Monday, January 30, 2017

Iranians Aren't Terrorists

So, Donald Trump's bizarre Muslim ban is so wrong that it's difficult to know where to even begin.

And, if your Facebook, twitter feed, and social media have been anything like mine the past few days, you've already seen it attacked from several angles.

But let me add one more point that I haven't seen being made.  (Actually maybe it's already being made somewhere out there on the Internet, and I've just been reading the wrong articles.  But, whatever, I'm going ahead with this rant anyway.)

Iranians aren't terrorists.  Iranians never have been terrorists.
According to, there has only ever been one act of attempted terrorism in the US tied to an Iranian citizen, and even that wasn't an attempt to hurt US citizens, but a failed attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador.

The Iranian government has historically had a hostile relationship with the US government, as a result of which Iran often gets a bad rap in the US media, and is often painted in the US media as an extreme Muslim country.

And with all this negative propaganda, it's sometimes very easy to forget that Iran is actually a moderate Muslim country--at least compared to the other countries in the region.

Iran is a Shiite country, and despite the bad press it gets in the US media, Iran's version of Islam is actually much more moderate than the version of Islam practiced in many US allies like Saudi Arabia.

For example, women in Iran only have to cover their hair, not their whole face (unlike the in Saudia Arabia, a US ally).
Women in Iran can travel without male supervision.  They can drive cars.  They can leave the country without a male chaperone.  They can vote.  They can talk to men who aren't their relatives.  (Unlike in Saudia Arabia, a US ally).
Iran is one of the only democracies in the Arab world.  (Granted, it's a democracy with a lot of problems, but there are at least elections--unlike in the governments of many US allies in the region, like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.)

And while the Iranian government does have some links to state sponsored terrorism, individual Iranian citizens do not have a history of terrorism.

Because Iran's Muslims are Shiites, they hate Al Qaeda and ISIS as much as we do.   (Remember, Al Qaeda wants to kill all the Shiites).

And remember, of the 9/11 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia.  Which is again, a US ally, and which is not included under Donald Trump's ban.

To sum up: Whatever you may think about refugees and terrorists and immigration policy, there is absolutely no practical reason to include Iranians in the list of banned countries.  Other than to play politics, and assume that banning Iran will play well to a certain part of the electorate.

See also here.

Notice Iran is not on this list, which makes sense because they're Shiites. And yet they are on Trump's Muslim ban, and Saudia Arabia is not.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky: Iran Isn't The Threat, We Are

So, I also posted a version of this post on Facebook because, let's face it, that's where everyone is these days.
I got a lot of comments on it, some agreeing with me, and some disagreeing.  In order to make this post fair and balanced, I thought I should include the comments, including the ones who were disagreeing with me.
(Note: On Facebook I posted this in two separate posts.  One with the main text, and then one with just the graphic, and short comment about Iran not being on the list.  That was probably a mistake, because the way Facebook newsfeed works, many people probably only read one post and not the other, and this may have have resulted in some confusion.)

Friend 1:
Nice try, Joel. We all know that there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and they all hate America and want to impose sharia law. I know this because my friend said he saw it on facebook. QED.

I have made this point before, that the gulf between Sunni and Shia is bigger than the gulf between Islam and the west. The overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks are Muslim on Muslim, but we don't hear about these attacks because they're poor brown people, so fuck 'em.

Iran is the mortal enemy of both Saudi Arabia and Israel, two of America's BFFs. It's a convenient boogeyman.

Friend 2:
Very informative. Thank you Joel.

Friend 3:
And Saudi is one of the biggest sources of funding and recruitment centres for terrorists. The oil and financial links are too great to sever though

Friend 4:
Saudi Arabia is not on the list because they are Allies of the US. Possible the only allies with any power in that region.
Consideration must taken in order to protect that friendship

I think Iran is on that list because of its strong ties to Osama bin laden and the belief that
Al Qaeda operatives are housed in the country

Fair point. But still it seems that a distinction should be made between governments and individual citizens. The Iranian government has a hostile relationship to the US, while the Saudi government does not. But the immigration ban is aimed at individual people, not governments. And there have been no terrorist attacks by Iranians in the US, but there have been terrorist attacks by Saudis.

