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Op-Ed Contributor: How ISIS Benefits From Trump’s Ban on Syrians

For Syrians, Mr. Trump is merely pushing to extremes a process that has been going on for years. The situation of the refugees, and the underprivileged in general, has been worsening everywhere for a generation. Syria exemplifies a greater global failure.

The executive order barring Syrians and the citizens of six other countries was among Mr. Trump’s very first actions in the White House. Many of the objectives of the first week of his reign — setting the stage to build a wall on the Mexico border, and cutting federal funds to environmental research and programs involving abortion — are aimed at the vulnerable and the poor. It reveals a lot about the social and political outlook of his administration.

Mr. Trump’s reactionary decree banning Syrian refugees and visitors from other Muslim-majority countries has dangerous side effects: It normalizes war criminals like Mr. Assad, dictators like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and helps the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terrorism and the threat of Islamist militants became central to the way the United States saw and dealt with the world. Despotic regimes exploit this American fear of Islamist militancy and get away with brutal violence against dissenting populations of varying political and religious persuasions by projecting them as jihadists.

Terrorist networks like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State use discriminatory acts such as Mr. Trump’s ban to depict the West as fundamentally anti-Muslim and position themselves as defenders of the Islamic realm. They thrive in a world of hatred, fear and retreat.

Among many Muslims, Mr. Trump’s executive order is rightly perceived as Islamophobic and as encouraging sectarian divisions in both Syria and the region. But these are hardly new traits of American and Western policies in the Middle East.

As a Syrian, I can recall a shameful precedent for Mr. Trump’s indifference toward the suffering of refugees. On Aug. 21, 2013, in its biggest chemical weapons attack, the Assad regime used sarin gas against the besieged East Ghouta area outside Damascus and killed more than 1,400 people, including 426 children. In mid-September 2013, the United States and Russia made a deal concerning Syria’s chemical weapons. Under the deal Mr. Assad acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and submitted his chemical weapons (except chlorine, which doesn’t fall under it), and in exchange he was exempted from punishment from their use and was practically guaranteed his survival.

Mr. Assad concluded rightly that he could continue killing rebels with any weapons except the chemical weapons. President Barack Obama chose not to enforce a no-fly zone, so Mr. Assad continued dropping barrel bombs on homes, schools and hospitals in rebel-held areas. Mr. Obama essentially did nothing to match the deal with any protections for the rebelling Syrians.

The chemical weapons deal was an enormous gift to extremist groups like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State, lending credibility to their nihilist discourse that the world is against us and those who seek justice for Muslims in the Western world order are misguided, even agents of crusaders.

The flight of millions of Syrians to neighboring countries and Europe only intensified after the chemical weapons agreement, which dealt a brutal blow to our hopes for political change. In 2014, the Assad regime started aggressive military offensives on multiple cities. Ethnic cleansing forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. Barrel bomb attacks on residential areas were intensified. Thus the Syrian refugee crisis in 2014 and 2015 was born of the chemical weapons agreement in 2013.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump may be very different personalities, but so far, Mr. Trump’s administration seems like just a continuation of Mr. Obama’s in terms of its attitude toward Syria and the Middle East.

For about half a century, the people of the Middle East have been denied political freedoms, economic security and oppressed by violent juntas like the Assad regime. If a class of Americans felt let down by their political establishment, felt their economic security slipping away and elected Mr. Trump, why is it surprising that the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda?

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than four million Syrians are refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Around 6.3 million are internally displaced within Syria. Of these approximately 11 million Syrians who have lost their homes, the United States has accepted around 10,000.

His ban will strengthen the Islamic State and Al Qaeda as it creates a world in which people are left with little hope, and Muslims, in particular, are discriminated against.

Mr. Trump is considering “safe zones” in Syria for Syrian refugees. But given his worldview and his relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, an Assad ally, nothing encourages us to think of it as an effort to protect an exposed and dehumanized people from the Assad regime or from the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. I am afraid Mr. Trump’s “safe zones” will simply confine and isolate us. Mr. Trump should realize that we already have such an arrangement in place to quarantine Syrians: Mr. Assad’s Syria.

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