America Polarized in Turmoil
by David Rahni
Fri 3rd Feb 2017
Among the executive orders signed by President Donald J Trump this past Friday, there is the enhancing “national security and border control,” that has led to massive demonstrations and much controversy. No patriotic American, native or naturalised, could argue against the meritorious notion of enhancing our national security, immigration and border control. However, while most Americans are committed to inclusivity and blind justice, Trump and his dwindling number of supporters want to block Muslims by using a religious litmus test for entry and immigration to the US. Trump has in essence trumpeted a message in opposition to our nation’s ideals, while trampling over the trampoline of the US Constitution.
Such a hastily but deliberately ideological executive order, which was a pledge made during his campaign, has thus far halted from seven countries the arrival of [Muslim] refugees vetted for up to three years overseas, permanent residents and those family members qualified for repatriations who have waited anxiously for over 20 years, international students, researchers, artists and especially graduate and post-doctoral fellows, and immigrants of exceptional capabilities to whom our R&D, technology transfer and business competitiveness so crucially depend on, as well as business and tourist travellers already vetted for months and with valid visas who are also caught in limbo. There are reports of hundreds of such preauthorised passengers, including many Iranians, held incommunicado and in substandard and isolated small jail cells for days if not soon to be weeks at the airports, until arrangements are made for their home return at their own cost. The world is witnessing conscientious ordinary Americans and politicians such as Senator Schumer, and the Statue of Liberty in tears, and whilst the latter still struggles to symbolise the very essence of welcoming immigrants and puritans, irrespective of their national origin, creed, religion, race or ethnicity, all that is now in egregious jeopardy. Equally excruciating is that Trump’s seemingly self-serving motives to boost his financial global conglomerates through such actions has and continues to make the nation unsafe; it is also eroding the safety, security, employability, advancement, social and professional mobility, and equal opportunity of the nearly 50 million multi-generational naturalised Americans; this includes some perceived as Muslims with exotic names and accents, including their US born children. Talking somberly around their dinner tables, many are seriously contemplating uprooting again to emigrate to a third country. Déjà vu all over again, let us remember the happiest man on earth after the chaotic collapse of the financial sector in 2008 was Trump who scooped up an immense amount of junk bonds and foreclosed real estate worldwide.
As millions of American citizens are showing sympathy through massive demonstrations, civil disobedience and political actions, petition drives and contacting their members of Congress, many consider Trump’s action on the immigration ban to be unconstitutional, illegal, immoral, unethical, unjust, and un-American. Trump’s directive is tantamount to shaking the very foundation of this otherwise still great nation of immigrants. Hence, those opposed to Trump demand a complete reversal of this order and a formal apology to the nation and the world if not by Trump himself, then through concerted resolution by the judicial and legislatives branches of the government.
The opportunist media apprentice tycoon-turned-politician Donald Trump, after having captured worldwide attention through his bellicose and theatrical rhetoric for nearly two years, forced himself into power by perpetuating a tumultuously polarising divide. To achieve his ulterior motives, he provoked mostly white Americans in the rural heartland to cast their votes for him at an unprecedented rate, since they had, by and large, related to his ultra-nationalist slogans and felt dismissed to the sidelines since the civil and EE/EO rights and acts had afforded minorities much progress for the past five decades. Many of these Americans, presumably from among the most evangelical Christian fundamentalists, also felt their rights, socio-economic and entitlement privileges, and their job prospects were eliminated, outsourced or moved elsewhere. They blamed their miseries on the Democratic Party and the former Obama administration, claiming that the previous administrations shifted away resources to urban metropolises and minorities, 50 million naturalised Americans and their US born children, and to 11 million illegal immigrants. Hence, despite having been married twice to Eastern European foreign nationals and as a second generation American, Trump triumphed to the top. Trump has mysteriously had no thorough scrutiny by the mesmerised media only interested in increasing their popularity ratings. In the meantime, the Democratic Party leadership that had over time become self-absorbed, shifting to the right of the political spectrum as they became more elitist, took their increasingly disillusioned constituency base for granted. All in all, one does not have to be a neuro-psycho-pharmacologist or a trained psychiatrist to recognise Trump’s xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, self-righteous and megalomaniac bigotry, that is evident to most people not only in the US but also globally.
