Kamran Shahbaz – The Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted an event last Thursday that challenged the supposed “privileged and unsympathetic” Davidson student stereotype. In the demonstration of opposition to President Trump’s executive order barring refugees from seven majority Muslim countries, hundreds of students, faculty, trustees, and townspeople gathered in the Alvarez College Union’s amphitheater to stand in solidarity with Muslims and refugees. Opening the event, Sammy Syed ’19, President of the MSA, stated, “People want to share support to this community but don’t necessarily know how to.”
To accommodate the event’s supporters, the MSA provided a plethora of opportunities for attendees to have an impactful experience during Common Hour. Students composed emails and handwritten letters to the families whose members had been affected by the Quebec mosque shooting. Striving to console those whose loved ones had been affected both by violent actions toward Muslims and President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric in general, students made spray-painted flags reading, “No Ban, No Wall” and “Resist Hate.” Additionally, manifesting their support for Muslim solidarity, students wrote to senators and representatives to oppose the executive order and donated to both the American Civil Liberties Union and the mosques affected by the travel ban.
Witnessing immense solidarity by the attendees, Hani Zaitoun ’20, a Syrian refugee who has been at Davidson for only three weeks, shouted, “This is the real America we want to see.”
MSA Vice President Shassata Fahim ‘18 also echoed similar remarks to unite the Davidson community in a collective purpose of combatting the xenophobia, bigotry, and hate that is perpetuated by certain media outlets and the Trump Administration. Citing the general abuse that many hijab-wearing women face and the fear some refugees feel from racial supremacist groups, Fahim emphasized the imperative of Davidson students to actively resist the injustice and hate that is manifest in the so-called “Muslim Ban.” Fahim said, “If not us mobilizing these initiatives in our community and actively working…to make the slightest bit of tangible impact, then who?”
Dual Iraqi and American citizen Anmar Jerjees ’18 spoke about his mother’s experiences following Fahim’s speech. After fleeing to Syria from Iraq due to civil war, Jerjees’s mother travelled back to the Iraqi border biannually to get a new visa. On one occasion a customs officer threw his mother’s passport to the ground, laughing due to the lack of bribe money inside it. Jerjees used the story to outline the “power of the passport,” referencing his American passport, and the fact that he “is treated with so much respect” now that he is a holder of a U.S. passport. “But the fact is,” Jerjees said, “blue, green, red, black, I’m still the same person. So, I ask you here today, what makes an American? Is it being born in this nationstate, is it having the ideals that if you work hard enough, you’ll achieve what you want, or is it having a white color skin?”
Relaying the riveting stories of his experiences holding one Iraqi and one American passport, Jerjees demonstrated not only his pride in the integral role that dual citizenship has had in shaping his worldview but also his resolve to openly embrace the plurality of his identity. “I’m not going to leave my culture just because I’m here [in the U.S.],” Jerjees explained, “nor am I going to denounce being an American because I’m from Iraq. I’m both. And I’ll stand here as both.”
Zaitoun also expressed similar disdain for President Trump’s abandonment of immigrant values on which the US was founded. “This man came,” Zaitoun explained, “and in less than ten days he ruined what the Americans have been building for the last 150 years.” Zaitoun continued, sparking laughter in the crowd when he commented on the ease with which one can use technology to learn about immigrant history in the U.S. “It is so sad,” he said, “that in 2017 such pervasive ignorance exists in a country where Googling anything is just so easy. It’s really easy! You can ask Siri even. Just ask her, and she’ll tell you a lot.”
Although Zaitoun successfully introduced some comic relief into his speech, his concern for the ban’s negative impact was evident in an interview he had with The Davidsonian the following day.
A Muslim-born Syrian, Zaitoun emigrated from Damascus in 2015 to Germany, where he attended Free University of Berlin. Education USA, a division of the U.S. Department of State, published an article about Davidson on its Facebook page, and after seeing the “really high quality of education” at Davidson and an opportunity to thrive in an American liberal arts college, Zaitoun immediately began preparing for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), training for International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and preparing his Common Application. After receiving permission to transfer credits from Berlin and gaining admission to Davidson as a secondsemester freshman, Zaitoun arrived in Charlotte just three weeks prior to one of the most widely publicized bans in American history.
Zaitoun remains grateful to have been afforded the opportunity before the ban, stating, “Because otherwise, it would have been a real problem. I withdrew my seat at the University. I left my job. I basically left everything. If I were to fly after a few weeks, I wouldn’t have been able to come.” Besides deeming the ban to be immoral, Zaitoun chided it for its lack of pragmatism. Zaitoun criticized that the order prevents over 500,000 individuals holding green cards and thousands of visa holders from entering the US.
Zaitoun is dumbfounded that the Trump Administration has exaggerated the likelihood of a terrorist entering the U.S. so greatly that it is misleading the public and has undermined the thoroughness and credibility of domestic vetting agencies. “It’s so sad because we’re not talking about a third-world country where the U.S. doesn’t have access to information of intelligence,” Zaitoun remarked. “The U.S. has the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA; everyone who applies for a visa actually gets vetted.” Additionally, Zaitoun is stunned by the fears that many Americans use to justify the ban, specifically when citing the possibility of a terrorist’s presence among refugees. He said, “[The] whole rhetoric of leaving thousands of people stranded just because one of them [might do] something bad is just not realistic.”
Although concerned about losing his German residency permit if he cannot visit Germany in the next six months, Zaitoun appreciates his new life at the College and in Davidson. He is overjoyed by have assimilated into the Davidson community within weeks and is eager to undertake a political science major and an economics minor while also learning French. Zaitoun stated, “People here are really active. People here really do care about others. And they do really believe that everyone has the right to get education and access to opportunities even if the American government does not believe in it.” Zaitoun will be featured in NPR’s Marketplace this week.
The campus-wide theme of continued activism in the Davidson community manifested itself throughout the MSA’s event. Zaitoun underscored the benefits of resistance to the ban through social media, as well as through the connections students make with Davidson Refugee Support and through Dr. Rebecca Joubin, who remains heavily involved with the Charlotte refugee community. Syed suggested supporting agencies such as ACLU whose more direct influence can prevent the immigration ban’s success. Fahim called for not only Muslim solidarity but also unity among all marginalized groups to support one another’s causes.
“Never hold a poster if you do not know what it says,” Tunisian student Mariem Bchir ‘20 explained as she shared verse 13 of Surah 49 of the Qur’an to the crowd. In prominent black and white letters, her poster read: “And we have made you into Nations and Tribes that you may recognize one another.” Pointing toward Mecca, the green English banner is hung across from its Arabic counterpart, which faces the West, on the balcony of the third floor in the Alvarez College Union. Strategically placed to illustrate the inexorable link existing among all people regardless of their background, the posters suggest that no rhetoric, legislation, or action from current politicians can tarnish the interdependence and common humanity of the international community.