Enough. I am deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded in the past 24 hours in the US. I normally don’t tweet or post things on the Internet, but I feel it is time to speak out. The very idea of America is under attack with the Muslim ban executive order issued by our President. Yes, defenders will say it only applies to certain countries but let’s be honest with ourselves about what this is. In addition, many other people will be caught up in this ill-conceived executive order including those who hold dual nationality from one of the banned countries. We also don’t know where this stops but we need to resist and make sure it ends here.
America is a great country and has provided opportunities to millions who otherwise would be oppressed or languish in poverty in the country of their birth. America stands for openness and inclusiveness and for the idea that anyone has the opportunity to succeed based on their own hard work and ability. America is usually a leader in protecting human rights and accepting refugees. I would not be an American without the openness and generosity from a country that accepted my grandparents, father and uncle as refugees.
My American story. Like many Americans part of my family are recent arrivals to the US. My father came to the US as a small boy from Greece. He was a refugee from the small Greek island of Kefalonia. A Christian group helped my family come to the US in the mid 1950’s. In August of 1953 a strong earthquake devastated the island of Kefalonia. Nearly every building on the island was destroyed and many were killed including my great grandfather and other close relatives. My Yiayia (grandmother in Greek) and Papou (grandfather) were nearly killed as their house fell down around them. Only an old style four-post bed saved them from near death. My Yiayia gave birth to my father in a Red Cross tent later that month. About two years later my grandparents and their now two young sons were able to come to the US as refugees. I owe everything I have to the generosity of the US and to the Christian group that helped my family.
It pains me to think about what we are doing and how we will be judged by history. I find myself thinking. What if things had been different for my Yiayia and Papou? What if a similar ban on certain countries had existed when they were refugees in the 1950’s? Greece is a Christian and European country but in the 1950’s Greece was recovering from two devastating wars, WWII and the Greek Civil War, which followed immediately after. The civil war was fought between communists and capitalists/royalists and the wounds of this conflict still permeate Greek society today. The 1950’s were also the height of communist phobia in the US. This was the height of McCarthyism and a scared US population could have banned refugees from countries with substantial communist populations or sympathizers. Perhaps that would have included Greece, which had just fought a brutal civil war over communism. Today, the threat of communism seems far away but in the 1950’s it was probably a bigger fear than terrorism is today for Americans. I am fortunate that no ban came down against Greek refugees. American society has also been enriched by the Greek-Americans who arrived in large numbers from the 50’s through the 70’s and by many other immigrant groups that have added to our melting pot since our nation was founded. The great American experiment has worked. It is under threat but it can be turned around.
I worry that we are making a big mistake with the President’s Muslim ban and do not believe this executive order will make us safer. Will we keep out the next Steve Jobs whose father was a Syrian student? Maybe this banned entrepreneur guy/girl will end up in Europe or Asia and create the next great company there instead of in the US. Will we keep out people who have helped the US in our fight against terrorism and are now vulnerable in their home country due to the assistance they provided us? Will our policies create more resentment against America while achieving little incremental safety for our citizens? We must resist this ban and any other attacks on the American way and humanity.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”