On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning the entry of refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, it has been utter chaos.
At least 23 lawsuits have been filed over the ban, protests have been taking place across the country, and despite a temporary restraining order, confusion remains about what is actually next for people whose lives have been put on hold.
ThinkProgress spoke to religious scholar Reza Aslan about the ban, what it means for the perception of the United States abroad, and how to find hope in the resistance.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
ThinkProgress: There’s obviously been a lot of Islamophobia since the election, and we’ve been tracking it at ThinkProgress. But in response to the order, we’ve also seen a backlash to the backlash, which is very cool. And so, you’ve seen the dialogue kind of change a little, about Muslims and Islam, which is something that’s very surprising to me. I’ve been to protests, and I’ve seen allies from every community there. I was wondering what your thoughts are on how to continue changing that dialogue, and to just have it continue.
Reza Aslan: What we’re experiencing, in a way that I have not experienced in the United States since I’ve been here, is a real moment of clarity. It’s very clear, who the enemy is, what the enemy is. I think the left and the center have been riven for decades now by these ideological conflicts. And when suddenly confronted with an existential threat to the republic, those ideological arguments just melt away. And what you have, as I say, is an absolute sense of clarity that there is an enemy that needs to be defeated, and everything else needs to go to the back burner. And so you’re right, we’re seeing groups that normally don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, like Jews and Muslims for instance, fighting back against a prejudice that affects all of us, regardless of who we are.
TP: And I think it’s nice, because most Americans probably don’t know any Muslims, most Americans maybe don’t know a lot about Islam, but you’re still seeing these groups come together anyway, which is really inspiring.
I know it’s been a really hard week, for a lot of us, especially covering it as it’s affecting our communities, and our friends, and our families. What do you find hope in right now, or how are you taking care of yourself in everything that’s going on?
RA: What I do find hope in and optimism in is precisely, as I say, the enormity of the resistance against this narcissistic sociopath. I think what I’ve noticed, and what is important to always remember, is that we are the majority. This is a man who is sitting now at 36 percent approval ratings, and I understand that he thinks math is fake, but it’s a real thing actually. And I think what we are seeing is not just the most unpopular president in presidential history, but the fact that the majority is not willing to say that this is somebody else’s problems. Part of what American democracy is about is a recognition that we’re all in this together, and so if the president can come after one of us, he can come after any one of us. And I think that the only way that we are going to be able to fight back is precisely to have this all-for-one, one-for-all mentality. And I’ve seen it in a way that I’ve never seen it before. I think that’s definitely cause for optimism.
TP: How do you think it’s changed the perception of America abroad, like our standing in the world?
RA: I think it’s severely damaged our standing in the world. It’s damaged it with our traditional allies. You look at the parliament in the U.K. right now, essentially blocking any kind of state visit or official recognition of the president of the United States. But more importantly … we have to recall that of the seven countries [on the ban list], some of them are not just allies, they are very close allies. As you and I speak, we have American military personnel on the ground in Iraq fighting shoulder to shoulder with Iraqi troops against a common existential threat. And we banned all Iraqis from coming to the United States? It’s astonishing, it’s astonishing that that could be the case. But I think it’s an indication of precisely what kind of a threat sits in the White House right now.
TP: If you have one takeaway for people who don’t know a lot about Islam, or a lot about Muslims, or the people that are being affected by this ban, what would you want to tell them?
RA: I’d say don’t read a book, don’t get information, data, knowledge. These things are important, but they don’t really matter in the end. All that really matters is relationships. You’re not going to learn about Islam and then suddenly change your mind about Muslims. That’s not how it works. The only way you’re going to change your mind about Muslims is if you get to know a Muslim. It’s just a matter of getting to know a human being as a human being instead of as a symbol for some other idea, whether that be religion, or ethnicity, or culture, or nationality, or what have you. Just get to know someone as a person. That’s always been the way in which we shape our perceptions. And it still remains the case today.
TP: Yeah, hopefully we can all reach out to one another.
RA: Find a Muslim!
TP: Yes, find a Muslim! That’s all you have to do.
Want advice on what you you can do to resist? Reza Aslan breaks it down here: