I went to the travel ban vigil in Chattanooga and here are my thoughts
To read about the event which this opinion piece is written about, chick here: http://ow.ly/7sLA30g6DJO
As candles were passed around and banners of “Love the Refugee” and “Ban the Ban” were lifted, I could not help but feel some contradiction between the movement’s rhetorical words and showcased actions.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Bridge Refugee Services, an organization with the mission to aid and represent refugees within the Chattanooga area, hosted their second “We All Belong” vigil. These vigils are a response to the Trump administration’s executive orders to create a travel ban—or as referred to at these vigils, a “Muslim Ban”—that would limit both refugees and tourists alike from entering our country.
Over the past year, Trump has initiated three specific executive orders that would limit or even cease immigration from numerous countries.
Trump’s first ban, Executive Order 13769, in effect from Jan. 27 to March 16, reads, “It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.”
The order includes both a general reduction to the refugee income cap as well as a specific ban to immigrants from the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The second ban, Executive Order 13780, commenced on March 16 directly following the first ban. According to President Trump, the second ban is the “watered down, politically correct version” of the first ban—changes included taking Iraq off of suspension.
Within weeks, sets of lawsuits and appeals froze this second travel ban despite efforts for the second ban to remove some of the politicization of the first ban.
As the freeze on the ban is set to expire in October, the Trump administration enacted Proclamation 9645, which resumes elements of the previous ban but adds countries like Chad, North Korea and certain publics from Venezuela to the list of countries with suspended immigration. While some congressmen have contested this “Travel Ban 3.0,” further political and legal action is yet to be seen.
What was particularly significant about the Bridge vigil is the date, Oct. 18. Wednesday marked the date, set by the Supreme Court, for cancellations of injunctions upon the second ban; the freeze has been lifted. As an effect of this lifting, the “Travel Ban 3.0” launched Wednesday. Marina Peshterianu, Associate Director of Bridge Refugee Services, opened with remarks to this launch: “We are here on the day the Muslim Ban would go into effect. While previous efforts have been temporarily blocked, we must fight forward.” The event lasted only an hour with over one hundred people attending and six speakers briefly sharing their thoughts.
After the service concluded, I found three distinct things worth pondering—or even challenging—about the vigil: the presentation, the representation and the misrepresentation.
That being said, I recognize the context of the evening: the vigil was not intended or moderated like a discussion or debate. Rather, the event was held for like-minded people as a peaceful protest. Emotionally-strung rhetoric was appropriate here where it might otherwise have been unacceptable due to the audience. Thus, while I still have a couple issues with how topics were handled, I do recognize the format of the event.
With any event like this, the prominent themes are love and reconciliation. Gabriel Profeta, director of Adventist Muslim, opened her speech with this emphasis: “Here we stand on a city undivided seeking liberty for all.” With everyone in the audience holding candles, and all attendees huddled together, the atmosphere of reconciliation was palpable.
However, I took issue with their words, their presentation for two reasons. First, despite conducting a vigil of harmony, their words were very polarizing. Mansour Ansari, a representative of the Islamic Community, continually referenced President Trump as “Agent Orange in the White House.” While frustration over the travel ban is reasonable, the credibility of the whole event becomes jeopardized when such ad hominem attacks are made against the opponent, in this case President Trump. They spoke of reconciliation while simultaneously debasing the opposition.
Second, while Caucasian adults were present, the clear majority of the audience was comprised of self-professed Muslims, refugees, and African-Americans. While I am not going to stereotype and suppose that all of them because of their ethnicity oppose the travel bans, this crowd does not need the message of “reconciliation”—those present already believe it. Refugees, as a generalization, tend to already have a value for coexistence and reconciliation because of their post-crisis state. It is, rather, the officials within the governments of nations that need to hear this message. In short, this vigil presented to the wrong audience; they were “preaching to the choir.”
For any vigil, protest or event that has spokespersons, it is reasonable to put your best speakers forward. However, the representation offered at the vigil lacked any alternative angle on two levels. First, the roster of speakers, while varied, all came from a liberal philosophy and background. Amber Seay is an immigration lawyer; Mujahed Al Bobsairy is a refugee from Iraq; and Rev. Zack Nyein is an Episcopal minister affirming of the LGBTQ community. While there is nothing inherently lacking in any of these individuals, the event lacked by representing only the minorities—there were no people of the majority, such as white Evangelicals. Obviously, no rally would have someone of the opposition speak at the event, but as a white male, there was no speaker I could connect with. Not only did the event “preach to the choir,” the preachers were made up of the choir. Second, the major argument for national security propagated by those that institute the travel bans was not represented. Speaker after speaker emphasized the harms of these bans without giving any weight to the reasoning of them. Gabriel Profeta noted, “We need to choose between compassion and security.” I believe this is a false dichotomy. America can remain a very compassionate nation while still maintaining its security—whether in the form of travel bans or not, I do not know. While multiple comments addressed the security of America, no speaker represented it.
Not only was the presentation narrow, and not only was the representation lacking, but also some basic assertions misrepresented the truth. The speakers present were generalizing the Trump administration’s “Muslim Ban” to all Muslim countries. For example, Mansour Ansari referenced his process of getting into America from Lebanon. He then proceeded to discuss the difficulties the ban would create for people like him. However, while the ban does limit refugees broadly, Lebanon—although a largely Muslim nation—is not on the list of suspended countries. Thus, his family could have entered the United States both before and after the travel ban. Similarly, Mujahed Al Bobsairy shared his testimony of being resettled into Chattanooga after fleeing from Iraq. While the first travel ban did include Iraq on suspension, the second and third versions do not. Therefore, when they make claims that “they would not be here if the Muslim Ban had been in place,” this is not certain. While this fact-checking may seem harsh, I in no ways am diminishing the severity of their immigration; I am merely suggesting that these testimonies as evidence “against the Muslim Ban” are moot.
I believe vigils like these are very important. Done in a civil and proper condition, these vigils can not only spread the word, but also change minds. However, whether one is a speaker for such an event or a moderator planning the agenda, careful detail should be given that the presentation does not run contrary to the message, and that in addressing controversial issues one recognizes the opposing side. We ought to speak honest and wholesome truths, so as to not misrepresent.