Campus shows solidarity in the face of division
February 16, 2017
Filed under International
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President Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 27 that suspended visas from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya — with Muslim-majority populations for 90 days, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. While the order was overturned by an appeals court on Feb. 9, travel may still be difficult for those wishing to move between the United States and the seven banned countries.
Younus Mirza, assistant professor of Islam, has been following Trump throughout his campaign and into his presidency.
“I was a little bit surprised [by the ban],” Mirza said. “It could have been better thought out. It does speak to his base, and it’s him trying to fulfill the campaign promises he made.”
Although the ban has not officially been labeled as a ban on Muslims, Mirza has a different interpretation.
“The ban is targeting Muslim-majority countries that do not have a strong or strategic alliance with the United States. It seems to be focused on the Middle East and the Arab world in particular. I think it does kind of target Muslims, but it’s not all about Muslims. There’s concern about the larger fallout, and there’s concern over whether more countries will be added to the list. The ban is also about the larger message Trump is sending to immigrants in general,” Mirza said.
Concerning immigration, Mirza said he fears what effect the ban will have on international students.
“In general, international students are more wary of studying in the United States, and there’s a lot of concern that they will not want to come to Allegheny,” Mirza said. “Other international students are concerned about leaving the country.”
One of Allegheny’s international students is Arabic Teaching Assistant Mariam Nashaat, who came from Egypt to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar in 2016. Nashaat said she attributes Trump’s actions to a misinformed populace.
“I think it’s part of not knowing anything about the world,” Nashaat said. “It’s about only concentrating on yourself. It’s about not being educated enough to understand the circumstance.”
Misinformation concerning Islam is something Nashaat said she noticed after coming to the U.S.
“People know of Muslims, and they are afraid of Muslims, but they do not know about Muslims. We have the same point of view [about the U.S.] in the Middle East,” Nashaat said. “What do we know about Americans? I understand not knowing anything about another country, but [misinformation] makes it so easy to hate other people.”
Although the ban was only recently issued, Nashaat said she has already seen its effects. Her fiancé, after graduating medical school in Egypt, had to change his plans to come to the U.S.
“He was studying for two years to take the test to work as a doctor here, and then he had to stop everything. A lot of people changed their whole future plans,” Nashaat said.
Along with her fiancé, Nashaat has a friend from Iraq who has become disheartened by the recent push against Muslims.
“He said ‘there’s no place in the world that wants us. I think there is no place in the world where I can be safe,’” Nashaat said.
Fortunately, Nashaat has never felt unsafe on Allegheny’s campus.
“I have a lot of friends here, and I teach my students, who are so nice,” Nashaat said. “I think it’s fine at Allegheny and in Meadville. I’ve never seen anything bad here.”
Jordan native Natali Salaytah, ’19, echoed Nashaat’s sentiment.
“I feel like there’s a lot of support toward the international community,” Salaytah said. “I’ve been getting a lot of emails and texts from the international office.”
Salaytah lived in Jordan until she was 8-years old, when she moved to New York City.
Since Jordan is not one of the banned countries, Salaytah has not felt any immediate threats by the executive order. However, she is frustrated that any future travel to Jordan could be jeopardized if the ban is expanded.
“I’m a dual citizen. I should be free to go back and forth, and that right has been taken from other people who are in the same situation as me. I’m dumbfounded by the whole thing,” Salaytah said.
Salaytah said she thinks students should work with one another to make sure international students feel welcome.
“I feel like student initiative would be something that’s really valuable right now,” Salaytah said. “There are international events, but a good social media presence would be cool.”
Although the court’s decision to overturn the ban makes the future unclear, Mirza said he found one positive aspect of Trump’s executive order.
“The pushback has been really strong,” Mirza said. “People have come out to protest at different airports. It’s brought out a lot of unique voices that we haven’t heard before, and we have activism. There’s been a lot of solidarity.”