Thanks for the links, by the way. I admit to being ignorant of those allegations, so consider me educated. I do notice, however, that both of those articles come from outlets famous for having conservative biases. I've been trying to find more information on this from searching other media sources, and have been finding that actually these claims about Iran and Al-Qaeda are contested:

Friend 4:
I don't know Joel. I feel sad hearing the stories of the detainees but I also felt sad for the 3000 people that died on 9/11.
Clear up your argument for me. Why should a distinction be made between Governments and Individual-citizens entering the US? They can't be terrorists?

Perhaps some of the confusion is I posted my argument in two parts, and assumed everyone would read both parts, but that's not the way Facebook newsfeed works. In my previous post, I argued that Iranians are very unllikely to be terrorists. They're moderate Muslims, and they're shiite, so they're not natural allies of ISIS or Al-Qaeda. There has been no history of Iranians committing terrorism. Of course they could be terrorist in the same way anyone from any country could be terrorists, but there's no reason to suspect Iranians of especially being terrorists anymore than you'd suspect someone from Spain or France or Japan or wherever.

Friend 5:
Joel, the list of countries is actually Obama's list, isn't it? He signed the 'Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act' which named those countries. And did he not stop the processing of Iraqi visas for a period in 2011? Correct me if I am wrong, but there wasn't much of an outcry from the left then was there? None of that, of course, is an argument as to whether Trump has got this right. But I put it here for balance. And it is not a Muslim ban- it is a country ban. I think that is probably disingenuous of him, but as it stands Indonesian and Malay Muslims, for example, aren't banned... Yet

I'll start off with the easiest one, which is to concede one of your points. The Left allows the Democrats to get away with a lot of things that they crucify Republicans for. To my mind, that's an argument for the Left to be stricter on Democrats, and not an argument for letting Trump get away with everything Obama set a precedent for. Obama did a LOT of things I won't defend.
Secondly, for the purposes of this debate, I don't have as much of a problem with restricting Iraqi visas. I mean, I do on humanitarian grounds, but that's a whole other argument. I can at least see the argument that terrorists are likely to have come from Iraq. The point I'm making in this post (and the previous post, of which this is meant as a follow-up) is whatever you may think about Iraq and terrorism, it makes no sense to include Iran on the list
Thirdly, it does appear that you may be right about this list coming from Obama. Of course, it wasn't the same, because that was just a list of countries that didn't get a visa waiver, and not a travel ban. (If I mis-state, please correct me). But it may be that the reason Iran is on this list to begin with is that Trump team just uncritically copied and pasted Obama's list. So I'll concede that.

Friend 5:
Yes, as I said "None of that, of course, is an argument as to whether Trump has got this right."

I know. I'm just clarifying what I'm willing to defend and what I'm not

Friend 5:
And yes again it was a 'visa-waiver' and likely a 'copy and paste' job. Wasn't Twitter banned in Iran though in 2015?

I don't know, to be honest. That would admittedly effect things a bit, wouldn't it?

Me (sometime later):
Okay, I've been looking into this, and it appears that you may be right. At least officially. Unofficially it sounds like most Iranians found a way around it.

Admittedly this could have effected the results. But I suspect that citizens of a Shiite country still wouldn't have supported ISIS no matter what.

Friend 1:
Just happened to see this, FYI.

Friend 4:
Joel - I found this on the Guardian posted a few years earlier than the article you shared:

Although there does appear to be some back and forth about the Iranian government's relationship with state-sponsored terrorism, individual Iranians do not have a history of terrorism.
It's a distinction between what the government does, and what the people do. For example, the US government has in the past sponsored some terrorist groups, like the Contras. But that doesn't mean that I as a US citizen am likely to commit an act of terrorism when I travel abroad. I mean I could, theoretically, but I have no reason to.
Or to reverse the example, the Saudi Arabian Government has always had close friendly ties with the US. And yet many of the terrorists have come from Saudi Arabia. 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The Iranian government may possibly be supporting some of these groups for some realpolitik reason, but your average Iranian Muslim is going to be Shia, so they will not be natural allies of ISIS or AL-Qaeada. And there is zero history of Iranians committing terrorism against US citizens inside the US

Friend 4:
Ok. I understand what you are saying and I think you make some good points.
Keeping an open mind and willing to rethink it.
I don't really know a lot about Iran.

I do know that the government of Japan, France and Spain all have diplomatic relations with America...Iran does not.
The most I know is that it (the government) is really hostile to America.

