Asked whether his temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States would apply to London’s newly elected mayor, Sadiq Khan, Donald Trump responded, “There will always be exceptions.” (Trump has justified the ban by arguing that the United States doesn’t have a competent border-screening system. His screening system, evidently, is personal whim.)
With his statement, Trump invited Khan to betray his fellow Muslims. Like the anti-Semitic princes who offered special protections to “Court Jews” or the plantation owners who treated house slaves a bit less brutally, Trump offered Khan a dispensation. Had Khan taken it, Trump would have made him complicit in a system of bigotry and oppression.
But Khan refused. In so doing, he followed a classical model of heroism. From Moses, who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace but risked his life to save a Jewish slave, to Nelson Mandela, who repeatedly spurned the South African government’s conditional offers of freedom, Khan placed moral solidarity above personal benefit. “This isn’t just about me,” he explained. “It’s about my friends, my family, and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world.”
Notice what Khan didn’t say. He didn’t say he refused to be an exception because he’s Muslim. He said he refused to be an exception out of solidarity with “my friends, my family, and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine.” There’s a crucial difference. You don’t have to be Muslim to have Muslim friends and family. You don’t have to be Muslim to come from “a background similar” to Muslims. All of which raises a question: If Khan won’t make himself complicit in Trump’s Muslim ban, why should any foreign leaders who aren’t Muslim make themselves complicit? If he won’t come to an America that imposes a religious test for entry, why should they?