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Opinion Trump’s travel ban and its culture of fear is a threat to us all

Cynthia Levine-Rasky and Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui are the Jewish and Muslim co-leaders of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, Toronto Circle.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court vindicated Donald Trump and his coterie by overriding two earlier judicial rejections of a proposed law to control entrance into the United States by travellers from some Muslim-majority countries. Criticisms are plentiful. Journalists, human rights advocates, educators, lawyers, faith groups, and countless others have rightly identified the discriminatory nature of the executive order and its affront to democratic rights and freedoms that we believe distinguishes us from countries like those identified in the ban. Most of the opposition dwells on legalistic questions, parsing the language of the order, and speculating on how it will be implemented.

But there is more to the executive order than its language. Language is abstract; effects are real. What does it feel like to be the object of a travel ban?

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On the one hand, details are everything. If you are an American foreign national with a visa from Iran, you get the green flag. If you have a green card and are travelling back to your job in the United States, you are in. If you are visiting family (except if it is your sick grandmother) in the United States, it's no problem. If you are returning to university classes or if you are a guest lecturer at an American university, you are good to go. If you're neither a tourist from Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen who wishes to see the Grand Canyon, nor a refugee who wishes to see safety in your lifetime, you should face no impediment. The details ensure your passage. Indeed, the executive order excludes only a limited number of people.

On the other hand, the details don't matter. The ban, whatever its wording, affects all Muslims everywhere. It turns out that Mr. Trump's decree against some Muslims from some countries for some period of time has a chilling effect on the quality of life for all Muslims in his country and elsewhere, and for an indeterminate period of time.

The real purpose of the ban is not to stem the alleged flow of terrorists. It is to sustain intimidation of Muslims and to demonstrate that they cannot fully belong. By keeping them in their place as outsiders in their own country, it safely targets them as eternally suspect. Perpetuating a climate of fear effects everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion. It has descended and we all move about in it. As a signature policy of Mr. Trump's first few months as President, the ban affirms a common internal enemy, a key element in Mr. Trump's endless search for public support.

From the point of view of Muslims who live, shop, work, learn, and travel in urban neighbourhoods, the legislative actions against them carry everyday and cumulative consequences. For Muslims, the ban means worrying about a child's welfare from the time she leaves the house in the morning until the time she returns. It means wondering about a spouse's safety as he travels through public space during his day. It means dreading the harm that a mother may face when she goes outside wearing a hijab as she has always done. It means suddenly knowing what it is be alienated from the very place to which you used to belong and replacing it with an everyday fear, despair, and apprehension. This is the mundane cost of being differentiated on the basis of religion.

The consequences of the ban are not restricted to Muslims. All ethnic minorities are affected because it is impossible to differentiate Muslims from other groups. Any brown person may be assumed to be Muslim. This increases the risks for hundreds of thousands of people and their communities, their schools, and their places of worship. It ultimately affects everyone because we share these communities, these schools, and the public space that contains our places of worship. Danger for some endangers us all. In violating the covenant of mutual respect that holds society together, imminent violence – and more innocuous forms of exclusion like racist graffiti – diminishes the quality of public life.

Fortunately, the impulse toward human decency cannot be smothered, even in times of crisis. Resistance is growing. Mr. Trump and his allies fear this growing solidarity and take steps to squelch it every day.

What is required is deliberate action to abolish divisions and to create community across lines of religion and ethnicity, race and sexual identity. There is much more that unites people than divides people: community, family, a right to freedom from discrimination, and a need to belong. When we stand together, we renew our essential unity.

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