Editor’s Note: Laleh Ispahani is managing director of Open Society-U.S. at the Open Society Foundations. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
Several court challenges watered down the administration’s initial plans for the ban of a number of countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim, known officially as “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the US.”
But as it stands today, the United States indefinitely bars people from Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, the President confirmed plans to expand the ban. The additional countries expected to be affected by the ban are Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania – though not all citizens from each of the countries would necessarily be barred from entering the United States.
The new restrictions would target nations that pose a public safety or security risk, or that are not compliant in information sharing, according to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. But many fear the extension is part of the administration’s ongoing effort to discriminate against people on religious, racial and ethnic grounds.
The ban is a short-sighted, small-hearted form of legalized bigotry that silences American Muslims, tears families apart and betrays this country’s historic role as a beacon to people fleeing poverty, violence and oppression the world over. It also undercuts US foreign policy in too many ways to count, including with Iran, where the Trump administration has escalated tensions dramatically while making gestures of support for the Iranian people – people the President won’t let into this country.
When the Supreme Court greenlit the version of the ban currently in place, Justice Sotomayor wrote in dissent that the ruling was no better than Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that endorsed the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, widely regarded as one of the worst in the court’s history.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that the House will soon begin marking up legislation to overturn the travel ban but the path ahead for the House’s No Ban Act will be difficult in a Senate that marches in lockstep with this President. Revoking the ban should be among the first acts of a new administration – any new administration.
But for me, the ban is more than bigoted and authoritarian policy. It’s personal. I was born into the Muslim faith in Pakistan but have now spent more than three decades in the United States; my faith is a vital part of my American life. Growing up, I embraced the spiritual values embodied in Shia traditions, the heroism, sacrifice and quest for justice symbolized by the battle of Karbala – stories recounted from generation to generation. I have always understood Islam as a faith of peace and acceptance.
Today, dangerous caricatures of belief threaten to eclipse that vision – caricatures that have incited violence, discrimination and bigotry ever since 9/11. As Laila Lalami wrote: “To be a Muslim in the West is to be constantly on trial.” The ban not only legalizes but prolongs the trial period – now in its 19th year.
So how do I raise my daughter to share my Muslim traditions in this perilous world? How do I reconcile the lessons she learns in school – about America as a country founded on the principle of freedom of religion – when Trump makes a mockery of that tradition with this bigoted ban?
I will tell her that terrorism knows no religion. I will tell her that the approximately 3.5 million Muslims living in the United States represent many strands of the faith and contribute to American life in every way imaginable – across professions, in cities, suburbs and rural towns, in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
And I will point out the Muslim heroes in our midst. Heroes such as Rep. Andre Carson, who became the first Muslim to sit on the House Intelligence Committee, entrusted with the nation’s secrets. Heroes such as Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, who won their seats at a time when hate was on the rise. Heroes such as Qasim Rashid, an immigrant rights lawyer who ran for a Virginia state Senate seat and was threatened with lynching. His assailant was convicted, and while he lost that race, today Rashid is running for Congress.
And I will tell her one of the most inspiring stories of heroism I know, which took place recently in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Muslims won a hard-fought battle to open a mosque there in 2010. Last December, a nearby school was terrorized by an active shooter. A 17-year-old Muslim student named Duaa Ahmad led her classmates to the mosque and opened its doors to allow them to seek refuge within. What had once been a flashpoint had become a sanctuary.
These are the stories I will use to counter the narrative of hate, online harassment, violence and death threats Muslims face in the Trump era. These stories will help me counter history my daughter will one day learn of the USA Patriot Act, which conflated immigration and national security policy, or the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the post-9/11 vehicle used to force 80,000 young men from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries to register with the agency then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
These policies indelibly scarred many American Muslims, who, like me, felt forced to hide our very identities. I am proud to work for an organization, the Open Society Foundations, that supports the efforts of the coalition working to repeal the ban – an organization that invests in the values that once made this country a beacon for those around the world fleeing hardships in search of a better life.
With Congress’s help, perhaps the United States can once again honor its promise as a nation of immigrants and leave hate and bigotry behind. I pray for such an outcome, and for the chance to help my daughter understand the true nature of Islam, whose very name means “making peace.”