Muslims praying at the No Muslim Ban rally and vigil in Foley Square, New York today. Photo by Stella Levantesi
In New York’s Foley Square, Muslims, Jews, Christians and people not affiliated with any religion, came together tonight to rally for “No Muslim Ban Ever.” But behind their prayers and lamp-lit banners was so much more than just a policy protest.
“There’s that sickness of bigotry of thinking that you can keep somebody out,” said Rabbi Marisa Elena James at the Lower Manhattan protest. “Nobody is immune to being drawn into a hateful ideology.”
It’s three days before the latest Muslim Ban is expected to take effect. The executive order prohibits travel to the US from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela were added to the list, while Sudan was removed.
Muslims living in the US are fighting a double battle, nationally, to secure their life and protect it from islamophobia, and internationally, in their country of origin, which is, in many cases, shaken by violence, conflict and terrorism by extremists of their very own religion.
The pattern the protestors see of prejudice towards Muslims is destruction on many levels.
“It’s counterproductive, because it alienates the only people who, if one really wanted to fight terrorism, you could turn to,” said Priscilla Read of the Westchester Coalition Against Islamophobia.
Today, Somalia was hit by one of the most lethal terrorist attacks of its history when a truck bomb in the country’s capital, Mogadisciu, caused more than 500 casualties.
Fadumo Osman, 21, the President of the College Democrats at NYU, is the daughter of Somali refugees who came to the US with nothing.
“I grew up in a post 9/11 world where I was viewed differently just because I wore a hijab in high school,” said Osman. “Now, my people are getting killed on their own land by those terrorists that a lot of people in this country are accusing them to be.”
For some, the ban is a reflection of the tendency to attach Muslims to the stigma of terrorism.
For others, national security prevails over human rights.
“This isn’t even a ban, it’s so people can be vetted properly, it’s not targeting Muslims,” said Karen Braun, a Trump supporter from New York. “There are two non-Muslim countries involved. This is the objective, to stop terrorists from coming in.”
For the activists of the mobilization however, the presence of two non-Muslim countries in the ban doesn’t invalidate its intrinsic anti-Muslim motive.
“This is a Muslim ban, regardless of other non-Muslim countries involved,” said Osman. “Beyond that, there’s a very deep, rooted issue when it comes to white supremacy, when it comes to what it means to make America great again.”
But today’s mobilization wasn’t only about a national conversation.
In Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims are being inhumanely tortured by the country’s military; villages are ravaged and burnt, children are set on fire, women are raped, gang-raped. The mass persecution has forced an exodus from their homeland to Bangladesh, a predominantly Islamic country.
“It’s ethnic cleansing,” said Begum Hosheara, a Bangladeshi woman who moved to the US 21 years ago. “They’re killing people, piling them up in open pits, covering them with petrol and burning them. They’re cutting people’s limbs, women’s breasts and letting them die.”
Amnesty International has accused Myanmar of crimes against humanity, but critics wonder if international law terminology makes a difference.
“I can’t sleep at night,” Hosheara said. “My nephew is in Bangladesh and sent me a video of a desperate man shouting ‘If they want to kill us, just send us a bomb and kill us all together’.”
Since August 25th, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar and are now refugees living in barbaric conditions with nothing, often gravely injured and mourning the atrocious deaths in their families.
“These people are powerless, they have no voice, they are getting killed only because of their ethnicity, only because they’re Muslim,” said Begum. “We need to forget about religion, we need to be human again.”
Protestors said in the US, Trump’s policies have created a vicious cycle.
“The terroristic acts that are committed by Islamic extremists are being instrumentalized,” said Read. “For example, 9/11 fit perfectly into a neo-conservative framework and now we’ve got people absolutely terrified all the time.”
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of respondents said, Muslims face a lot of discrimination in the US. Only 3 percent said it is easier.
The fear of being vulnerable to verbal or physical assaults is so high, some Muslims said they avoid reporting acts of hate towards them.
