Are Calls for State Visit Ban Misguided?

ARE CALLS FOR STATE VISIT BAN MISGUIDED?  The current calls for a ban on President Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK are heartfelt. Yet in certain important respects they are also perhaps misguided or even, in some cases, disingenuous. 

I am not advocating for Mr Trump's approach, as you'll see shortly. In the lead-up to the recent US election I repeatedly said, in writing and in the media, that I thought the choice of either candidate a poor one for the American people.

There is now little doubt that on the matter of a temporary and selective travel moratorium, the Trump team underestimated the scale of the mess they would unleash on international travellers, including British citizens. The latter specific issues has now been addressed after representations from the British government.

However, it seems from statements made by prominent supporters of a state visit ban that a prime motivation is their distaste for the very idea of a President Trump, as distinct from his executive order on travel to the US.

The views of Tory Baroness Warsi represent a case in point. Speaking to the Today programme earlier today, the Baroness said:

“We have to question whether, in Britain, this is something that Britain should be doing for a man who has no respect for women, disdain for minorities, little value for LGBT communities, no compassion for the vulnerable and whose politics are rooted in divisive rhetoric.”

There is obviously much more to Ms Warsi’s frustration than a specific objection to a travel ban. She is not alone. At least one MP rose in the House of Commons this afternoon to angrily denounce Mr Trump for fascism, likening him to Hitler and Mussolini. His brief speech made clear that he objected to everything about Mr Trump, with nary a mention of the travel ban.

I suspect that had former President Obama gone as far with a selective and temporary moratorium on travel, the opposition might have been much less vociferous. Of course, he would likely have couched things in less inflamatory ways.

Many of those who call for a cancellation of the state visit – though by no means all – seem to confuse feelings with facts. The executive order is not in fact a ban on Muslims per se, nor is it a ban on their religion - though it might conceivably be used by unscrupulous types to promote that kind of idea. 

The order definitely does, however, discriminate against people on the basis of their nationality. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addressed this in his speech to Parliament this afternoon. That may well be worth protesting, but if we determine to protest, let’s identify the right cause and get the facts straight.

Also, if the President is anxious to reduce terrorism, there is arguably a double standard in the fact that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are exempted from the ban. Both have been sources of funding and/or training for terror groups.

Banning genuine refugees, even temporarily, may also be well worth protesting. Again, though, a protest would have more weight if people were clear on their intentions and not calling for less hate while speaking in hateful terms.

If we are to protest, surely it behoves us to ensure that we protest on the right grounds.

The election of the US President is a settled and done deal. This was not a choice to be made by the British people, but by their American cousins. People need to learn to accommodate that, though they remain free to protest the President’s actions and words. 

There is another important matter to consider here. State visits to this country are not necessarily a recognition of respect for every individual policy of another sovereign state. Neither are they primarily a means of welcoming or honouring an individual politician. 

State visits honour the office of the leader and our respect for the people he or she represents as head of state.

It is appropriate for us to honour the office of the Presidency and the great nation that it represents. Whether the office–bearer will live up to the high calling with which he’s been entrusted remains to be seen. Let us wish the US well, whatever some may think of its current leadership. This does not stop us protesting; it ensures that when we protest, we do so with a clear mind and clear perspective.

© Copyright with Mal Fletcher

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