Immigration Teach-In: For Our Acting Young Women

Teach-In (3)

Story By: Kimia Nikseresht

As an immigrant, as a follower of Islam, and as a woman, I have turned to Iris time and time again to tell my story. It may be a bit more complicated at times, but it’s not too different from yours – a journey of challenges and victories, self-exploration and set-backs, love and heartbreak, and lots and lots of laughter.

This week, though, laughter has not been an option. On the 27th of January, President Trump issued an executive order (full text here) that could have been summarized with a simple “f*** you, you muslim idiots” tweet. Here’s what the executive order did, in its most basic form: stopped all refugee admittance into the United States for 120 days, prohibited any non-US citizen born in any of the specified seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the country (regardless of their immigration status) for 90 days, and said “nah bitch” to Syrian refugees – the millions of Syrian families who are desperately searching for safety and shelter – hoping to enter the United States indefinitely. And here’s the best part: Charles Kurzman, professor at UNC Chapel Hill and an expert in Islamic Fundamentalism reminds us that “there have been zero fatalities in the U.S. by extremists from the countries on Trump’s list”.

Here’s what that means to me: This marks a cultural change. Since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-Americans have repeatedly found themselves in situations of harassment, fear, and discrimination. While some of these have been undeniably violent and quite explicit, for the last decade, tensions have been generally quieted to “implicit” realms. Women have debated their commitment to their hijab, men have shaved off their beards, and we have all adopted more “American-friendly” sounding names (like “Mo” for Muhammad and “Barry” for Bahram), but we have managed to survive. This executive order threatens our survival.

bani-adam-iranian-poet-un-buildingIt says that even as a green card holding “permanent resident” (emphasis on the permanent), the United States will deny you entry to your home for 90 days, solely on the basis of the country in which you were born. You can be a Nobel Peace Prize winner or have put your life on the line for years working for the US military – you are not welcome
here. Maybe we are legally entitled to let you in, after some hours or days of harassment, but culturally you are not, and never will be, “one of us”. Welcome home.

Even if we, as a country, stand up against what could very well be proven as a civil rights violation and deemed illegal, Muslim-Americans, Middle Eastern immigrants, and (sorry to throw it out there) but anyone who literally looks too Middle-Eastern will find themselves looking over their shoulder for years to come. One step forward, three steps back.

Years ago, the United Nations inscribed this Saadi poem, originally written in Farsi, on their building. Today, these words are more relevant than ever:

All men and women are to each other

the limbs of a single body, each of us drawn

from life’s shimmering essence, God’s perfect pearl;

and when this life we share wounds one of us,

all share the hurt as if it were our own.

You, who will not feel another’s pain,

you forfeit the right to be called human.

[Translated by: Richard Jeffrey Newman]

To learn more about Trump’s executive order, your fellow immigrant students, or ways to get involved, join us at the “Teach-In” on Wednesday, 1 February. Iris is proud to co-sponsor this educational and informative panel of UVA professors. 

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Griffiths

    Hi! We are looking for resources/materials to use for a teach-in on our campus. Will there be a video or anything that you can share? Thanks so much!