Trump’s Muslim Laptop Ban – POLITICO Magazine
Every day, dozens of airplanes arrive in the United States from 10 Muslim-majority countries. All of these countries are active partners in the coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. All of them sent senior officials to Washington last month to coordinate the next phase in this struggle.
The day before the coalition met, the Trump administration announced that no direct flights from eight of these 10 Muslim-majority countries to the United States could allow passengers to sit with their laptops and tablets. This was a slap at security officials in these countries, at the very moment that the United States was asking them for additional help in fighting terrorism.
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It’s true that being forced to fly without one’s laptop is trivial compared with being refused a visa or denied asylum. However, it appears to be part of the same effort to limit Muslims’ entry to the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security phrased the laptop ban in terms of unspecified security threats. But if terrorists have now developed explosives that scanners and swabs cannot detect, then every airport in the world should ban laptops and tablets, not just airports in Muslim-majority countries with direct flights to the United States.
And if this threat is legitimate, then the Trump administration should have filed an alert with international aviation authorities so that every flight can be secured. A recent press release from the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. agency that coordinates between different countries’ commercial aviation systems, indicated that it had received no such alert.
Plus, two of the airports on the list – Abu Dhabi and Dubai – are in the United Arab Emirates, which gets higher safety ratings than the United States from the ICAO. In Abu Dhabi, the United States adds an extra layer of security with a pre-clearance agreement that puts passengers and their luggage through American immigration and customs checks before boarding.
All eight countries on the laptop ban list meet global safety standards, according to the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment Program, which issued its latest findings in late February.
There have been lapses – a flight from Egypt to Russia was downed in 2015 by explosives in a soda can. In 2010, two bombs hidden in printer cartridges were discovered on flights from Yemen and removed before they detonated. Last year, an airplane in Somalia was damaged by an explosive hidden in a laptop. (Somalia and Yemen are not on the DHS laptop list because they have no direct flights to the United States.) Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their affiliates have tried for years to smuggle explosives onto aircraft.
But airports in Muslim-majority countries are not the only ones to have experienced lapses in security. The so-called “underwear bomber” boarded a plane in Amsterdam with explosives under his clothes; the “shoe bomber” boarded in London. Bombs have been smuggled onto two planes in Moscow and one in Beijing. And that’s it – there have been a total of seven aircraft bombings across the globe since 9/11. Flying remains one of the safest forms of transportation.
Or perhaps there is an alternative explanation for the Muslim laptop ban? Some have speculated that the ban is designed to inconvenience passengers on foreign airlines that compete with U.S. carriers. Of all the flights affected by the laptop ban, only one route—between Istanbul and Atlanta— involves a U.S. carrier. The laptop ban came several weeks after President Trump met with U.S. airline executives and sympathized with their complaints about foreign airline subsidies. “I know you have a lot of competition, and a lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” Trump told them. “What can we do? Give me suggestions that we can make your life easier and that you can employ a lot more people.”
But the U.S. airline industry is only lobbying against subsidies in Qatar and the UAE. Why were countries such as Egypt and Morocco included in the laptop ban?
The answer is staring us in the face: They are Muslim-majority countries, and Trump has stated clearly and repeatedly that he wants to limit Muslims’ travel to the United States. His administration has tried twice with visa restrictions and delays on refugees. When a court stayed the first executive order, Trump tried again with a watered-down version aimed at passing judicial muster—only to say later that he preferred the original wording.
The targeted countries are different: The visa bans involved Muslim-majority countries suffering through civil wars (plus Iran), while the laptop ban involves Muslim-majority countries that are safe and wealthy enough to send flights to the United States. However, the underlying logic seems to be the same: to make it harder for Muslims to come to America. Stowing laptops is minor compared with turning away refugees, but the sudden policy, on the eve of the anti-ISIS conference, seemed designed to undermine diplomacy by adding friction with Muslim allies.
Let’s not act surprised. Trump promised throughout his presidential campaign to keep Muslims out of the country, even though Muslim extremism accounts for a tiny proportion of violence in the United States—a total of 123 of America’s 240,000 murders since 9/11, according to a dataset that I maintain. Of the 123 fatalities, immigrants account for less than half.
“Many people have been allowed into our country that we should have never, in a million years, allowed,” Trump said in an interview with the Breitbart website last year. Even Muslim children shouldn’t be admitted, he said, because of the possibility that they might one day become extremist. The only way to prevent violence, Trump concluded, was to ban all Muslim migration. “That’s how you prevent it, not allowing the people in.”
The interview has been removed from Trump’s website, but these sentiments appear to be driving policy at the White House.