Coming to Grips with Muslim Immigration

During the Republican presidential primary campaign, now-presumptive nominee Donald Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. It was a novel proposal. Of the 16 other Republican candidates for the nomination, and of the 3 Democrats, not one fully embraced Trump's proposal, and most roundly condemned it. And reportedly, a majority of Americans oppose the ban as well. And yet, with the strife we see unfolding in France, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere involving Muslim immigrants, it hardly seems to be an unreasonable proposal.

Is it? This is a question that needs to be answered, and answered now. For the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to even address. The question will be answered for us.

The foregoing implies that we have not already given this issue the attention it calls for. Some may disagree, and say that we have given serious attention, but have simply concluded that there is no need for such a ban. But what attention have we given? What political forum, particularly in the campaign season, exists for doing so? Currently, the most important such forum, by far, are the televised "debates" between the presidential candidates that come late in the campaign. More precisely, they are the "debate-like" exchanges, in which a "moderator" -- always a journalist – sets the agenda by asking questions of the candidates. We could, perhaps, wait until September or October, and hope that the moderator asks about this issue, but there is no guarantee that he or she will. But even if the moderator does ask, it isn't likely to be very illuminating, for at least two reasons:

First, the candidates themselves would not necessarily be any special authorities on this issue. Even though Clinton was secretary of state, this does not mean she is an authority on it, for she could have relied heavily on advisors. And, of course, being a real estate developer and television personality, Donald Trump is even less likely to be an authority. There is really very little reason for tens of millions of voters to be listening to him or Clinton on such a subject.

Also, such exchanges would be oral, so that there would be no time to reflect on how to best answer the statements and responses of one's opponent. Answers, or statements themselves, may be irrelevant, incomplete, inaccurate, or simply false. (While there may be subsequent corrections by "fact checkers," by then, the audience has checked out.)

For such reasons, it is fair to say that, for addressing an issue of such potential consequence – potentially affecting literally the character of this society – such debates are a shaky vehicle. But there is no need to rely on them – that is, to rely on them solely. There is no need to rely solely on the questions that a moderator may or may not bring up; to rely solely on the expertise that a political candidate may or may not have; or to rely solely on how well or poorly that candidate might perform on a given night. Instead, prior to the televised exchanges, the candidates may engage in a different kind of debate -- that is to say, a "real" debate, one in which a candidate would present a resolution to be proven or disproven, and challenge his or her opponent with it.

Assuming, in the present context, that the challenger would be Trump, that resolution might be "Resolved, until we can be confident that Muslims can be assimilated into a democratic society there should be a temporary ban on Muslim immigration." (Or Clinton could challenge, putting it differently.)

This need not be a debate between the two candidates themselves, but may instead be between advocates that they select -- people who would be authorities on the issue. And this need not be a debate that is conducted orally, but could be one conducted through written exchanges, allowing plenty of time for reflection between responses. These could be posted in real time over the Internet, and contended facts could be documented with hyperlinks.

This would create a forum best suited for finding the truth -- one in which advocates selected by the candidates would, in writing, confront each other. (And subsequent oral exchange between the advocates could follow as well.) Such confrontation, particularly mixed with authoritative advocates, could attract wide voter attention. Even if does not, however, it could still serve as a basis of discussion by commentators, and a basis for questions by moderators. And, if nothing else, it would force both sides to fully address the arguments of their opponents -- something that, if they do not do so prior to the election, may be even more disinclined to do so after it. This is a process, in other words, that candidate and/or officeholders should undergo in any case. A political campaign would be a good time to do it.

Adapted from a forthcoming e-book, Asserting Democracy