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College and community challenge Trump ban: More than 500 back Muslim immigrants, refugees

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Posted on February 6, 2017 |
By Gaen Murphree



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A CROWD OF about 500 students, faculty, staff and community members assembled outside Middlebury College’s McCullough Student Center last Thursday afternoon for a rally supporting refugees and denouncing the recent travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Independent photos/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College sophomore Mehek Naqvi challenged the more than 500 people who rallied on campus Thursday afternoon to protest President Trump’s recent executive order banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees.

A psychology and religion major from New Jersey, Naqvi denounced the ban as “an abhorrent practice based on religion” and asked what would happen if the 90-day ban extends to 90 months or 90 years? What would happen if the ban against citizens from seven countries expands to 14 or 28?

“I fear that one day I may go to Pakistan to visit my grandmother and not be allowed back into the country I have known to call home my entire life,” she said.

Naqvi, a rally organizer and Muslim Student Association co-president, challenged her listeners to take a stance and to take action, concluding, “That is how we will make America great again.”

Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order suspended entry into the United States for 90 days for persons from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen; for 120 days for all refugees, regardless of nationality; and indefinitely for refugees from Syria.

The rally brought together Middlebury students, staff and faculty, as well as members of the larger Addison County community. Above the crowd waved protest signs declaring “Stop Deportations,” “No Ban, No Wall,” “My Muslim Family Pays More Taxes than Trump” and “America for All.” Perhaps the most poignant were those held up by two young daughters of a local family that highlighted their religious faith and their Muslim headscarves, called “hijab”; they said “Muslim Here: Don’t Ban Me!” and “Hijabi Here: Don’t Ban Me!”

College President Laurie Patton, a religion scholar, urged the crowd to “stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in resisting this state of affairs.”

She emphasized the importance of the open exchange of ideas and drew on ideals of justice from across religious traditions, the Quran included. Patton quoted American writer James Baldwin, who said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

Patton gave her own prescription for how to address the Muslim ban:

“Let us work for a more just world now. Do one thing every day to make our world more open and free.”

While Patton and Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life Mark Orten bookended the rally, most speakers were students. Among those who spoke were Hasher Nisar, a political science and religion major recently awarded a Marshall Scholarship for graduate study at Oxford University, and sophomores Travis Sanderson, Hannah Krutiansky and Garda Rhamadito. Rhamadito, an international and global studies student from Indonesia, is co-president of the MSA.

Each student brought a different perspective.

Sanderson quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “Letter from Birmingham Jail” about the danger of the “white moderate.” From his jail cell, King pondered whether the white moderate “who is more devoted to order than to justice” was not finally a greater stumbling block to the Civil Rights Movement than the “Ku Klux Klanner.” In conclusion Sanderson also read from British-Somali poet Warsan Shire’s poem “Home,” which begins: “no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark.”

Krutiansky described what immigration meant to her grandparents, who fled Europe under the Nazis and escaped the Holocaust.

Rhamadito read a letter from 18-year-old Syrian refugee Abdulazez Dukhan to Trump: “The hardest thing about living in a refugee camp is the isolation. People build walls around us and countries build walls around those walls.”

Nisar spoke about growing up in both the United States and Pakistan and wondering if America “was a place where I belonged.” Nisar said a turning point came for him the night of Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory, with the message: “If there is anyone there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

President Obama’s example, said Nisar, helped him to believe that he could fully participate in American society without his faith or ethnicity being used to shut him out.

“Eight years later,” said Nisar, “we have a president who is making me doubt if America is a place where all things are possible and who is making me wonder if the dream of our founders is still alive in our times.

“But one thing he does not make me question is the power of our democracy.”

The crowd listened attentively, shouted, shook signs and stamped cold feet on the sparse snow.

The rally concluded with words from Orten, who drew his message from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim teachings about justice and inclusion.

“I was a stranger and you took me in,” was among the many passages from scripture Orten quoted.

He described President Trump’s strategy as rooted in ignorance and less likely to make America safer:

“The truth is that this ban does not make us safer. The truth is that Islam is not an inherently violent religion and therefore subject to suspicion as many people publicly declare.

“The truth is that when a government official says that we must put a ban on Muslims until we find out what the hell is going on here, this strategy is born of ignorance and no real desire to know what is really going on.”

Such “dogged ideologies,” said Orten, “only make the world more dangerous.”

Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]

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