My article Monday, objecting to Trump's immigration ban, generated a massive response. Below is a Q&A responding to common objections and expanding on the context in Middle Eastern history.
Q: Did you know, Trump was not the first President to restrict immigration from Iran? In fact, in response to the Iranian hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter also halted Iranian immigration.
A: Why yes, I have known that for years, thanks for asking.
Q: Well, why didn't you oppose Carter doing so? Got something in uniquely for Trump, partisan punk?
A: Actually, I was not alive during Carter's presidency. Also, embassies issue visas, so Iranian terrorists controlling an embassy has a direct relationship to the visa process and makes such a restriction, if not necessary, at least tolerably understandable for the duration of the embassy’s capture.
Q: Ugh, you are so unreasonable. At the very least, you must agree that the lesson from the Carter administration - a presidential administration known for being particularly peaceful - is that immigration should be restricted in the face of evil, right?
A: You barely know about the Iranian hostage crisis and only learned about the related immigration restrictions in the last 48 hours. Don't draw historical lessons from events you are substantially unfamiliar with.
Q: Well, what lesson would you draw, old man?
A: Do not overreact to the fear of foreign threats.
Q: When you recall Iranian terrorists bloodily murdering innocent Americans at an American embassy, you recommend a hands off approach? Is your heart as cold as your mind is frail?
A: Through diplomacy, the Iranians released all the hostages alive. The only Americans who died were servicemen who tried to save them militarily. So, if the federal government had not intervened militarily, the casualties would have been even lower.
Q: What kind of unpatriotic monster are you to describe so nonchalantly terrorists slaughtering eight honorable American servicemen?
A: The servicemen died during a failed rescue mission because a helicopter and a transport plane crashed into each other. The Iranians did not kill any Americans. Like I said, you have heard mentions of the "crisis" in passing and learned a small number of details about it in the last 48 hours and should not rely on it.
Q: Sure, as a historian with the benefit of hindsight you know everything turned out okay, but how could you have known that at the time?
A: I could not have.
Q: Aha, then how can you be so confident that the lesson should be not to overreact, beyond your condescending ability to read the casualty numbers in wikipedia articles?
A: In the decades before and after this narrow incident, the federal government continually overreacted to fears of foreign threats and caused widespread chaos.
Q: There are truly evil people in the Middle East! After Carter, President Ronald Reagan bravely confronted this evil. The Iranians released the hostages at the time of his inauguration in fear of this great man. Why don't you just concede Reagan wisely knew that the federal government must do whatever it can to destroy the evils within Iran and other Middle Eastern countries?
A: After the Iranian hostage crisis, Iraq invaded Iran. With the Iranian hostage crisis in recent memory, Reagan supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War, arming and empowering the tyrant. Declassified documents now show without doubt that the federal government continued supporting Hussein long after discovering as early as 1983 of Hussein’s illegal use of chemical weapons.
Q: Saddam Hussein is a bad dude even I recognize. Let me guess, you do not approve of our response to him either?
A: After 30 years of the federal government undoing Reagan's "brave" alliance with Hussein, Iraq is in shambles, hundreds of thousands are dead and terrorism has spread throughout the Middle East in genuinely murderous, dangerous ways that make the bloodless "Iranian Hostage Crisis" sound hyperbolic.
Q: So, it started with the Iranian hostage crisis! You blame the federal government's overreaction for creating problems, but, truly, terrorism began in 1979 and just kept escalating. What makes you so naively confident that the causal connection goes from federal overreach to chaos instead of from chaos to imperfect but necessary ways to contain such genuine dangers?
A: In 1953, in Operation Ajax, the federal government and British government overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, and replaced him with the monarchical Shah of Iran. In response, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution overthrew this American and Britain-imposed imperialist monarchy - the same year as the Iranian hostage crisis. Western governmental overreactions created Iranian terrorism, which rippled over time with further federal interventions into the above-described chaos. To highlight the unintended consequences, some people refer to the Iranian hostage crisis as "Blowback" for the 1950s regime change.
Q: Well, you are merely recounting history. I do not want answers for what to do with my time machine, Doctor. I want them for now. What do we do about radical Islam now?
A: First, we stop calling it "radical Islam". To the extent Middle Eastern terrorism overlaps with Islam, today's dangerous Middle Eastern terrorism is "reactionary Islam" - reactionary both in the sense of (i) having a past-focused ideology with hyper-literal scriptural interpretations and (ii) reacting to and thriving under foreign aggression. Hawkish politicians talk about "radicals" instead of "reactionaries" to avoid explaining the reaction, since radicals sound more like inexplicable comic book super villains than enraged young men raised in desperate communities.
Q: You are more insufferable than the people who condemn me as Islamophobic for calling out radical Islam. Your focus on rhetoric enrages me as much as it distracts from solving problems. Don't avoid answering with your tricks - now that it exists and we cannot undo the past, how would you stop the violence in the Middle East?
A: I do not know. But the federal government has spent 60 years trying different variations of bombing the Middle East only to create one larger unintended consequence after another. So, instead of focusing on bombing bad people with the associated collateral damage, I recommend the different tactic of letting the good people there flee their dangerous homes and immigrate here. This would save a lot of people from tyrants and terrorists while depriving these dangerous people of the tax revenue and human resources for financing their abuses. Our immigration policies bolster tyrants and terrorists abroad, and we should open our borders to deprive them of the victims they rely on for performing and funding their evil.
Q: Now we are back to where we started. Whatever the cause of foreign threats, we need to protect ourselves from our enemies. As we have no way to discern which refugees are dangerous terrorists and which are their victims, what makes you oppose Trump's prudent protection of our homeland?
A: I wrote an article arguing against Trump’s immigration restrictions. Recommend: "Banning Refugees is Cowardice Not Vigilance".
Q: The title infuriates me! And your article starts with a falsehood in the first sentence! I am not spending my precious time reading that trash. Excuse me as I spread it unread to reveal to everybody the dangerous stupidity of your blind optimism.