“One day I saw two girls push an old Muslim lady into the street, she risked being run over by a car,” said Begum. “‘She can’t wear this dress [the hijab] here’, the girls said. “Before, when anything happened we could call the police and report, but now we’re scared of being found and attacked again.”
But Osman said the twilight-lit crowd reminded people of hope.
“The thing that has kept me going is solidarity, in the form of showing up physically,” she said. “Just seeing you guys out here, reminds me that I shouldn’t give up.”
Bahaa Ellaithy (Left) and his friend Ashraf Gad after their prayers in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Photo by ANG LI.
In the southwest corner of Brooklyn lies one of the most diverse city neighborhoods, Bay Ridge. A traditionally Irish and Italian neighborhood, it has witnessed an inflow of large numbers of new residents from Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. Yesterday neighbors were outraged over Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven mostly Muslims countries and permanently barring refugees from Syria.
Muslims from Bay Ridge participated in recent protests against the ban and are still in shock that Donald Trump was elected president.
“This guy…I don’t know how he won,” said Bahaa Ellaithy, 46, an Egyptian Muslim who teaches math in an Islam private high school. “Until this moment, I couldn’t believe that he became the president of a country like America.”
He strongly objected to the ban saying that it’s unconstitutional and against the values that the country was based on. Ellaithy joined the protest at Battery Park Sunday and had protested in front of Trump Tower ten times.
The nationwide protests give Ellaithy comfort and hope.
“I met a lot of wonderful people in the protests who really believe in freedom, believe in dignity, and believe in that people could live together from all races, religions and ethnicities,” Ellaithy said. “It makes me feel that I’m welcomed and accepted in this country.”
Ashraf Gad, 45, also an Egyptian Muslim, thought that the unprecedented ban was dangerous for all Muslims. He did not understand why those seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen) were targeted. He assumed that the selection was due to Trump’s personal views or business interest.
Gad, a pediatrician, wasn’t able to join the rallies because of his busy schedule at the hospital. But he would make some time for upcoming protests regarding this issue.
Paul Khoury, 62, a Lebanese salesman, came to the US at the age of 17 and has been living in the neighborhood for about 30 years. Back from a 10-day vacation in Spain last night, he was surprised to see the large number of people protesting at the airport. Khoury was worried about the direction where the nation was going and his children’s opportunities as policies became less friendly towards immigrants.
“My life is almost at the edge of it,” Khoury said. “I fear for my kids, not for me. They need a peaceful world than this world to live in.”
Bay Ridge residents from other ethnicities also expressed their anger towards the “Muslim Ban.”
Sally McMahon, 63, an Irish American, said for a country of immigrants looking for a better life, she found the whole ban ridiculous. She felt proud to be active in the protests including the Women’s March on NYC.
“I think that the nation is going a terrible way,” McMahon said. “I think the nation will go in a way of fascism and authoritarianism. And I’m very afraid for myself, for the people, for the country and for the world.”
Diana Balcazar, a 43-year-old Mexican mother of three children is concerned about Trump’s next move. She was afraid that she might be forced to go back to Mexico.
“Honestly, this is my country,” Balcazar said. “I’ve almost been here for 30 years. My whole life is here now.”
New York City’s yellow cabs are a classic signature of this city, weaved seamlessly into our image of it. Much of their workforce, born throughout the world, transport New Yorkers all sorts of places in exchange for a shot at the American dream they immigrated here for. They, along with the rest of NYC’s trades workers, are the unsung backbone of the five boroughs – a fact that is quintessentially American.
But today, NYC’s yellow cabs symbolize a contradiction. As a group that now consists predominantly of Muslim immigrants, many have received Donald Trump’s seven majority-Muslim nation immigration ban – issued Friday – as a message they do not belong, are a threat, and that life as they know it here will get worse. In defiance of this message, many cab drivers showed solidarity to those detained at airports and the protestors of this detainment by striking for an hour at John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC on Saturday.
Listen to an an NYC yellow cab driver who is a Muslim immigrant grapple with his developing view of what life in America is becoming for him and his family.