‘Terrorists Use Our Kindness Against Us’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

We keep getting notes from readers who have personal ties to Iran—one of the seven countries involved in Trump’s travel ban (and bolded in the table above, which was created for Uri’s illuminating piece “Where America’s Terrorists Actually Come From”). The latest testimony comes from a reader with an Iranian boyfriend:

He graduated with a Ph.D. from a top American university in 2015. He has a one-time entry visa and is fearful of the risks involved when renewing it (the State Department can be unpredictable), so he has not traveled back to Iran since starting his Ph.D. in 2009. It has been 7+ years since he has last seen his family in person or walked the streets of his hometown of Tehran.

He said he would only feel comfortable traveling to Iran if he had a Green Card, so he is currently in the application process. But the executive order by Trump has created havoc for him and many of his Iranian friends who are also applying for Green Cards.

They are not threats to the United States. If anything, each of them has spent close to a quarter of their life contributing to American society through their Ph.D. research. They are the brightest and best students in Iran, many of them did their undergraduate studies at Sharif University—the Iranian equivalent of MIT. My boyfriend ranked 62nd among more than 400,000 participants on the college entrance exam.

To treat these exceptional individuals as terror threats is a travesty, and it highlights the ignorance of the Trump Administration.

Another reader has a very different view:

Although I don’t have any family or even distant relatives going to or coming from any of the banned countries, if I had, I would support our nation’s decision to do what it has to in order to assure the safety of citizens. For a slight inconvenience or even a great inconvenience, the safety of my family and the families of Americans are of #1 importance. Trump seems to be the only one who had the courage to take a stand and take action on a long-overdue refugee settlement problem in our country!

From a long-time reader and self-described “GWOT Veteran”—a military vet of the global war on terrorism:

I gave Trump a chance because I wanted people to give Obama a chance, and my friends who voted for Trump told me they didn’t like all his rhetoric. I can live with the conservative policies. I’m a liberal, but I recognize there are consequences to elections.

But there are numerous things Trump has done in just his first week that I disagree with.

His first full day in office he lied—blatantly and provably. And yes, I am bitterly opposed to the immigration order. And before someone tells me I’m a coastal elite who grew up in a “bubble” and that I should understand the fear of terrorism, look at a map, and point to where the September 11th attacks happened in New York. I grew up 40 miles from there.

At my community center on 9/11, it wasn’t just the white kids who were in line for the pay phones to make sure their parents were all right. The center was packed with people of all colors seeing if any kids needed a place to spend the night while their parents were trapped in Manhattan. Most of my high school was 1st or 2nd generation American. I played football with three Ahmeds and against a Basem. My first crush was on a girl whose parents were Iranian. (If she happens to be reading this: I didn’t say anything because I was 13 and awkward. Hope you’re well.) My hometown of immigrants taught me to love America.

I joined the military in large part because of terrorists. And today, for immigrants and the Statue of Liberty, I recognize it’s time to serve my country anew.

I am so proud of all the lawyers who stood up for those affected by the immigration ban. But our president doesn’t respect our most fundamental laws or the truth (and neither, apparently, do the leaders in Congress). I am not sure how, but it is time to give the Resistance some teeth.

A contrasting view from another servicemember:

Having spent a career in the U.S. Coast Guard, I was privy to plans regarding multiple terrorist actions. After 9/11, terrorists attempted to attack the U.S. in multiple cities, bridges, and many other points of interest. Many of these attempted attacks were planned by people from other countries.

As Americans, our hearts go out to other nations, and naturally we want to welcome refugees. But terrorists use our kindness against us. They also try to convert American citizens into terrorists. This has been seen all throughout the U.S.

President Trump’s temporary ban will make sure people entering into our country are vetted. This is a business decision with no emotions attached to it. As such, there will be far fewer attempts of terrorism in the USA.

So yes, my family is greatly affected by this order; because of Trump’s bold action, my entire family is much safer.

This next reader, however, worries about the future:

On Friday, the professional journal Joint Force Quarterly (sponsored by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) published an issue with an essay considering—in the context of the Japanese Internment—the obligations of the military to comply with an order to intern Muslims. The essay, titled “The Viability of Moral Dissent by the Military (or, Chapter 6 of the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Conclusions Regarding the Second Internment of American Citizens)”, won the top DoD writing award for 2016. Coincidentally, the release date ended up being the same day President Trump visited the Pentagon and signed the “extreme vetting” executive order.

Update from a reader who pushes back on the one in the Coast Guard, the one who said that “terrorists use our kindness against us”:

Just one objective look at the chart you embedded negates this argument. If Saudi Arabia is the top sponsor of terrorism, it makes zero sense for the administration to not include them in the ban. Either there are other national security reasons behind not including them, or business ones. If the former, then making a splash by excluding Syrians and Yemenis is of limited/no use. If the latter, then the rationale presented for the ban is mere hypocrisy.

This was not a bold action; it was an impulsive action—to show everyone how fast he can move (unlike the very deliberate Obama). It was drafted without consultation from typical government agencies, suggesting it was impulsive and not well thought out at all.

And to address this reader directly:

1. Make yourself aware of the immense amount of paperwork, time, and vetting that goes into a green-card application. The vetting is more extreme for those born in countries associated with sponsoring terrorism. The government already legally vets immigrants extremely thoroughly before granting them a green card.

2. Look at the number of people killed by domestic terrorism. I am (provocatively) including all the white Christian men and women who have killed abortion doctors in broad daylight, in the name of Christian principles. In fact, one shot a doctor in a church before a worship session [George Tiller, in Wichita]. Also include nihilist young white men who routinely shoot up kids in schools. Should I extrapolate from that to say that white and/or Christian men are most likely to kill fellow Americans? It may be statistically true, but it is a shoddy generalization, that is deeply unfair to millions of Christians who neither know these fanatics personally, nor share their violent beliefs, nor approve their violent actions. Replace the “Christian” with “Muslim” and you have something to think about.