Written by Fatima Mohammadi
Let me be blunt: Muslims are under attack – not just abroad, but here in the United States and across the Western world. This is not news to Muslims, but has seemingly caught just about everyone else off guard – even given the election cycle we’ve collectively [barely] survived. This new administration and its supporters are the antithesis of everything I, and countless others like me, identify with.
As a person of color who grew up in an overwhelmingly White community, I’m no stranger to being the “other.” But when I donned a hijab in my late twenties – an outward expression of political solidarity with my Palestinian sisters living under brutal occupation – I was shocked at how I was treated. Long gone were the daily sneers, punches and kicks of my childhood tormentors; but, in their place, were whispered taunts, forced smiles and nervous glances of distrust and fear.
Being visibly Muslim in a post-9/11 society had its challenges but who could have predicted that every US administration would continue to increasingly and rapidly threaten the lives and well being of Muslims in America and beyond.
And then came the travel ban.
The first ban, issued in late January, halted the travel of individuals from seven Muslim majority nations with unclear and far-reaching effects on even dual-citizens and valid visa holders who had the audacity of being born in Iraq Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen.
On March 6, after tremendous public outcry and widespread legal resistance, the Trump administration proffered a second Executive Order, which effectively replaced the first and which offers several “improvements”, most notably: the removal of Iraq from the list, a 120 day ban on Syrian immigrants rather than an indefinite one, and explicit exceptions to the travel ban, which helps to limit the scope of its reach to those who have not yet been issued valid travel documentation to the United States.
While the second Executive Order is certainly better than the first – and I use the term “better” very loosely, as with all things Trump – it is still far from being a rational public policy or even fully legal. It is still a ban on Muslims traveling to or within the United States from a subset of Muslim-majority countries or from anywhere else in the world, quite honestly. I’m sure many of us can relate to the ominous phrase “flying while Muslim” but my own experiences with security checks at airports diminishes its comedic value and highlights instead the unreasonable search and seizure methods used at will by security agents when someone is flagged as a “threat.”
For a period of over three years, I was the target of some evil plot to challenge my sanity and to make damn sure I was uncomfortable in every minute of my travel. Air travel for me – both domestic and international – consisted of forced removal from airplanes; security escorts on and off flights; extreme searches of my person and belongings; intimidating backroom interrogations; lengthy calls to the Department of Homeland Security who had to give airport authorities permission to allow me to progress through each leg of my travel, and so on.
It wasn’t just the inconvenience of the procedure that bothered me in those countless extra hours in airport terminals; it was the sense of not belonging to the very country in which I was born a citizen. It is difficult to explain the crippling doubt I would experience standing on one side of an otherwise uninteresting counter, watching the eyes of an attendant on the phone with DHS for any indication of an answer to the question “Will I be let in this time?” This fear, this doubt, this sense of not belonging or being welcome is, in my opinion, one of the most harmful effects of policies like the travel ban that seek to vilify an entire group of people based on one shared, uncontrollable characteristic.
Beyond the psychological effects, however, lies the mental trickery that this two-part travel ban has duped so many critics with. Usually, the Trump administration doubles down on their mistakes, regardless of the idiocy; but with the travel ban, they have actually drawn back measurably on their previous stances. This unoriginal negotiating tactic is now being used against the American public. Put another way, the administration intentionally pressed for an unrealistic, un-implementable policy and, when pushed back, they relaxed their language and inflammatory rhetoric to make it more palatable (and maybe now acceptable) to those ready to compromise.
This tactic isn’t dissimilar to the Israeli government announcing that they’ll build, say, 30,000 new illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land but, after condemnation, advantageously deciding to reduce the number to 15,000, thereby looking like actors who, in good-faith, were willing to be “realistic.” The key word in that example was – for those who missed it – “illegal.” Whether something is astoundingly illegal or slightly more palatable-y illegal, it is still illegal.
And so it is obvious that this second travel ban is equally as illegal and mean-spirited, even if slightly less so than its predecessor. Secondly, we should be wary of the ole’ smoke and mirrors trick. If we as a citizenry are so distracted by this outrageous ban that we’re pouring into the streets and holding fort at airports across the nation, united in this single issue, what else is being done behind the scenes that we’re NOT aware of?
What exchanges are being made behind closed doors, and with the actual approval of our elected officials, that will affect each of our lives, Muslims or not? We must remain vigilant against injustice of any shape or name, and consider all the angles and all the actors – victims and perpetrators – when analyzing the effect of laws and policies.
In conclusion, those who struggle under the weight of oppression have historically always been a more diverse, creative, dynamic, resilient and brilliant people than their counterparts. Whether Muslim or ally, the opportunities to stand up and fight back against discriminatory policies such as the travel ban are plentiful. We have a long road ahead of us but we are also well-equipped to resist, now more than ever before.