When Donald Trump said that the U.S. needed to stop allowing Muslims into the country until we “can figure out what is going on,” he set off a firestorm. The backlash has been so bad that even most of the other Republican presidential candidates are running away from his comments. But Trump’s supporters are coming out of the woodwork with all sorts of justifications for why we should do exactly what he suggests. One right-wing site has even managed to defend Trump by claiming that President Carter did the same thing.
On November 4, 1979, the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran was taken over by a group of Iranian militant students. The group took over 60 Americans hostage. They would hold those hostages until January 1981, releasing them within moments of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office.
During the hostage crisis, a virtual state of war existed between Iran and the United States. President Carter responded to the situation with an escalating series of sanctions against the Islamic government of Iran, beginning with an embargo on importing Iranian oil. He also required the 50,000 Iranians who were in the U.S. on student visas to report to an immigration office. Those who were found to be here with expired visas were deported. This action was approved by an appeals court in December 1979.
On April 7, 1980, Carter announced a series of new sanctions, including the following:
Fourth, the Secretary of Treasury [State] and the Attorney General will invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly.
The unhinged right-wing site Frontpagemag is defending Trump by attacking Carter, saying that what Carter did is exactly the same thing that Trump is proposing. They even have a cute little picture of Carter’s head photoshopped onto Hitler’s body. And this comment:
Trump is a monster, a madman and a vile racist. He’s just like Hitler. Or Jimmy Carter.
The story goes on to claim that Carter’s ban on Iranian travel to the U.S. and his deporting of Iranians with invalid visas was actually worse than what Trump now wants to do with Muslims:
Now unlike Muslims, Iranians were not necessarily supportive of Islamic terrorism. Many were and are opponents of it. Khomeini didn’t represent Iran as a country, but his Islamist allies. So Trump’s proposal is far more legitimate than Carter’s action. Carter targeted people by nationality. Trump’s proposal does so by ideology.
Classifying Iranians as a group is closer to racism than classifying people by a racist supremacist ideology that calls for the mass murder and enslavement of non-Muslims, as ISIS is doing today.
“Khomeini didn’t represent Iran as a county?” Seriously? This writer is trying to suggest that because not all Iranians supported Khomeini or the revolution that he was not the leader of Iran. That’s the same as saying that Barack Obama isn’t the leader of the U.S. because he isn’t supported by all Americans. Speaking of support, where does the author come up with the idea that all Muslims support terrorism? Oh yeah, probably from the same place most right-wingers get ideas like that — his ass.
There is no legitimate comparison between Carter’s action and Trump’s proposal. Here’s why:
As observed above, during the hostage crisis the U.S. and Iran were in a state of something that amounted to a war, without the shooting. It is a common practice to expel citizens of a hostile country during wartime, but Carter’s actions didn’t do that. He merely ordered deported any Iranians whose visas were invalid, and refused to issue new visas to Iranian citizens. Carter’s actions were taken against anyone holding an Iranian passport, not against Iranians who were Muslim. In addition, those who were deported were not here because of refugee status, and they were not deported back to a war zone.
The charge of “racism” against Carter also doesn’t hold water. The author wants readers to believe that all Iranians are ethnically Persians. But like the United States, Iran is home to a number of different minority groups. Carter’s order didn’t block only ethnic Persians from entering the U.S. — it blocked anyone carrying an Iranian passport.
By contrast, Trump wants to keep all those who profess a certain religious belief out of the country. Muslims live in most of the world, including countries that are U.S. allies and those that are our adversaries. And, of course, there are Muslims who are American citizens. How exactly would this Muslim ban work? Muslims don’t carry passports that say, “I am a Muslim.”
President Carter took a reasonable, limited course of action during a time of tension between two sovereign nations. Trump is proposing actions that would bar all those who follow Islam from entering the U.S., no matter where they come from. If you wanted to send a message that America is at war with Islam, not just terrorists, there’s probably no better way to do it.