Trump or anyone else cannot impose US travel ban on Muslims

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
PHOTO: Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR: A ban on Muslims entering the United States as proposed by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is not possible under the US Constitution and American legal structure, a senior State Department official said.

Shaarik H. Zafar, the department's Special Representative to Muslim Communities, said everywhere he travelled, he was asked about the possibility of such a ban being imposed.

Making use of a visit here to send a clear message to Muslims in Malaysia and other parts of the world, he said: "The US welcomes visitors from Malaysia and every part of the world.

"We will never, ever, ban any traveller based on religion or ethnicity. That's simply not within our legal structure."

The 41-year-old, who assumed his post two years ago, is responsible for driving the US Secretary of State's policy of engagement with the global Muslim community.

Trump had, after a deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, by suspected IS sympathisers last December, called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US. His remarks sparked an outrage in the Muslim world.

In an interview here on Friday, Shaarik explained: "The American Constitution and legal system is crystal clear that it is absolutely illegal to create bans based on religion, gender or national identity.

"For travellers from Malaysia and all over the world, the US is open for business and will remain so."

On hate speech and hate crimes against Muslims in the US, he said the US government was concerned about the rising intolerance.

Estimates put the number of American Muslims between six and eight million people from a total population of almost 300 million.

Shaarik, born in Karachi and raised in Texas, said one of his previous jobs was as a lawyer handling cases of discrimination and hatred after the Sept 11 terror attacks in the US.

"After 9/11, we had a rise in hate crimes against Arabs, South Asians and Middle Easterners.

"The first victim was a member of the Sikh faith, so we saw the dangerous combination of ignorance and bigotry," he added.

He said the US valued freedom of speech and one way to counter hate speech "is to have more speech" by encouraging those who opposed intolerance to speak up.

Shaarik has been to Malaysia twice in his current job where he was involved in various joint US-Malaysia programmes.

He cited a programme at UniverĀ­siti Islam Antarabangsa where a group of students were on a project to help counter violent extremist narratives.

Another project which his office funds is an entrepreneurship programme at Universiti Malaysia Kelantan.

"What strikes me about Malaysia is what an incredibly diverse country this is, and like in the US, this diversity is a national asset.

"Sometimes, we forget that and tend to think we should be divided.

"But this diversity is in fact a strength," he added.