The “Muslim Ban” and False Equivalence

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.

— “False equivalence.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

On Friday, January 27, at 4:42 PM, President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”. The full body of the executive order can be found here.

The backlash was almost immediate. Protests are taking place in cities and airports across the country. Governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle have spoken out opposing the executive order on multiple grounds. This is now the second weekend since President Trump took office in which protests took place.

One of the main reasons for protest comes from section 5(b) of the executive order, which states:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.(Emphasis added)

Many have taken that section of the order as proof that the ban is focused on preventing Muslims from entering the United States of America and is religious discrimination. White House cyber security advisor Rudy Guliani comments on the Fox News Channel appear to reinforce that concept:

“I’ll tell you the whole history. When [Mr Trump] first announced it he said ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up, he said, ‘put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally’.

— Eleftheriou-Smith , Loulla-Mae. “Donald Trump asked Rudy Giuliani how to ‘legally’ create ‘Muslim ban’, claims former New York mayor.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.

Some of my friends on social media are calling out the protesters and opponents to the order using two examples of previous presidents who placed bans on refugees and/or revoked visas for foreign nationals. Their point is that there were no protests when these events occurred, so why should there be protests now. I have reviewed these two incidents since one took place when I was only 5 years old and the other I was not aware of, and I’ve found that both of these incidents are false equivalencies. Read on to learn why.

I. President Carter’s sanctions against Iran during the U.S. hostage crisis.

On November 4, 1979, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in Iran and held for 444 days. Six months to the day, on April 4, 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued remarks announcing actions by the United States and imposing sanctions on Iran. In his remarks, President Carter stated:

Fourth, the Secretary of Treasury [State] and the Attorney General will invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly.

—Jimmy Carter: “Sanctions Against Iran Remarks Announcing U.S. Actions. ,” April 7, 1980. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

Here is why President Carter’s actions are a false equivalent to the GOP’s:

1. President Carter was reacting to a specific incident which had not resolved itself after 6 months of negotiations. Action was warranted as a response to the hostage crisis.
2. President Carter singled out a single country, Iran, for this edict.
3. No religion was specified or targeted as part of these sanctions.
4. Other sanctions, including the formal break of diplomatic relations with Iran, also took place at this time.
5. Immigrants were still accepted in the United States from Iran under the “compelling and proven humanitarian reasons” clause of the above statement.

II. 2011 State Department ban on Iraqi refugees.

As this event took place more recently, more people are using this as an example of a double standard. In 2009, two Al-Queda terrorists were found living in Bowling Green, Kentucky. What’s more, the terrorists, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, later admitted to attacking U.S. soldiers while still in Iraq. ABC News reported on the terrorists in 2013.

In 2011, according to the ABC News story:

As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets. One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said. In 2011, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis were resettled as refugees in the U.S., half the number from the year before, State Department statistics show.

— Meek, James Gordon, Cindy Galli, and Brian Ross. “Exclusive: US May Have Let ‘Dozens’ of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees.” ABC News. ABC, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Here is why the State Department’s actions are a false equivalent to the GOP’s:

1. The State Department had found actual terrorists living in the United States
2. Since the terrorists were originally from Iraq, accepting refugees from that country was slowed down, allowing the State department to review their vetting processes.Refugees were still accepted every month of 2011.
3. Unlike 1980 and 2017, Iraqis with green cards or visas were still permitted in the U.S.
4. No religion was specified or targeted as part of the refugee suspension.

This brings us to 2017 and President Trump’s executive order. Proponents of the order cite Title 8 of the U.S. Code, specifically the paragraph titled “Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President”

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. Whenever the Attorney General finds that a commercial airline has failed to comply with regulations of the Attorney General relating to requirements of airlines for the detection of fraudulent documents used by passengers traveling to the United States (including the training of personnel in such detection), the Attorney General may suspend the entry of some or all aliens transported to the United States by such airline.

— United States of America. 8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible Aliens. N.p.: n.p., n.d. LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. <>.

While this does give the president the legal right to deny entry to any “inadmissible aliens” he so chooses, there is the question of how limited this section of the U.S. Code is. David J. Bier of the Cato Institute wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times shortly after President Trump signed the executive order. In the op-ed, Bier states:

President Trump signed an executive order on Friday that purports to bar for at least 90 days almost all permanent immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria and Iraq, and asserts the power to extend the ban indefinitely.

But the order is illegal. More than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed such discrimination against immigrants based on national origin.

— Bier, David J. “Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Illegal.” New York Times. N.p., 27 Jan. 2017. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Bier is referring to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. This act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, banned discrimination of immigrants based on national origin. This was also codified into another section of the U.S. Code:

Except as specifically provided in paragraph (2) and in sections 1101(a)(27), 1151(b)(2)(A)(i), and 1153 of this title, no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.

— United States of America. 8 U.S. Code § 1152 – Numerical limitations on individual foreign states. N.p.: n.p., n.d. LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. <>.

Between the legal questions raised by President Trump’s executive order, the lack of direct cause leading to the ban, the choice of countries from which refugees are banned, and even the way the order “prioritizes refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”. there are many legal and moral issues which this executive order creates. It should be no surprise, then, that many citizens of the United States are protesting this order. The simple fact, however, is that both President Carter’s actions in 1980 and the State Department’s actions in 2011 are false equivalencies to what is going on now and are not a suitable comparison to debate.