Trump’s Muslim Ban: Memoir of an Iranian American
An Iranian immigrant’s reflections on President Trump’s muslim ban and war threats.
February 4, 2017
Much of my life story can be told through what the United States has until now offered its Muslim immigrants and refugees. I lived there without fear of persecution, and thrived as a member of a society that embraced me as equal. I became what I could not be in my place of birth.
That is about to change with President Trump’s Muslim ban, and checking the travelers’ social media accounts by border agents. The change can have irreversible consequences.
Years earlier, I left my country of birth Iran to pursue my studies in the United States. Soon after, street protests and clashes between the government and the citizens engulfed my country. A revolution ended the old regime and brought to power an Islamic government.
I was in the midst of my studies when the Islamic Republic of Iran replaced the monarchy in February 1979. Like tens of thousands of other Iranians, I joined a growing movement of young students against the Iranian theocracy.
I marched in front of the United Nations and the White House, and wrote about the government’s repression of human rights.
United States – a sanctuary?
I retuned to my studies and my home after every protest march. The young Iranians protesting the government inside Iran did not. They were captured and taken to jail, tortured, or murdered.
I enjoyed the right to protest the government without fear of consequences. My counterparts inside Iran grappled with dire consequences.
I finished my studies, became an American citizen, and began a career in teaching and writing. My years of opposition to the government of Iran finally forced me to self-exile in the United States.
I had arrived in the student as a student planning to return home after graduation. Years later, the United States became my new home, a sanctuary protecting me from the repressive government of Iran.
It was in the United States that I also became more critical of America’s many domestic policies, and its interventions in the Middle East, Latin America, and elsewhere in the world. I protested against what I found objectionable, and voiced my opinion through all peaceful means available to Americans and others.
Never feared the government
In the 1980s, I joined others protesting American involvement in Latin America. In 2003 and after, I protested the war in Iraq and the U.S. role in the Middle East. My actions and disagreements with state policy did not in any form affect my rights as a citizen.
I was born into a Muslim family in Iran, a country at odds with the United States. That played no role in how I was treated by the government, my employer, or others in the United States.
I was a free individual like any other. To be sure, there were occasional questioning and abuse by border agents when I entered the country from visits abroad.
But these were independent of my political and social views. Meanwhile, the government in my country of birth branded me and its other critics the enemy of the state.
The freedoms I enjoyed in the past benefitted me, and the country I had chosen as my new home. My neighbors and fellow citizens were safer not because I feared the government.
Liberty to express ideas
They were safer because I had no fear. I learned to cherish and respect peaceful expression of ideas, and contributed to building a more inclusive civic society.
My experience in the United States taught me the virtues of questioning, and protesting the government and its policies without fearing punishment. I brought these lessons to my students.
I taught thousands of young Americans about the merits of critical thinking, and challenging the authority. Meanwhile, my colleagues in Iran were punished, lost their employment, or were put behind bars for discussing a fraction of what I discussed with my students in the United States.
It was this liberty that kept me in the United States, and continued to attract a growing number of Muslims from Iran and other majority Muslim countries even after September 11, 2001.
Months after September 11th, 2001, I left the United States to chronicle the life stories of Muslims on their journey West.
Fighting all odds to reach the US
I followed men, women, and children risking their lives, and braving the rough seas in small dinghies, hoping for a new home that would give them the security and life opportunities I had enjoyed in the United States.
The September 11 attacks stigmatized Muslims and hardened the public opinion about Muslim migrants in refugees. Nevertheless, Muslims continued to risk their lives to reach the United States.
Distance from the United States and the high smuggling costs directed most migrants to Europe. But reaching the United States was everyone’s dream.
The legacy and the experience of the earlier generation of migrants kept the newcomers’ eyes on the United States. They wished to come to the United States to live the life I had lived.
Many failed in their endeavor. Some perished on their way. Others returned home, to the insecurity they had once escaped from. Others made it to Europe and began a new life, but continued dreaming of the United States. Unfortunately, that is changing fast with the policies of the new administration in the United States.
I am writing this note from afar. I am traveling in Europe to meet the Muslim refugees and migrants I encountered after September 11, 2001.
Fear and anger are fast replacing the earlier admiration and respect for the United States among many. Disbelief and disillusionment are widespread.
Fear has also returned to me for the first time since I immigrated to the United States. I fear a reckless attack by the government of my adopted home on my place of birth. That is a nightmare that has begun haunting me since the Trump White House put Iran on “official notice.”
The specter on an American attack on Iran has returned once again, and this time stronger than any another in the past. My opposition to the government of Iran would by no means imply an endorsement of war.
If a war indeed happens, I will be protesting with all my might, joining arms with others who put themselves on the line for peace.
But I wonder about my life in the United States if indeed there is an attack on Iran. What would I tell my toddler about how the government in her place of birth attacked mine? How would I tell her about the destruction of the place I hoped for her to visit one day?
I hope that day never comes.
I was born into a Muslim family in Iran. That played no role in how I was treated by the government and others in the US.
My experience in the US taught me the virtues of questioning, and protesting policies without fearing punishment.
Fear and anger are fast replacing the earlier admiration and respect for the United States among many.
Professor of Political Economy at Ramapo College Behzad Yaghmaian is an Iranian-born author living in the United States. He is a professor of political economy at Ramapo College in New Jersey. He has taught in the United States, Iran, and Turkey. In 2007, he traveled to China to live among the growing population of internal […]