Ali Kadivar studies protest and democracy movements in the Middle East. This protest took place in Iran. By Milad Avazbeigi, wiki commons

Working for democracy, trapped in the U.S.

By Ali Kadivar

The cruel executive order banning refugees and immigrants from some Muslim majority countries (#Muslimban) is still in place. Despite the new version issued by President Trump on March 6, little has changed — Iraq has been dropped from the list of seven countries affected, so there are now six; green card holders are purportedly unaffected; the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees has been lifted; and priority for religious minorities has been dropped. But the ban still affects me, my family and many of my friends and acquaintances directly.

As an Iranian academic living in the United States — with a legal visa — I can no longer travel abroad without the threat of being banned at the gate when I return. That means no travel to the field of my study and research — pro-democracy movements in Iran and the Middle East. No attending academic conferences and workshops outside the United States. Beyond those practical considerations, the feeling that I am being restricted in my movements, as if I am some evil entity that must be controlled, is degrading and demoralizing. And although the ban is for 90 days, the conditions specified for extension make it very likely that it will become permanent.

Of course the situation is far worse for refugees who are trying to escape war. They are coming from very painful, extreme circumstances, waiting for months as they are vetted for travel to the United States. And now their hopes have been dashed.

In a way, I am lucky. I came to the United States in December 2007 to study for my PhD. While in the U.S., I have acquired my PhD in one of the best sociology departments in the nation; I have published academic articles in the most prestigious sociology journals in the U.S.; and I have taught more than 200 undergraduate students in my classes.

My writings — about the power of protest as a method of democratization— have been perceived as a threat by the Iranian regime…How ironic that I am now deemed a threat in the United States as well.

Because my writings in Persian — aboutthe power of protest as a method of democratization — have been perceived as a threat by the Iranian regime, I have not been able to go back to Iran since 2009. How ironic that I am now deemed a threat in the United States as well — a place that is supposedly a bastion of democracy.

I have two brothers still at home, I have aunts and uncles and cousins there. And my grandparents. My grandmother will be turning 92 years old soon. I haven’t seen her or my brothers for nine years.

This ban means that I won’t be able to see them for an indefinite period of time.

The ban is also affecting my parents. My father, a professor at Duke University, recently traveled to Germany for a research fellowship and had to abandon the fellowship, fearful that he would be unable to return to his family in United States. My mother had planned to join him, but was advised to stay in the U.S.

My father is a public dissident and intellectual who spent eighteen months in an Iranian jail for “disseminating lies and disturbing public opinion.” He has been living in the United States in exile for nearly a decade, because of his activism and criticisms of the repressive ideology and policies of the Iranian government. Before he returned safely to his home in North Carolina, the travel ban forced him to live in limbo — between Iran, where it would dangerous for him to live, and the U.S., where some see him as a threat.

My father and I have dedicated our academic lives to democracy, despite repression and even danger. We never thought we’d have to fight for democracy in the U.S.

Ali Kadivar is a post-doctoral fellow in international and public affairs at Brown University. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an MA and BA in political science from the University of Tehran in Iran. His focus is the interaction between protest movements and democratization on a global scale. This video features Kadivar describing his experience with the border ban. This podcast further describes his journey. Read more on the Muslim ban’s affect on academics in Voices on Campus.