Middle East reality trumps immigration naiveté

President Trump's travel ban isn't about liking or fearing Muslims, Arabs or Middle Easterners; it's about national security, and careless immigration policies put it at risk.

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ALEXANDRIA, Va., March 21, 2017 — Not long ago, given my firmly-expressed view on the immigration ban (I’m for it) someone asked whether I had ever “talked to people from many of those countries about their wishes and dreams.”

The expectation of the questioner was that I hadn’t. But I had, and so I thought for a bit about the people I had met and the conversations and experiences that led me to my view.

I worked in the Middle East for over two years, and while in Saudi Arabia was in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Tabuk.

I met some people whose hopes and dreams were for peace, and Wahabists whose hopes and dreams were world domination via a world Caliphate, and still others who haven’t gotten over the loss of Muslim Spain and assured me, “don’t worry, my friend, one day we will again liberate al-Andalus.”


I assured them I wasn’t worried.

Living in Sharjah and in the UAE for a few months with the family of a college friend, I sensed little anti-American sentiment. But there are many in the Gulf sheikhdoms who see the UAE as a den of Western vice and iniquity.

We’ll see how long it takes until the Islamic State or its fellow travelers can begin to upset the apple cart in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. It probably won’t be long.

Yet they are very careful about who they let in, and that has helped them. They aren’t wild about refugees from ISIS lands.

I spent a lot of time in Pakistan as well, in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and was fortunate to be the guest of a Pathan tribal elder who was the grandfather of my college friend in Sharjah.

They lived in a mountain castle of the type you see in that area. They took me many places I would not have gone on my own: Abbottabad where bin Ladin would later die, the beautiful Swat Valley (at times very dangerous), and to the arms market at Dera Ismail Khan, where RPGs and grenades were laid out like fruit in a market while colorfully-clad tribals were test-firing Kalashnikovs.

We went to the Afghan refugee camps, where the Pakistani camp managers urged me to spread the word in America about the Saudis and the extremists they were funding. I had no platform to do so, but they said, “if America won’t help us, the void will be filled by very bad people.”

It was.

Aside from some scary moments now and then, especially being stopped and searched by the Sind police near the old city of Thatta, I felt safe.

Burnt brown and wearing shalwar-kameez, I was not really noticeable in the crowds.

I traveled through Egypt, Jordan, and Syria when I lived in Riyadh and Jeddah (a much older and friendlier city than Wahabist Riyadh).

My best work friends were Egyptians, a couple of the younger Saudis, an older Sudanese named Abdalla Sheiboun, a very interesting Kurdish gentleman, and my Syrian friend Firass al Meheyni.

Abdalla’s dream was to live in a peaceful country, but under the Islamist government and Omar al-Bashir, the dictator, that remained a dream. Abdalla just wanted to retire and be a fisherman.

One of my treasured possessions is an inscribed Koran given to me by my Syrian friend Firass. It’s the best English version available, the Mohammed Yusuf Ali translation, and has a very kind inscription in the front about our friendship and his hopes and dreams.

The young Saudis hoped to be promoted in the Air Defense Forces, and were able to do well enough to marry; being invited to Lieutenant al-Shammardal’s wedding was a real honor.

I wore my thobe (into which I no longer fit), gutra, and aghal, and a beautiful expensive mishlah I had gotten up in Tabuk.

The Pakistanis who wanted to re-found the Caliphate and muttered darkly about their dreams of a world under Islam were also my co-workers.

Jordan was an amazing place where I took several trips to Petra and various other places.

I was fortunate to befriend an Iraqi archaeologist who was treated like dirt. He was not allowed to rent a car nor a first class hotel.

We gave him rides to various sites and he shared his knowledge with us. He invited us to a rather humble dinner at his cheap hotel, but it was the fact that he invited us that mattered.

The Jordanians I’ve always found to be very kind and welcoming; the only place I felt any hatred in Jordan was in Aqaba. Instead of a solitary portrait of King Hussein in every shop window, in many places, the owners had one of Saddam Hussein right next to him.

I have very close Iraqi friends, a Sunni and Shia mixed marriage, who emigrated to Canada and are now in the US, whom I love and trust.

Many are the hours over coffee and meals we have spent discussing Iraq and the war and its aftermath.

The dream of the Kurd was to find and kill the Syrian Army colonel who had murdered his uncle. One day Syrian authorities came to the house and took the uncle away.A few days later the remains of the uncle, some flesh, bone, and so forth, were delivered in the evening to the aunt’s home and left on her front porch.

Syria was an amazing place, yet many of the people I met there are now dead or displaced. It was a beautiful country despite the dictatorship of the Assads and the creeping rot of socialism and the Ba’athists.

ISIS has wrecked the nation from end to end. I understand the Crac des Chevaliers (the best preserved Crusader castle in the middle east) is badly damaged.

The city of Palmyra, one of the most amazing cities of the ancient world, its temples and tombs unique and irreplaceable, is now in ruins. All blown to bits.

The temple of Bel and the famous Zodiac ceiling, the main gate of the city, the underground painted and carved tombs, the funerary towers that existed nowhere else in the entire world are now demolished, the smaller temples gone.

I was shown the underground tombs of Palmyra by good fortune as they are normally closed, by happening across the chief archaeologist who was escorting a small group and who invited us to join him. ISIS later crucified him. I read it and saw the story and admired him for dying without revealing where he had moved all the statuary and sculptures he could rescue.

The one structure the ISIS troglodytes left standing was the theater. I stood on that stage and looked out, never dreaming then that a few years later, ISIS would hold court there and condemn people to death.

They would also hold the slave markets there where women and children would be sold into manual and sexual slavery, all for the honor of being force-converted, force-married to a so-called “warrior of God,” and force-impregnated with the next generation of warriors.

And the gays, actual or suspected? Taken to cities and thrown off buildings. Be five years old and sneak a bit of bread during Ramadan? Crucifixion.

Refuse to submit to being a sexual slave? Burned or drowned in cages, or held down and raped, literally to death.

We do know who needs to be kept out. Those whose wishes and dreams are not, and will never be, compatible with our own.

One of the most important things Trump can do for America is keep these people out. That means taking extreme care in admissions, which Obama did not take.

So the leftists can sing kumbayah and talk about love and welcome all they like. For myself, I want these seventh century troglodytes from hell kept out by all means necessary.

I welcome those who want to be Americans and live in peace.

Until next time …

Jim Jones is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has lived, worked and traveled throughout the Middle East.

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