COLUMN: Travel ban reflects America’s ignorance towards Middle Eastern countries

Madison Hindo

No ban; no wall.

These four words have echoed countless times over the last few weeks in airports, college campuses and communities. The effects of Trump’s travel ban have sent shock waves throughout the world. The executive order was met with protests throughout the United States and backlash from numerous world leaders.

With little preparation beforehand, Trump implemented an executive order on Jan. 27 that prevented refugees from entering the country for 120 days, with Syrian refugees prevented indefinitely. Additionally, the ban prevented anyone with a visa (immigrant or otherwise) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria or Yemen from entering the country for 90 days.

Trump insisted it was not a Muslim ban, yet the seven impacted countries are all Muslim-majority countries.

Trump’s administration argued executive order’s purpose was to keep American citizens safe from terrorism. While the safety of Americans is important, no deadly U.S. terrorist attacks that have occurred post-9/11 have been committed by individuals from the countries targeted by the ban.

Many argue accepting refugees means accepting a large risk to the safety of Americans, but fail to realize the extensive vetting process all refugees must go through before they arrive in this country. Refugees are not granted U.S. entry on a whim; they are subject to a long and exhausting process first.

The drastic measures the ban put into place were not the result of facts; they were the result of misplaced fear.

The ban has since been overturned, but repercussions are still possible. There is fear that the ban will prevent skilled workers from pursuing careers in the U.S. in the future, as well as discourage foreign students  from wanting to attend American universities. Additionally, it is possible that the ban will discourage tourism to the U.S., even from countries not included in the executive order.

Aside from the aforementioned consequences, the ban’s underlying message could have a negative impact on the U.S. — a message sent to Muslims and Middle Easterners: you are not welcome here. The ban implies these people are not compatible with American values, which is simply not true.

This idea that the U.S. is not welcoming to Muslims is much more dangerous than allowing them into our country. A trend recently noticed in Europe is that refugees are significantly more likely to be radicalized when they do not feel welcome in their new country. By ostracizing these people and treating them as second-class citizens, we are not protecting ourselves. We are promoting intolerance and creating a volatile environment that helps no one.  

The effects of the ban can be felt even within the Honors Program. Sophia Ahmed, a freshman chemical engineering major, is the daughter of the two immigrants from Bangladesh. Despite the fact that her family would not be directly impacted by the ban’s measures, she feared that that it would lead to further action against Muslims. As a Muslim, it has made her uneasy, but she hopes that the ban will make people realize just how unreasonable Trump is.

“Islam is a peaceful religion, and no matter [how] people practice it, they want peace. However, there are those that ruin the image of Islam for the rest of us,” Ahmed said.

As the granddaughter of an Iraqi immigrant, the ban hits personally hits close to home. With my pale complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes, nearly everyone I know is taken aback when I reveal I am a quarter Middle Eastern. They might wonder about my last name, but the realization of my heritage is almost universally a shock. The second shock occurs when they realize that my family are devoutly Catholic, not Muslim. (While the current number of Christians in Iraq today is well under half a million people, the number used to be much larger.)

My grandfather has been a U.S. citizen for many years now, but it is mind-blowing to think that if his situation were different, he would be considered a threat to American safety.

He is a man who loves American movies, traveling and his family. As an incredibly intelligent engineer, he is an asset to this country and is part of the diversity that makes the U.S. so great.

In a TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the danger of what she refers to as the “single story.” She discusses how people view Africa as being a place full of poverty, war and tribal tongues. They fail to realize the culture’s nuances and see the continent as it truly is. Adichie’s words had a profound impact on me as I was able to draw parallels between the “single stories” of Africa and the Middle East.

Throughout my life, I’ve observed countless people make thoughtless generalizations about the region. To them, it is the place where Muslims live, where women are degraded and human rights frequently violated. It is a desert wasteland that is stuck in the past, unable to even conceive of the modern society that we enjoy in the Western world.

I still remember a civics class in middle school, where my teacher decided to show the class what the city of Baghdad looked like. It is the capital of Iraq, yet everyone appeared profoundly confused when they realized that it was an actual metropolis. While it is true that Baghdad suffers from infrastructure problems, it is far from the ruin that my classmates envisioned. The thought of it being a developed, modern city had not crossed their minds.

I believe this disconnect between Middle Eastern countries and Western perception is a large part of what fuels the discrimination increasingly apparent in the U.S. This lack of understanding is what gave rise to Trump’s travel ban, but there is still hope that one day we may overcome the divide.

The American belief in freedom is still alive and well, as demonstrated by the images of the massive protests the executive order sparked, the increase in donations to ACLU and stories of attorneys working for free to help those affected.

The ban has been overturned and the federal appeals court has ruled unanimously to uphold the ruling, despite Trump’s nearly immediate request to reinstate it. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but for now there is a victory worth celebrating.

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