Out of 325 million Americans, 200 million were eligible to vote; however, only 129 million actually voted, 63 million for Trump, and 66 million for Clinton. So, Trump has only secured the confidence of 20% (1/5th) of the U.S. population. Riding on a naïve populist wave, Trump further exploited the otherwise legitimate concern of safeguarding the homeland from terrorism by singling out the 1.6 billion world citizens labeled as Muslims, especially those from the seven countries just declared banned from entering the US. Some believe the main reason he only chose these seven countries is because he, or his super rich lackeys, have no major business base in any of the seven countries, but would very much like to acquire it when such nations or their governments are weakened or overthrown. Paradoxically, according to numerous independent reports and American government analyses, and as typified by Cato Institute, one of the most conservative think tanks in the nation, the number of Americans killed by any terrorist from one of these seven banned countries since 1975 is ZERO. The number of Americans killed by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt alone amounts to nearly 5,000; however, Trump will not undermine these theocratic and undemocratic governments because he and his royal exclusive club members are the primary stakeholders of wealth and power in these countries. It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out why Trump, despite his pompous rhetoric to “Make America Great Again,” does not go after Saudi Arabia or its satellite cronies in the region, as he must protect the easy flow of cheap oil, and banking and military manufacturing enterprise sales for his club members. The perplexing fact that most September 11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian nationals remains immaterial to Trump’s alternative facts and his like minded supremacist supporters. Who could with a reasonable state of mind devise a blanket policy to presume the entire population of a few countries, be it Saudi Arabia or one of the seven, as guilty and with no right to prove their innocence?!
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 makes it unconstitutional to question an immigrant’s religious beliefs. So, the executive order by Trump has been deemed unconstitutional, illegal, immoral, unethical, unjust and as a whole un-American. More concerning is when Trump instigates such a divide, the safety, security, sustenance, career opportunities and advancement of 50 million plus naturalised American citizens, permanent residents, and their US born children, are egregiously undermined. This particularly applies to those perceived as Muslim, which includes Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, originating from south and Southwest Asia or North Africa. The sheer fact that such highly vibrant, well-educated, legally observant and affluent immigrant communities contribute several trillion dollars annually toward the US economy is not even acknowledged. The sheer fact that immigrants especially from the so-called Muslim countries, by a disproportionately higher than national average, are playing pivotal roles in higher education, the arts and culture, business and R&D, remains under the radar. US competitiveness in science and technology, trade and education could be blithely undermined. The sheer fact that immigrants, especially those originating from the so-called Islamic countries, have the lowest crime rates in the US and western countries is dodged by Trump and the media. Trump’s tactic of fabricating alternative facts to create fear and division may give him a temporary advantage but it will not last. This nation, due to its checks and balances, does have a sound mechanism to serve justice. People have massively signed increasing numbers of petitions, reached out to their congress members and senators, written to government departments, submitted letters and op-eds to papers and media, and mass organised.
In retrospect, one must ask Trump and his crony associates whether or not there were any refugees from the Middle East before the American preemptive invasions and military occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and hegemonic meddling in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, and Pakistan. And what dividends for US citizenry, let alone for the natives in that region of the world, can we possibly present after we have thus far spent trillions of dollars in middle class tax payers’ money, lost many thousands of American soldiers, generated millions of veterans who returned home with chronic physical or mental ailments, and inflicted hundreds of thousands of deaths and displaced millions in the region?
