"The Blessing Ban"

04 Mar 2017 by Patricia Nyhan

The short-lived White House travel ban on Muslims may be on hold. But fallout from it persists. The ban has so hurt the image of the U.S. in the Muslim world that ISIS calls it ‘the blessing ban’ for its usefulness as a recruitment tool, says Syrian scholar Radwan Ziadeh.

“The Trump Administration doesn’t care about the U.S. image outside. But we are living in a global world.”


Ziadeh, senior analyst at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, has lived in the U.S. for ten years, forced into exile by his opposition to the Assad regime. He has written more than 20 books about democracy in the Middle East and relied on a temporary protected immigration status to work in the U.S. and build a new life in northern Virginia with his family.


Now he has heard from Muslims who say, “Look what you got,” referring to recent travel detentions at the hands of the Trump Administration the weekend of the executive order.




“It is a blanket ban. It affects innocents. Only authoritarian countries do that,” Ziadeh says. Is the U.S. heading in an authoritarian direction? Middle East scholars like Ziadeh are weighing in on that question. He recently published an article discussing whether the U.S. system is strong enough to resist authoritarianism.


“There are strong institutions here. In the Arab states we don’t have enough of them,” says Ziadeh. He believes the new President is testing where his authority ends, and that many of his promises can’t be implemented, such as the Muslim ban and reviving lost manufacturing jobs.


What worries him more is Trump advisor Stephen Bannon, who he believes brought the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant ideology to the White House. “There is a mind behind all this,” he says.


Still, Ziadeh cites reasons for optimism: There is a Republican Party Trump can’t control and a mid-term election to look forward to. Americans in the corporate and academic worlds have freely opposed some Trump initiatives, and the Women’s March on Washington went forward peacefully. By comparison, when Syrians took to the streets to exercise their right to free speech in the early 2000s, Assad soon cracked down on the “Damascus Spring.”


“This is the beauty and the magic of the U.S.:  you have strong institutions,” says Ziadeh.


As a political reformer in Syria, Ziadeh helped initiate a National Dialogue Forum and created the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. Until 2012, he led the Syrian National Council, which became a government in exile. Since coming to the U.S. in 2007, he has worked at numerous think tanks and universities. He now serves as Senior Analyst, Middle East, at the Arab Center Washington DC.


Read articles by Dr. Radwan Ziadeh at www.ArabCenterDC.org.


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