A symbolic act of resistance is being proposed to the Trump administration’s proposed registry for Muslim immigrants to the US: right-minded folks should register as Muslims too. This is an essentially well-meaning gesture of solidarity but it is useless. It will accomplish nothing; it will not prevent the registration of Muslims; and worse, it will make many who support Muslims’ right to live free of pernicious discrimination in this land complacent because they will feel they have done enough, shown enough support. If progressive Americans really wish to prevent the registration of Muslims, then any strategy that does not involve wide scale civil disobedience and direction is not serious. (Currently, the proposed registry aims to register Muslim immigrants from a list of ‘target’ countries deemed ‘risky’¹; other iterations could include registering all Muslim immigrants; and then the most nightmarish scenario of all, the registration of all Muslims, whether immigrants or not, whether citizens or not, whether US-born or not. There is no reason to not guard against these eventualities given a) Trump’s rhetoric in general and b) the views and opinions of those who support him and will be found in his cabinet. The slippery slope is visible, and it declines steeply.)
If concerned American citizens want to show their their resistance to any planned program for registering Muslim immigrants they should: First, not acquiesce in the plan for the registry thus normalizing the very idea; it should be resisted at every step along the way with protests that include as a central strategy, direct action and civil disobedience. At the very least, there should be massive disruption of daily business via street demonstrations, lock-downs, and the widespread courting of arrest; the Trump administration will need to be put on notice that something extraordinary is under way and that business is usual cannot proceed while rights are being violated. Second, if the registry does go through, then those who register as Muslims in solidarity should go register in long lines, thus tying up the offices setup for such registry, while encouraging Muslims to stay at home. (That is, do not go register along with Muslims; register instead of them.)
This encouraging of defiance should not lack teeth for when Muslims do not comply with registration orders they will be forced to by the administration. This forced registration must be resisted; directly. every arrest and detention of a Muslim immigrant must be resisted, not just by Muslims, but by other concerned citizens too: friends, neighbors, activists (the dreaded ‘professional protesters’!). Direct physical resistance in this case means putting your body on the line: prevent arrests by forming a human chain around a house; obstruct a police officer from doing his job; block the access of police cars to streets. These actions will almost certainly ensure protesters will be arrested and thrown in jail–perhaps on more serious charges than mere misdemeanors. Protesters might have to do actual jail time.
These direct actions will ensure that the forced registration of Muslims will not be a cost-free action for the US Government. Rather, it should be a tremendous political disaster. Direct actions will replace images of folks happily lining up for registration with their friends with images of neighbors and strangers alike coming together to protect their communities. Every single forced registration should result in a demonstration, a sit-down, a blocking of traffic, a holding of hands to block bridges and streets, and arrests. We should not allow those being registered to be hauled off effortlessly by those who seek to do so; they will have to be resisted, physically if necessary. These protests will not be quiet; they will indicate that the protesting of the registration of Muslims is not limited to symbolic registration; rather, those registrations in solidarity were merely the quietest tip of a very loud protest. (Horror of horrors, there might be damage to private property; overly fastidious types, who would remonstrate protesters who smash shop windows and advocate singing ‘Kumbaya‘ with the police instead, will not approve of these kinds of political actions. So be it.) This cost, this moral, political, physical cost, this cost in public relations–as images of these forced registrations, these evictions and arrests, hopefully prompt more protests–should be one felt by the Trump administration and of course, by the broader polity and society. Those who are arrested by the government–and who hopefully, will the fill the nation’s jails if required–will need legal and financial aid; allies will be needed here too.
Perhaps this proposed tactic for resisting the registry is too expensive in terms of time and commitment and effort, and perhaps symbolic registration is all that is possible. The nation will have spoken then too–as loudly as it did in the past when it elected Donald Trump.
If mere registration, in isolation from strategies of direct action and civil disobedience, is the only step proposed then the Trump administration will happily sign on millions of protesters–who will not change their names, I’m guessing–and concentrate on the ones they really are interested in.
The plan to register as a Muslim is resigned to the creation of the registry. The right time to stop the registry is before it is created. By using the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action being espoused here.
Note #1: Patrick S. O’Donnell notes on my Facebook page that the Bush Administration’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, that Obama ended is one that is sought to be revived. Yet, as he notes, quoting the Vox article linked above:
But this ‘special registration’ system was selective. It only applied to people on non-immigrant visas (including tourism and work visas). It only applied to men over the age of 16. And it only applied to people from a list of countries the Bush administration considered “havens for terrorists.’ There were 25 countries on the “special registration” list. Twenty-four were majority-Muslim countries. The 25th was North Korea.
Over the next decade, more than 80,000 men were put into NSEERS “special registration” database — Muslims and non-Muslims from suspected countries alike. But to Muslim American and civil rights groups, the fact that the Bush administration was responding to 9/11 by ordering thousands of Muslim men to show up to register with the government was de facto discriminatory. [….]
By July 2003, less than a year after NSEERS went into effect, the government had registered 83,000 men in the database — and had put 13,000 of them in court proceedings for deportation. In the first two months of NSEERS, 1,000 registrants were detained, and all but 15 of them were detained for civil violations. Most of these men had violated the terms of their visas at some point while living in the US — though thousands of them had applied for green cards before they registered with NSEERS, and just hadn’t had their applications approved yet.
In theory, the purpose of NSEERS was to catch terrorists, not people who’d violated civil immigration laws. But visa overstays were what the government found. And visa overstays were what it punished.