Take, as an example, the one million Americans of Iranian heritage in the US, a highly diverse ethno-religious community comprised of secular and non-practicing Muslims as well as practicing Shiites, Sunnis, and Sufis, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Baha’i, Jewish and Zoroastrian faiths. Most left their native country in 1979, when the government changed, in the hopes of ensuring a far better and more certain future for their children. Their college education and household income is double the national average, their contributions toward national domestic product is quadruple the national average, but their crime rate is less than one-hundredth the national average. All in all, up to five million people of Iranian ancestry reside in diaspora. How many more times do they have to make another move to ensure the country they adopt is indeed the ultimate Promised Land? Most if not all learn, however, that such an ill-conceived and frankly deliberate policy of antagonising, marginalising or alienating our naturalised citizens is short lived and will be ameliorated. Yes, indeed, let us continue upholding the promise of freedom, liberty, equality, and justice for our beloved country, the United States of America.
My wife and I arrived in the US in the late 1970s as graduate students. Finding ourselves among then 50,000 Iranian students in the US, we were immediately placed against the wall for mug shots and finger printing by immigration officers amidst the Hostage crisis. As a naturalised American, when it comes to employment we have been vetted repeatedly. We have remained model citizens with not even a misdemeanor, while we have proudly reciprocated to our adopted county through our multifaceted contributions in teaching, scholarship and the advancement of society, while raising three beautiful children each with their own advanced degrees. When we left Iran, my mother in her late 30s had not one single grey hair. When we returned home 20 years later, she had not a single brown hair left. My parents now in their 80s, despite trying many times to come to visit us for a short period to see their three US born grandchildren, were repeatedly denied entry visas. Did we not watch in despair the Iranian grandmother who was kept in jail like a criminal at LAX for up to 20 hours with no water, food or toilet access? Notwithstanding, still in broken English on CNN she stated, “I always LOVE the American people!”
Moving fast forward, we have personally felt numerous denials of equal opportunity despite our over-qualifications for employment or career advancement, especially in the Federal government, presumably due to our country of origin. In fact, on two specific occasions, when I was declared as the only finalist for key senior executive positions within the federal government, I was only offered a provisional clearance, as the OPM stated the likelihood of granting the highest permanent security clearance due to my country of birth was rather low. Adding insult to injury and in reciprocity, the government of Iran has now declared a ban on Americans, including the one million with ties to Iran, which has essentially caught families in limbo across the oceans. The internationally acclaimed producer Asghar Farhadi and the lead actor of the movie the Salesman, nominated for his second Oscar, have opted out of attending the Oscars night next month. Iranians worldwide are gravely concerned and disillusioned with US policy on this matter. Among dozens of top Iranian American CEOs, Dara Khosrowshahi has shared his personal ordeal when he arrived in the US as a refugee. Yes, Iranian-Americans have endured so much pain from both the US and Iranian governments, however, Trump’s administration has taken it to an all-time low.
The current Trump executive order has only further exacerbated the plight of millions of Americans like us. Personally, I have not practiced any religion and am more of an ecumenical, universal spiritual humanist; however, as Lady Secretary Madeline Albright so compassionately put it: “I declare to be a Muslim” if Trump’s belligerent interagency leads to witch hunting, profiling, Muslim registry and concentration camps like the Japanese in WWII, we also stand in solidarity and comradery with all ordinary Muslims worldwide. Yes indeed, we would have been proudly Jewish in Germany, Trump’s motherland, in WWII, as we have stood in solidarity throughout our lives with the Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Rwandans when they were persecuted, denied of their legitimate rights, or affected by genocide. And today we stand in solidarity with Muslims in the United States of America.
About the author
As a naturalised American for nearly four decades, born in Tehran, Rahni’s roots are in secular Islam with a distinct family lineage in Armenian Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian heritage. As a professor of analytical chemistry, he has researched and prolifically written on advances in clinical, environmental, forensic, nano-engineering, biosensors, neuro-psycho-pharmacology and biological psychiatry. He regularly gives invited lectures and presides over national symposia as typified by “the latest advances in Homeland Security, and on Forensic Analysis.” He maintains family and cultural ties with his country of birth, Iran, and endeavours to help bridge all peoples harmoniously through their common heritage and family aspirations, to enhance justice and peace. As a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, he has represented the US in Denmark, and his visiting professorships in Oxford, Rome and Florence have remained most fulfilling. There are five members in his immediate family, each with a doctorate as professors or healthcare professionals, including his three US born children.