Ok so I am googling now and finding all some articles and materials that seem to contradict your statement that Iranian citizens are moderates...
What proof do you have?

Parade of Iranian youth...they burned the effigy of Obama
[Several images were posted from this parade]

I know you don't want to read right leaning papers but this article seemed pretty solid:

Was ready to concede but after there seems to be a fair level of anti-American sentiment there
Edit: That + hotbed region + hostile Government = Ok for the list

 sorry for the late reply. Time difference and everything.
First of all, I have too concede that I'm using moderate in a relative sense. The Iranian form of Islam is moderate in comparison to other countries in the region. And some of these other countries in the region are US allies like Kuwait, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, which did not make Trump's list.
Women in Iran can travel without male supervision. They can drive cars. They can leave the country without a male chaperone. They can vote. They can talk to men who aren't their relatives. (Unlike in Saudia Arabia, a US ally).
Iran is one of the only democracies in the Arab world. (Granted, it's a democracy with a lot of problems, but there are at least elections--unlike in the governments of many US allies in the region, like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.)
see here:

and here:

Secondly, you have to be a little bit careful with articles claiming to tell you how Iranians feel about America. Unless there is some sort of scientific poll going on, it won't be reliable. It's not good data to simply show up and interview people at an anti-American protest. You could just as easily seek out Iranians who like America, and use that as your article. And some newspapers do.
See for example this New York Times article which describes the many positive attitudes young Iranians have towards America:

You also have to be a little bit careful about what you read about Iran, because the Iranian government has a hostile relationship with the US. So there's a tendency of the US media to exaggerate how extreme Islam is in Iran, and downplay how extreme Islam is in countries allied to the US (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE). I think you're seeing that in some of the articles you're running across on Google, particularly the more right-wing ones.

As for the anti-American protests...remember when Bush was President, and he was burned in effigy at protests around the world, even in many countries that were US allies? But there was no travel ban from any of these places.
The proposed purpose of Donald Trump's travel ban is to keep America safe. So for that purpose, we need to look at which countries citizens are likely to commit terrorism on US Soil. Iranians do not have a history of this. But Saudis, UAEs and Egyptians do. (These are the countries that the 9/11 hijackers were from.) And yet Iranians are banned, and they aren't. What sense does that make?
More over, Iranians citizens would never commit terror in the name of ISIS, because they are Shia Muslims, and ISIS wants to kill all the Shiites

Friend 6:
Joel, my man, it seems like one of the things missing from this discussion is the fact that DT still has business ties with the "Muslim" countries mysteriously left off the list. I found a map:
His immigration ban from majority Muslim countries excludes those countries where he has golf courses, country clubs, and hotels.

Yes, it does look very suspicious, doesn't it.

Friend 1:
When the Trump Mogadishu casino opens, Somalia will come off the list.

Friend 1 (again):
According to this chart it appears Americans should be banned from America.

Friend 7:
Is it really a Muslim ban when the top 5 Muslim countries in the world, in terms of population, are not on the list? For example, Indonesia

Oh, careful now, you're going to get all the Egyptians upset Joel. Oh, wait, or did you mean top 5 in terms of population?

Friend 7:
In terms of population, I think. Wasn't this a policy designed by Obama anyway?

Arguably. (See the above comments for discussion on that point). My main point in this post (and my previous post to which this is a follow-up) is that whoever designed this list, it makes no sense for Iran to be on the list.

Friend 7:
Yes I agree mate.

Friend 1:
They are pandering to the Islamophobia of the Trump Youth. A phobia is an irrational fear. We know that the vast majority of Muslims do not come from the Middle East, but Trump supporters believe all Muslims are Ay-rabs, and I am comfortable with that generalization. If Trump knows that Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population I will eat this phone.

Friend 4:
The nypost is a liberal paper...but fine maybe Iranian anti-americanism is just right-wing propaganda.
I don't know enough to make an informed decision about that...and yes I am certain most people visiting the US or simply most people anywhere Do not have violent intentions towards anyone...
The vetting is just an extra security measure for people from a hotbed region and maybe the Iranians got pulled in because of their neighbors and government. Maybe some Americans just want to feel safer in their own country.
Or maybe the CIA has some confidential intelligence that prompted homeland security to put them on that list.
At this point I don't know is my stance 🙂

Meanwhile in Iran (this happened yesterday).

We may just have to leave it here. Good back and forth though. Hope you are doing well. Take care.

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