselves fled the Islamic Republic, but especially because it stands to curtail the rights of free travel for Iranian-Americans. [Continue reading…]