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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Barring Muslims would spell a US economic disaster

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Republican contenders for the White House manipulating voters’ fears for their own ends by threatening to shut America’s door to Muslim visitors while subjecting American-Muslims to intensive monitoring have failed to count the cost of such an immoral, bigoted policy. Current front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are shamefully vying with each other to attract xenophobes and Islamophobes into their respective camps in a no-holds barred fashion.

The real shock is the result of a Bloomberg Politics/Purple strategies poll indicating 65 per cent of Republican primary voters support the idea and even more concerning, 37 per cent of all voters are in agreement with a ban on Muslims. Clearly, they have no clue that such an unprecedented action would shoot America in the foot in more ways than one.

Firstly, it would contravene the constitution that outlaws “religious tests”. Secondly, it would create a ‘them-and-us’ climate within the US and is guaranteed to alienate many of America’s traditional allies. Thirdly, it would serve as a gift to terrorist recruiters and America-haters. And, fourthly, it is wholly impractical when most passports do not mention its holder’s faith. It is likely, too, that some, if not most, predominately Muslim states would institute reciprocal rules whereby American citizens and corporations would be deemed unwelcome.

However, even when those negative consequences are set aside, placing such a ‘Keep Out’ sign with respect to all Muslims would, undoubtedly, have devastating consequences for America’s economy whose ripples would trigger yet another global economic downturn because, as is well known, when Washington sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold.

For a start, America’s tourism industry would suffer a major hit. A study conducted jointly by Singapore-based Crescent Ratings and the US firm Dinar Standard reports that Muslim travellers spend an average of $2,000 more than people of other faiths and forecasts taking into account growth that by 2020 the overall spend relating to Muslim tourism worldwide will reach more than $192bn.

An article in the Telegraph, substantiated with statistics from Travel and Leisure magazine and the US National Travel and Tourism Office, suggests a ban on Muslims could cost the US more than $18.4bn a year “not accounting for the necessary overhaul to border infrastructure to implement such a plan”.

American airlines, airports, transport systems, cabs, restaurants, entertainment venues and retailers would certainly feel the pinch. Gulf Arabs are also among the biggest purchasers of luxury goods. Economy Watch asserts that GCC States make up the majority of the Middle East’s travel spending and together represent 37 per cent of all Muslim travellers worldwide. Data from the US Department of Commerce, which does not base its statistics on religion, shows that Saudis spent $14.6bn in the United States between 2005 and 2014.

Let us not forget, too, that there are over 100,000 non-American Muslim students (80,000 of them Saudi nationals) attending US colleges and universities whose fees, accommodation and living expenses contribute billions to the US coffers and go to subsidise the fees of American students from poor families. On average annual tuition and fees charged by private universities are in the region of $32,599, which means they gain approximately $130,396 over a four-year period from a single student.

Untold numbers of Muslims also travel to the US to seek private specialist medical treatment; many arrive with their families so as to combine their health care needs with a family vacation.

American exports could also be affected simply because human nature would dictate that Muslim consumers – all 1.7 billion of them – would be far less likely to purchase ‘Made in the USA’ automobiles, computers and other high-end items. US exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE alone exceed $57bn. Over 1,000 US firms have a presence in the UAE and 120 operate in Qatar. Many thousands more are based throughout the Middle East and Asia.

What impact a Muslim ban would have on investments is incalculable but defence contracts and multi-billion dollar weapons and aircraft orders could be at risk. Would Qatar proceed with its plans to invest $35bn dollars in the US over the coming five-year period? Would billionaire investors liquidate their assets and transfer their funds to more Muslim-friendly markets?

It is worth noting that according to the US Treasury as of 01 January 2015 oil exporting countries (including Muslim or predominately Muslim held $290.8bn in Treasury Securities.

Moreover, as the Aspen Institute highlights, “In 2015, four out of the top ten sovereign wealth funds in the world are situated in the GCC” which manage over $2.28tn “historically directed towards North America and Europe”.

Would a President Trump’s ban also be applied to Muslim diplomats I wonder. In that event the embassies, consulates and educational centres of over 30 Muslim-Majority countries, numbering more than 108 diplomatic facilities around the country would be shuttered. Diplomats and other staff who are nationals make up around five percent of those working in foreign missions; the rest are locally employed US nationals. In that case, thousands of Americans would lose their jobs. Plus restaurants, catering companies, care hire firms, hotels and apartment complexes in areas in which those embassies and consulates are located would suffer losses.

More importantly, Muslim heads of state, foreign ministers and ambassadors would be unable to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings or international conferences taking place on US soil, threatening world peace as well as America’s leading role in global affairs.

Neither Mr Trump nor Mr Cruz has thought through the implications that banning Muslims would have on their own country in terms of potential bankruptcies and job losses not to mention the tremors that would surely rock the financial sector and stock markets, even supposing Muslim countries declined to implement retaliatory measures.

No wonder the Economist Intelligence Unit has rated a Trump presidency high among its Top Ten Global Risks, higher than the UK quitting the EU or a major clash in the South China Sea! He presents the same risk level to the global economy as the rising threat of terrorism. How ironic is that!

However, one thing is indisputable. A ban on Muslims would punch a hole in the US economy to the tune of hundreds of billions annually in terms of losses to the aviation, transport and hotel industries, investments, real-estate, retailing, university and medical fees, defence purchases, exports, notwithstanding the potential for sovereign funds to seek greener pastures and wealthy Muslim companies and individuals transferring their capital out of US banks.

From the US perspective it would be madness especially since its loss would be others’ gain. I will bet that European financial institutions, manufacturers and businesses will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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