Taleb: On the Immigration Ban, by an American Muslim

Nardine Taleb, Columnist

I often think about who I would be now if my grandfather had not immigrated to the United States 43 years ago. We all know a similar immigrant story: Immigrant moves here, wants his or her kids to speak English and go to American schools and works two to three jobs (or more) to sustain a life. I think what we often forget to mention in a story like this, is that the “American Dream” is not always obtained by the immigrant himself. More often than not, the immigrant is working hard, toiling and the “American Dream” is lived by his children and his children’s children.

If my grandfather hadn’t immigrated here, perhaps I would not have gotten private school education. I would not have gone to a welcoming all-girls Catholic school. I would not have that inner voice guiding me, pushing me to work harder, make something of myself and give back to the community that helped make me. I do not take my life here for granted.

President Trump’s recent immigration ban does not just prevent people with aspirations from living here; it is a slamming door on the opportunities that could be provided for first or second generation Americans like me. It is an impetus to the potential advances American society can make with the contributions of immigrants’ children who are born only knowing America as their home. When I picture American society in the future, I do not see slamming doors and fear in children’s eyes. I picture a society enriched with people from different backgrounds who are united by their love for the place that helped make them. That’s the type of environment that I am used to in Cleveland, and I can only hope that this type of atmosphere will spread, not shrink.

The other day, a particular sentence in a New York Times article struck me and reminded me of the fear that has blinded many people in our country. According to the article, “Immigration Ban is Unlikely to Reduce Terrorist Threat, Experts Say,” Daniel Benjamin, a former counter-terrorist official, was quoted saying that the ban “sends an unmistakable message to the American Muslim community that they are facing discrimination and isolation” and may potentially encourage a few more Muslims to plot violence. Although Benjamin’s intention was to only speak of those “Muslims” who support ISIS and other terrorist groups (although I’d argue they’re not Muslims at all), I took this sentence personally. Some people still don’t get it. For just a second, forget the Muslim part of my identity. I am an American and this is my home and I would never hurt it, no matter how much discrimination or isolation I feel.

What will it take to make my intentions clear? How about this: When President Trump suggested that Muslims carry IDs on them in early 2016, I wasn’t totally against it if it meant that my fellow Americans would feel safer and that this was better for my country. How about this: Christmas is my favorite holiday because it is a holiday that the majority of Americans celebrate collectively. (Just for the record, it is not offensive to say “Merry Christmas” to me.) How about this: the only reason why I am aware of my differences is because people have noted them. If no one had noticed, I would not be “Muslim-American,” or “Egyptian-American,” I would just be American.

Ever since I was young, I’ve felt like a lot of people have not defined me as American and have tried to set me apart, intentionally or unintentionally. Often, it was fear or uncertainty about my differences such as my hijab that lead people to do this. I felt like I had to work harder to prove that I am American, maybe use more slang or be more outspoken or dress a certain way. I’ve often wondered: Do they not see that my identity is rooted in this very land? That I am just as American? I do value my differences and they are important to my identity, but it does not mean I am less American than the next person.

I wonder if President Trump realizes that I am not the only one who feels this way. I wonder if he will ever recognize people like me at all—truly, honestly see us. I admire him for wanting to protect our country, but it’s as if he looks at the world through a lense of hatred and defensiveness at all times. I want to know how different he would be if he considered that maybe, just maybe, people come to America because they want to teach their children how to love, not hate.
And isn’t valuing love over hatred what makes us American in the first place?

Nardine is a third-year student who thinks everyone should read Warsan Shire’s poem, “Home”