By Zainab A Khan
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
This inscription is written on the base of the Statue of Liberty, and represents an America of a bygone era. Religious bigotry and discrimination paired with anti-immigration sentiment have shaped a country that once welcomed diversity into a much more sinister landscape.
On the 27th of January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that immediately stopped all refugee admissions and temporarily barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). Though the ban was overturned recently, the underlying racist sentiment that led to some praising the President for this unconstitutional move has not been dealt with. In a country already marred with violence, it could encourage violent repercussions as racists and xenophobes (such as the Quebec shooter, and the Chapel Hill gunman) are emboldened to act on their hatred with potentially deadly consequences. In my home state of North Carolina, one of the local mosques had to be provided with police protection due to bomb threats.
President Trump claims that by denying entry to people of these countries, tragedies such as “Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino” can be avoided in the future. On first glance, the security issues raised seem to justify the act, however there is one glaringly obvious problem with Trump’s so-called logic: none of the perpetrators of the shootings he cited came from countries mentioned in the ban. All the shooters responsible for the tragedies mentioned were either permanent residents of the United States, or US citizens by birth-right.
Instead of uniting a country already bitterly divided by the results of its most recent election, the newly elected leader of the free world chose to make his feelings towards one minority group very clear by refusing entry to the US to not only refugees for whom the American Dream has already failed, but also to dual-citizens and green-card holders. In effect, the Trump administration made it clear, literally overnight, that it placed less value on some citizens in comparison to others. One of the few impressive things about Trump’s cabinet is its sheer lack of diversity, which is why the ban did not so much present his prejudice: it cemented it.
Though the Muslim community has borne the brunt of President Trump’s hatred since the election campaign, the blame cannot be laid entirely on Trump’s doorstep. Indeed, it must not be forgotten that anti-Islam sentiment and the fear of Muslims has been capitalised on by numerous politicians long before President Trump. One such politician lies at the other end of the political spectrum. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seldom mentioned Muslims in her failed bid for the presidency except to say that they were needed only as “eyes and ears” for intelligence-gathering services. Unsurprisingly, this rhetoric was not welcomed, with many disgruntled voters voicing their dissatisfaction at dehumanised and reduced to soldiers on a political battlefield they had no place in. Linda Sarsour, one of the co-founders of the Women’s March, stated that she was “tired of hearing how Muslims [are] only on front lines of fighting terrorism”, whilst others took to social media to air their frustrations at having their community be treated like “toys” to be used for political fodder. Clinton’s rhetoric heightened the distrust of the already vulnerable Muslim community, and paired with Trump’s baseless remarks that implied the Muslim community sheltered terrorists instead of reporting them, this further pushed tensions between the Muslim community and their neighbours to new heights. These tensions can also sometimes boil over into violence, as there has been a case where a Muslim woman in North Carolina had her headscarf pulled forcibly from her head.
Trump promised to be a president for “everyone”. Yet instead of developing a plan to aid and integrate Muslims, he further ostracized and isolated a marginalized community. Though there has been a temporary injunction granted against this ban one cannot help but wonder how long it will be until the protests begin again, or indeed, if they will ever stop. As a young British-American Muslim, I wonder whether there will ever be a point where I won’t be worried about returning.