TO say that the first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been controversial would be an understatement.
The 45th President of the United States has signed a flurry of executive orders, including the most controversial one – a travel restriction for nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The executive order, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, bans entry into the US from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. It also suspends the entire US refugee admissions system for 120 days and suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely.
We are not directly affected by the travel ban. However, many in Malaysia have voiced opposition towards it. Last week, some political parties and non-governmental organisations submitted a memorandum to the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to object against the travel restriction.
Many more Malaysians, however, appear to either support the ban or feel that there is no reason to oppose it.
They argue that this is an “internal US matter”, and outsiders, especially those not affected by the ban should not interfere. Yet the reality is that whatever the US does reverberates throughout the globe. We are talking about a global superpower. As such the travel ban cannot merely be seen as an internal matter, especially as it directly affects people from seven countries.
Some have also argued that Trump is an elected leader and he has the mandate to “protect his country”, which includes signing the executive order. While it is true that Trump is the president, he cannot act wantonly. He may have discretion to sign executive orders, but that discretion is not absolute nor unfettered. A mandate to govern is not permission to do as one pleases.
Any executive action which purports to be for national security must have a clear objective. The action must be reasonable and proportionate. There must be a rational nexus between the action and the objective. National security is not a blanket permission to dispense with the Rule of Law.
The travel ban imposed on the seven countries is unreasonable and disproportionate to the stated objective of the security of the US. Many commentators have pointed out that from Sept 11 onwards, no nationals from these seven countries has perpetrated a deadly terrorist attack in the US. By imposing the ban, President Trump is essentially saying that all citizens of these countries are security threats, and should not be allowed into the US.
The travel ban has also been compared with how Israelis are not permitted to enter certain Muslim majority countries, including Malaysia. But Israelis are not permitted to enter these countries because there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and these countries due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is not on the basis that these countries view Israelis as security threats or as terrorists. It is a political decision not one that is inherently racist.
We must also not forget that at one time, many countries did not have diplomatic relations with South Africa because of apartheid. Furthermore the US travel ban will affect many who are fleeing war-torn countries, while the prohibition on Israel will, at most, affect tourists and athletes.
Lastly, it is important to oppose the travel ban because we are talking about the US – a beacon of liberal democracy in this world.
Despite its flaws, other nations would do well to aspire to its democratic principles. If the US can so easily and readily dispense with these principles, what hope is there for those of us in fledgling democracies?
Yes, we can point out to the discrimination at home. Certainly, there are many things we need to work on here in Malaysia. But you can oppose the travel ban and at the same time focus on the issues here in Malaysia. They are not mutually exclusive. There is no dichotomy between the two.
>Syahredzan Johan is a young lawyer and partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.