Among the actions Trump has taken since inauguration day, nothing has stirred more controversy than the travel ban. This executive order, titled ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,’ blocked entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and indefinitely suspended the entry of Syrian refugees.
As we reported earlier, the order excluded the countries responsible for 93 percent of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil – including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt – which also happen to be countries where Trump has business ties.
From the start it appears that the travel ban – poorly written and wide open to legal challenge – was based not on actual data but ideology and emotion. Indeed, Trump’s rise to power was fueled by aggression toward ‘outgroups’ such as immigrants, minorities or certain religious types, which is a pillar of authoritarianism.
Even though there is no rational basis for Trump’s travel ban, it is red meat for his followers and serves to increase division and hatred, while throwing federal and state governments into chaos. It’s also allowing Trump to dangerously lash out at the “so-called judge” – a Republican appointed by Bush – who temporarily lifted the travel ban, whipping up anger against a fundamental check against executive overreach.
The Trump team understands how easy it is to play on fears about foreign terrorist attacks, and seem to be immersed in it themselves (Flynn, Bannon, etc.). However, like the baseless travel ban, Islamophobia is not grounded in reality.
In fact, an American is more likely to be killed by a U.S.-born attacker such as Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in an African-American church, or Robert Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic, then they are to be killed by a foreign-born Jihadist-inspired attacker.
Of course, none of these people, including U.S.-born Omar Mateen who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, would have been affected by the travel ban.
The irrational fear over foreign terrorists killing Americans is even more absurd when we consider five seemingly rare types of accidents that are far more likely to kill — Parachuting accidents, being buried alive, lightning strikes, drowning while taking a bath, and choking on food.
The enormous cost of enacting a travel ban – in terms of the treasury, the plight of travelers, and the increased hatred toward ‘others’ – is clearly not remotely worth the purported safety it provides.
Despite the facts, “terrorist attack on nation” and “victim of terrorism” are among the top five of Americans’ greatest fears. How did it come to this?
Quite simply, the media-political discourse is so skewed from reality that it has managed to replace fact-based interpretations of the world for most people. Emotion drives the narrative and the profits of mainstream media such as CNN and Fox News, which both benefit from Islamophobia.
It goes back to a phenomenon called the availability heuristic, first uncovered by psychologists in 1973, which states: “[A] person evaluates the frequency of classes or the probability of events by availability, i.e., by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. In general, availability is correlated with ecological frequency.”
This matters because more and more, people construct their view of the world through the media they consume, which constantly pushes fear about Muslims.
“This is why Americans have also, since the early 2000s, thought that the crime rate was increasing, when in reality it was decreasing — until violence in Chicago and a handful of other cities started pushing it up.
Scholars call the product of it-bleeds-it-leads news cycles and violent entertainment Mean World Theory. Since the average kid sees 8,000 dramatized murders by the time they turn 12, they take the world to be more violent than it actually is.
It’s the same case with Muslims, terrorism, and the consequent Islamophobia. In an analysis of network and cable news shows from 2008 and 2012, communications scholars Travis Dixon and Charlotte Williams found that Muslims were greatly overrepresented as terrorists; they cite FBI stats finding that just 6 percent of terrorist acts in a separate four-year period were committed by Muslims, while 81 percent of terrorists on TV news were portrayed as Muslim.”
Interfaith strife and interethnic conflict are far more profitable than a real analysis showing that Muslims and foreign terrorists actually pose an extremely small threat to Americans. This not only benefits mainstream media but also the military-industrial complex, which always needs a bogeyman to justify outrageous levels of military spending and interventions in the Middle East.
The Trump administration appears to be doubling down on this dangerous, false narrative. Recent reports are that team Trump intends to “revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.”