EARLIER this year, I went to Los Angeles upon the invitation of the US State Department and the University of Southern California to attend a transmedia workshop. It was a really interesting visit because it happened at a time when President Donald Trump signed the infamous travel ban for Muslims.
I was on my flight somewhere across the Pacific Ocean when Trump signed the executive order restricting admission of citizens from seven Muslim countries. The announcement came as a surprise when I landed at the airport to a scene of protests and confusion, with people crying, and lawyers walking around with signs offering help those affected by the ban. It was not long before I managed to get an idea of the situation.
Being in Los Angeles, most of the people I met were not Trump supporters and the general mood was of anger, frustration and fear. They were even apologetic to me and other foreigners.
Of course, I didn’t face any problems entering the US because Malaysia isn’t one of the countries on the list. Also, I was there on the invitation of the US government; It would be weird if they suddenly told me I couldn’t enter the country when I had an official invitation letter.
At the protest, I managed to speak to both pro and anti-Trump demonstrators who were, to my surprise, engaging each other through conversation and mature argument.
I overheard a Trump supporter explaining the reason who believed the country needs to be strict with certain types of people, who were potential security threats, from being let into the country.
He cited violent crimes and terror-related attacks during the Obama administration, which led to Trump’s decision ensure that foreigners from certain countries were vetted properly.
Countering the argument, a protester insisted that most crimes committed in the US did not involve people from the countries on Trump’s travel ban list. In fact, many acts of terror were committed by other individuals acting on their own accord. And so the conversation continued without any real resolution.
This brings me to what has recently happened in Las Vegas where Stephen Paddock opened fire on thousands of fans attending a country music festival, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more before turning the gun on himself.
Here’s the thing: Paddock was not Middle-Eastern nor is he from a country on Trump’s travel ban list. He was white American, a gun collector with a legitimate firearms licence. He was as American as baseball or apple pie, as the classic saying goes. And basically, the mass shooter pretty much did not fit into Trump’s idea a security threat – perhaps far from it.
In fact, Paddock represented everything Trump is fighting for in holding dear to “American values”. In Trump’s mind, it is important to preserve America’s white culture, a part of which upholds the second amendment that protects the right to bear arms, while alienating those outside that demographic.
So what went wrong? How could someone like Paddock commit such a heinous crime? Well, it could either be result or reflection of Trump’s poorly-researched blanket policies.
Without any links to global extremist groups like the Islamic State, Paddock was not labelled a terrorist. But until authorities establish the Paddock’s motives, the shooter remains a sort of “lone wolf” attacker.
Of course, the thought of angry calls for stricter travel restrictions against Caucasians who fit Paddock’s profile would be absurd. Not even anti-Trump protestors would support that idea.
But imagine if the Las Vegas shooter was Muslim; a first generation American, say, for example, of Syrian or Iraqi roots. Trump and his ilk would have highlighted the shooter’s religion incessantly – like the series of London terror attacks where the president took the liberty to promote the expansion of his travel ban.
Since there were no Muslims to blame, Trump merely described Paddock’s act as “pure evil”, singling it out as an isolated incident, and of course not befitting of any of his stereotypes.
Ironically, this is what everyone has been trying to tell Trump from the very beginning – that we cannot be prejudiced just because we do not understand the things that are happening around us. Leaders like Trump should not make decisions out irrational fear as that would only lead to unwarranted hate towards those who have done no wrong.
Situations like these require better understanding and an open mind so that the root of the problem could be dealt with accordingly. It is through proper understanding that people will be able to dispel fear and hate, and make America truly great again.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent