Recently, my wife and I attended a protest to express our opposition to President Trump’s executive order to ban refugees from the seven Muslim-majority countries on the list it contained. The protest was organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, along with many other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations co-sponsoring the event, which took place in view of the Statue of Liberty. All of the speakers, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of Congress, many rabbis and a imam, as well as a Syrian refugee who had been resettled in the Unites States, spoke of the tremendous harm the order had done as soon as it was signed, and of the harm it will continue to do if people do not voice their opposition. The idea that the United States, let alone its government, learned nothing from what happened during the Holocaust when Jews and others were trying to flee the destruction and persecution in Europe, was and is incredibly disheartening to me and to all the others present at the protest and sister protests at the same time in other places around the country.
This is especially true for those of us who have relatives who escaped Europe through the efforts of the organizers of the Kindertransport, which evacuated Jewish children to England via Belgium and the Netherlands, to allow them to escape the Nazis. In our case, it was my mother-in-law’s parents, her mother who was from Berlin and her father who was from Vienna (her father was on one of the first trains and her mother was on the next-to-last train out), who had been evacuated to England and were housed by people there, until they were able to come to the United States. The Kindertransport Association was there at the protest, to lend the weight of the history of its members to the voices speaking out in protest against the idea that refugees are not welcome any longer in the United States. The speakers, as well as all the signs carried by members of the crowd made the point that being a refuge for those being persecuted around the world, is what historically has given the United States its character. The anti-refugee and anti-migrant rhetoric espoused during the campaign, as well as the many acts of vandalism both during and after the election, show that there are many in the country who agree with the idea of closed borders and isolationism, Islamophobia and discrimination.
The idea that those who are different from oneself are a potential threat and therefore must be protected against to ensure the safety of one’s own group (however that is defined), is a part of human nature. This is why all of the religious texts, especially of Judaism, Christianity and Islam say that it is a religious duty to help and support the refugee and others in need of assistance, so that this aspect of human nature can be overcome. Not only has the executive order, which has been stopped temporarily at least, done damage to those who are legally allowed to be in the United States as they have valid visas, it has damaged the reputation of the United States as a welcoming refuge for those who are fleeing their places of origin for whatever reason.
The United States is contributing to the devastation of the civil war in Syria, even though it is doing good by supporting the rebels against Assad and the fight against ISIS as well, but is not willing to allow those fleeing as a result to enter the US is unconscionable to me. The claim that the United States does not have a stringent enough vetting process, was a major point of the President’s campaign and his rationale for the travel ban. The process that all potential immigrants must undergo can take years to be completed, which belies this claim that it is not stringent enough. The idea that the President and his policies are not be questioned under any circumstances is terrifying to me and all the other attendees at that protest, as well all the other protests. This country thrives on the idea that all opinions have the right to be voiced. The idea that the media, whose job it is to report on events truthfully and speak truth to power, are either to go along with what the President and his administration do, or shut up and go away undermines the First Amendment.
Protesting and speaking out against injustices and supporting those in need are religious duties, and this is where one of the strengths of interfaith coalitions lies. I look forward to participating in further protests and actions to show the strength of the dissenting parties in this country against the policies of the current administration. To paraphrase the closing speaker at the protest, may all those that attended that protest and at other protests go from strength to strength in our fight against discrimination and prejudice which impacts us all.
Photo Credit: Here via Wikimedia Commons