This blog post is the first in a series of writings by Abed Alsolaiman about the Trump Administration's attempts to ban travel by refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria. Abed is an intern at the ACLU of Utah for the summer. In the fall, he will enter his senior year of high school at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City.
As one can imagine, Trumps’ election and subsequent Muslim ban (let’s not mince words) shocked and horrified the Islamic community in the U. S.
However, to really understand the perspective of Muslim-Americans on this topic, we have to see Executive Orders 13769 (Muslim Ban 1.0) and 13780 (Muslim Ban 2.0) as elements of a larger, consistently Islamophobic tapestry, a story that has defined the life of millions of people like me for at least the last decade and a half.
My name is Abed Alsolaiman, and I am a Syrian-American.
My father and mother immigrated to the United States in 1996 and 1998, respectively. They arrived as many others before and after them: delighted, nervous and enterprising. The conception of America as a land of boundless opportunity may be cliché by now, but we should not take it for granted.
To Middle Eastern immigrants, the U.S. promised unique freedoms and social mobility that simply could not be attained in their homeland.The tragic events of 9/11 fundamentally changed American interactions with and discourse about Muslims. That much is obvious; Western representations of Middle Easterners went from exotic others to uncivilized, immoral barbarians. Islam increasingly became synonymous with evil.
Notably, the GOP attacked then-candidate Barack Obama for allegedly being a Muslim. As a kid watching the 2008 election, I always wondered why his religion could matter so much. In fact, I thought it would be kind of cool to have a “Muslim” president.
Islamophobic attacks and actions lingered in the Muslim-American psyche, causing many families and communities to draw inward. We all heard about these events as soon as they happened, and most of us knew people affected either directly or through the grapevine.
For example, the victims of the horrific Chapel Hill attack - Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha - were friends of a friend. Classic “us vs. them” narratives pushed by right-wing media usually had their intended purpose in that they distanced practicing Muslims from everyone else, a division that went both ways.
Many white conservatives no longer saw Middle Eastern citizens of the U.S. as “true Americans,” allowing for acts of intolerance; thus, Muslims in America who withdrew from Western society did so not out of religious dogma or anger but out of a feeling of abandonment and exclusion. The marginalization of the Islamic community took on an entirely new dimension with the ongoing refugee crises.
To be continued: While waiting for Abed's next blog post on this topic, please consider joining us on Saturday, June 17, at 8:00 p.m. for a special ACLU Ramadan dinner and update on the ACLU's legal challenge to Muslim Bans 1.0 and 2.0. RSVPs requested!