A couple of months after the 9/11 attacks, a delegation of Sikh-Americans met with my former boss, then-Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), and other members of the Republican leadership.
They relayed that simple message because they were afraid for their lives. Sikh-Americans were being attacked because some idiots believed that they were exacting revenge on the 9/11 attackers.
But Sikhs are not Muslim. It is a completely different religious tradition.
George W. Bush and Republican leaders did their best to put the attacks of September 11, 2001, in context. This was not a war on Islam. It was a war against terrorism and those fanatics who perverted Islam to carry out terrorist attacks.
They weren’t just worried about protecting Muslim-Americans who had nothing to do with al Qaeda or the Taliban. They were also worried about protecting people who weren’t even Muslim but maybe looked like they could be.
In every war we fight, we take a broad look at possible enemy combatants and we go overboard in protecting ourselves against possible traitors. In World War I, we rounded up German-Americans and put restrictions on their movements. In World War II, we interned thousands of Japanese-Americans. During the height of the Cold War, we ferreted out possible communists in the State Department and in Hollywood.
The war on terror has been different because, for the most part, we haven’t been battling a nation-state, but rather nonstate actors. The rules of engagement have changed. The battle lines have shifted, as have the tactics, especially of our enemies. They don’t seek to instill their will and win a strategic military victory. Instead, they seek to instill terror by striking at civilians and noncombatants.
In the aftermath of the gruesome attack in Orlando, Donald Trump may revisit his idea of installing a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States. His proposal might seem to be more popular now than ever, given the nature of the destruction and the motivations behind it.
But I would urge Mr. Trump to rethink that proposal.
First, it wouldn’t have had any impact on the Orlando killer. Omar Mateen was an American citizen, born in Trump’s hometown of New York City. It’s hard to put a temporary ban on people who already live here.
Second, a temporary ban on all Muslims coming to the U.S. would cause a bureaucratic nightmare that would make it almost impossible for our immigration system to do anything but identify who is and who isn’t a Muslim. It’s an impractical and wildly inefficient response to an unrelated problem of domestic terrorism.
Third, it would chill relations with our global partners from Islamic nations who are key in our fight against Islamic terrorism. We need countries like Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia to help us stop terrorists before they get here. A temporary ban would most likely make that cooperation impossible, putting us in more danger.
Fourth, a ban would divide America on religious grounds for the first time in our nation’s history. We have a First Amendment, which makes us unique in the world, that guarantees people can practice whatever religious beliefs they want to practice, free of government oversight. We will rue the day that we allow that right to be trampled on.
Finally, such a proposal will have unintended and terrible consequences. Somebody somewhere will be harmed, discriminated against or abused, just because some fool thinks he is fighting a Muslim terrorist. When the federal government takes a ham-handed approach to national security, it is almost inevitable that somebody who is completely innocent will get harmed in the process.
I expect that the debate about the proper response to the Orlando tragedy will divide among familiar lines. Democrats will call for more gun control and Republicans will call for less. But one thing we should all agree upon is that a temporary travel ban on Muslims won’t solve any problems and could make things much worse. I said I would support Trump if he were nominated by the Republicans in Cleveland. But I don’t support all of his ideas, and I certainly don’t support this one.