Back in 2009 – when ‘prejudice’ was for me still merely a vague and abstract idea, overshadowed by my preoccupation with discovering the Twilight saga (now is not the time to comment on my highbrow literary taste) – the first African American President of the United States came into power. Whilst I comprehended the momentousness of the occasion in theory, I admit that it is with the onset of the appalling events accompanying the rise of Barack Obama’s successor that I finally fully understood the hope and progress that his presidency had symbolised.
The sickening implications of President Trump’s ascension to power has been fully confirmed with the executive order he signed on 27th January. It is shocking to find that so much prejudice still prevails in the same era and country in which a non-white President seemed to demonstrate to the world that the colour of one’s skin should not define the opportunities one is given in life.
President Trump’s executive order imposed an indefinite suspension on the Syrian refugee programme – as he claims the entry of Syrian refugees is “detrimental to the interests of the United States” – a 120-day suspension of the whole US refugee admissions system for 120 days, and a ban on entries into the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – for 90 days. Whilst ‘extreme vetting’ is how the Trump administration describes their policy – a term that provides the false impression of the implementation of stricter screening procedures, rather than entry bans – it is hard to imagine that the executive order was not simply a Muslim ban. Implicit in the ban is the mistaken and ignorant belief that ‘Muslim’ is synonymous to ‘terrorist’.
President Trump’s act signifies a politics so ruthlessly prejudiced against and fearful of what it does not understand that it dismisses human lives as “detrimental” and blatantly disregards moral responsibility towards the very lives it played a role in ravaging, the US being a participant in devastating conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. If I, a Japanese person directly unaffected by the executive order, feel so uneasy and repulsed at the recognition of the extent to which racial prejudice still prevails in the modern world, I cannot imagine the horror and fear that those the policy victimises at first hand must be experiencing.
President Trump’s act signifies a politics so ruthlessly prejudiced against and fearful of what it does not understand that it dismisses human lives as “detrimental” and blatantly disregards moral responsibility towards the very lives it played a role in ravaging.
Amber Rudd, the UK’s Home Secretary, condemned the President’s policy as being “a potential propaganda opportunity” for Islamic State, as well as questioning whether the seven countries subject to the executive order are sources of terrorism. However, criticism was directed at Rudd for taking several days to announce her concern about the executive order. Furthermore, in spite of Labour MP Chuka Umanna challenging her – “What message do you think it gives this country’s three million Muslims when you invite a known Islamaphobe and honour him in the way you intend to?” – Rudd refused to censure President Trump’s state visit to the UK.
Similarly, Theresa May failed to condemn outright Trump’s policies. Her brief comment in response to public outcry within the country to the executive order, that the ‘UK takes a different approach’ seems to be an evasive one. It is expressive of an unwillingness to either fully lambaste or remain completely silent.
This mix of condemnation and a hesitancy to vocalise criticisms seems to forecast the UK’s conflicted stance in relation to the Unites States – one consisting of a struggle to attempt to reconcile the recognition of wrongdoing in a major world power and a reliance on the same major power – for at least the coming 4 years. More fundamentally, it bespeaks of a world order in which basic human rights are not immediately prioritised over political relations. President Trump’s office has already exposed the contradictions within politics – the word is derived from the Greek ‘politēs’ (‘citizen’) – whereby what should be conducted for the people is no longer protecting even their basic rights.
In a video message to UK protesters, Jeremy Corbyn asserted: “I support the demand of millions of people in Britain that Donald Trump should not be welcomed on a state visit to this country while he continues to propagate his anti-women, anti-Muslim, and anti-Mexican policies.” Whilst describing an ideal stance on politics, his utterance is one that is perhaps much more easily said by a figure who is not in power. Especially in the still uncertain economic and political climate after the UK’s decision to opt for Brexit, it is somewhat understandable – although perhaps not necessarily justifiable – that the UK government would be reluctant to antagonise a super-power. The current state of affairs perhaps less exposes the problems of the government, and more the global structure in which a single country has so much power that it does not necessarily suffer the consequences of its own wrongdoing.