Dedicated to all those killed in the Bowling Green Massacre, and to NBC’s Brian Williams who was there.
The Thursday of Trump’s executive order prohibiting the entry of Muslims from seven Arab states into the US, I found myself wandering the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, preparing to board a night bus bound for Kyoto. These buses are an affordable and effective means of inter-prefectural transport. Certainly, they are worth considering if you’re can embrace having your legs caught between a dull pain and numbness for seven hours, while the internet cuts out after three hours and sleep seldom exceeds one.
What advice I can give is to forgo caffeine for the day, and drink at least two units of alcohol prior to boarding. It doesn’t make it easier. It just means you might be able to sleep better when the person next to you starts leaning into your coffin-sized space.
This was what I’d been preparing for as I walked indecisively for two hours, entering and leaving every dive and Izakaya, because I was on a budget. Short of time, and desperate, I turned up a lane, honing in on the first place that appeared, which so happened to be an international rock bar. The selling point was no cover charge.
It was in the basement of an eight storey building, surprisingly clean though. Megadeth blared and two people were at the counter, one being the bartender. Spacious, because the enclosure was designed to accommodate a mosh-pit, as I made an advance, I knew owing to the emptiness we’d all be talking pretty soon.
The only other customer was an Australian English teacher, who was looking at a Facebook video of his friends at home. They were lads in shorts, drunk as hell at a garage party, and for some reason, they had decided to wreck a humvee, squirting various unidentifiable liquids into the engine causing it to vomit smoke from every conceivable gap. The bartender, a man in his forties, sporting a Megadeth t-shirt, stood watching half-heartedly before turning to nod me another greeting.
“What beer do you have?” I asked, hoping he’d say Heineken.
“Okay, yep, one Asahi.”
Producing a can, poured into a plastic cup, he asked next where I was from.
“Ireland, and yourself?”
“Oh really? What part.”
There was a pause.
“Oh, okay, Tehran, wow.”
“You have friends from Tehran?”
“No, I just… well I like the filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.”
Tightening his upper lip by raising the lower to create an indifferent smile, he followed that with a nod.
For a short while, he resumed his small-talk with the Australian punter, bringing up his planned eye surgery, which had been cancelled a few days earlier. He wanted to get implants so as to finally stop wearing glasses. They were the main source of irritation in his life, constantly falling off his face. I would have suggested the string that goes around the back, but nobody deserves that.
“I’ve had these four years, and I hate them.”
He went on to say, after a few months of research and planning, he was scheduled to get the implants done in Philadelphia, a surgeon recommended both for the price and quality, which seemed to surpass any similar service in Asia. It was to happen in April and he was almost ready to receive a one month US visa, “week one for a check, the second for the procedure, the third and fourth for recovery.”
And then, overnight, his status changed. The procedure was thrown into total uncertainty, because the Trump Administration decided to “figure out what the hell is going on over there” in the Middle East.
A momentary pause is necessary, just to consider a few facts here.
Now, I understand if a country allows refugees to enter their country from one of the current warzones in the Middle East, a vetting process is not out of the question. Even Islamic figures whom I have interviewed such as Dr. Umar al-Qadri, described as a “moderate” Muslim, have stated this to be a necessity. However, we’re not talking about a refugee here, rather a man who has lived comfortably in Tokyo for twenty-seven years.
Bear this in mind too: Japan has a low tolerance on granting visas to Arabic people, or anybody from a predominantly Muslim state. There are only an estimated 100,000 Muslim citizens in Japan, 72,000 of who were profiled and under surveillance according to a series of leaked internal documents from the Metropolitan Police Department back in 2010. In short, Japan does not believe Arabic, or Islamic people are compatible with the Japanese way of life. This bartender of course, seems to be part of the exception, and certainly if one were to take him through any process of “extreme vetting,” he would probably pass after no more than five questions.
What is more, it ought to be mentioned that he is Iranian, which to the uninformed is a predominantly Shi’ite state. Were you interested in fighting the Islamic terrorists of present, a Google search would tell you that the main exporters of an international jihad are the Wahhabist elements of Sunni Islam. I almost need to apologise for typing this paragraph, because it is insulting for anybody with even a vague notion of what the letters ISIS stand for.
Add to that the fact that this is an Iranian who listens to American heavy metal (satanic western music) and who serves alcohol. His piety is pretty evident based on those two details alone.
Born in, but having left a country which stands in opposition to Wahhabist Islam (even if Iran is by no means free of sin when it comes to fundamentalism), is it fair that this man was marked as a threat? You cannot help but laugh at the absurdity. And yet, there he was, heaped into the pile conceived of by folk who make no exceptions, unless one is a citizen of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE or Qatar, otherwise known as those wealthy states with actual track records in supporting Wahhabism.
The points here are not ground-breaking. They have been said before countless times, enough that it is almost an embarrassment to be writing this.
At the same time, when I call the situation absurd, I don’t want to proclaim that the order was based upon stupidity within the Trump Administration. Far from it. These are intelligent far-right nationalists and gifted manipulators of emotion. It is the only reason why they are where they are, and they are where they are because they know that playing on a nation’s fear of the Other wins elections.
Who would really care if one person was Shia, or merely Iranian? In the bigger picture, his skin is still brown and his country of origin still believes in the worship of Allah. Therefore, he cannot be trusted.
By the grace of Judge James Robart and the Department of Homeland Security, the order has rightfully been reversed since that encounter. Nevertheless, the point found in the mundane story bears repeating. That such racism won a person an election is infuriating, that it was executed is vile, and that the rot managed to reach some crevice in Tokyo, impacting a person utterly irrelevant to any global power struggle is shameful.
I met a man who wanted to keep his glasses on, but who was blacklisted in the process because he is Arabic and that, apparently, constitutes a national threat. The only thing to remember is that he did not constitute a threat, nor was he ever actually seen as one by those flaunting their executive abilities. This was not an attempt to secure anybody. America would be no safer whether the order remained in place, or not. No, this was a show of strength, a means of displaying the new administration’s reach. It was bragging and, simultaneously, loathsome brown-nosing to those who hate brown faces.