STUDENTS and local residents of Aberystwyth joined forces today in a show of solidarity against President Donald Trump’s recent decision to introduce “extreme vetting” measures on seven Muslim-majority nations. Hundreds of men, women, children, and dogs gathered at the bandstand, on the seafront, waving placards, making speeches, and singing songs of solidarity.
Placards varied in content; “Refugees are Welcome”, “Humanity Not Hatred”, and “No Human is Illegal” being notable examples. Amongst the most amusing was a demand to “Ban Lawnmowers”, which are statistically more likely to lead to American fatalities than Islamic jihadis. A number of students gave interviews to a BBC Wales crew, calling the #MuslimBan intolerant, Islamophobic, and a violation of human rights.
The #MuslimBan, a hashtag that began trending across social media, refers to an executive order passed by the White House that will severely restrict citizens and nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries – Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq – from entering the US for the next 90 days, in addition to a further 120-day suspension of the US’ Syrian refugee program. According to reports, a number of green-card-holding US residents have already been affected by the restrictions, having been turned away from US-bound flights.
Critics of the policy fear that this move is a sign that Trump will make good on his campaign promise to suspend Muslim immigration into the US. They argue that the policy discriminates unnecessarily against Muslims, and predict it will lead to American Muslims suffering persecution. Further, it is expected that a series of legal challenges will be raised in the coming weeks, with Trump’s policy standing accused of violating both the first amendment – on freedom of religion – and the fifth amendment – on the right to due process.
Defenders of the policy have called the #MuslimBan label misleading, pointing out that most Muslim-majority countries remain unaffected, and arguing that those that are affected are rightly so due to the prevalence of jihadi activity within them. They point out that Trump has simply escalated the existing Visa Waiver Program enacted under the Obama administration, which restricted access to visas for nationals of the aforementioned seven nations.
I put this objection to Stephen Kalisky, organiser of the Aberystwyth protest march. “However this is spun, this is a ban on Muslims,” Kalisky said, refusing to relent to this defence. “Obama was not a threat to minority groups. I feel Trump is a danger to minority groups. This is about human rights, not politics.”
Kalisky said he was shocked by this policy, comparing it to those seen in the 1930s, and dismayed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s “complicity” in Trump’s actions. “We will not stand for this. We need to make a stand against Trump and what he is doing, and what he stands for. He is a threat to Muslims, and to the LGBT community, and to women. It will not stop with just Muslims. It is right that we support the thousands of people being discriminated against.”
The Facebook event page, as expected, erupted in the evening preceding the event, as droves of anti-Trump marchers keyboard-clashed with defenders of Trump’s policy. One questioned what a small protest in our tiny seaside town hoped to achieve, whilst another criticised the page for failing to rally previously against the “warmongering” Obama administration. Meanwhile, a comment thread was closed by the page admin after a gentleman invoked ancient Egyptian meme magic by invited marchers to “praise Kek”, a reference to the notorious figure of Pepe, a cartoon frog who is either widely known as a coded symbol of white supremacy, or used by Trump supporters to troll people who think that it really is a coded symbol of white supremacy.
Kalisky confirmed later in the evening that local police had offered their protection at the protest. Whilst there was a small police presence at the event, the protest passed without incident, although, typically, the Aberystwyth weather took a turn for the worst as the evening wore on.