I’m not sure if my Middle-Eastern father voted for Donald Trump. Politics is a topic I learned to avoid in my house early on; I saw the way he argued with my cousin over the state of Egypt during the Arab Spring, and their heated Arabic soon shifted tones so that my father almost always dominated the conversation.
I’m not sure if my Middle-Eastern father voted for Donald Trump, but I remember conversations about Islam designed to strike the same fear into my heart that Trump lodged into our country during his divisive campaign. I remember stories of his childhood as a Coptic Orthodox Christian, stories of vandalism, beatings and harassment at the hands of overzealous members of the Muslim majority. Reality is subjective, and he spoke of these things with a burning conviction.
But I see similarities between the stories he told me about a young child growing up terrified of the world around him, and the stories I hear today of young children surrounded by rubble in Aleppo frantically screaming for parents who would never hear them. There are similarities between his eventual journey to the United States and the journey of countless refugees seeking some sort of stability in a strange new world. There are similarities between the fire-laden stories of his religious persecution and the stories I’ve heard from my own Muslim friends and the (very real) news.
I wonder if my father recognizes this. I wonder if, as he hears the news that refugees will be denied entry based on their religion, he will celebrate because of the Muslims that made him a vengeful and terrified man—or if he’ll realize that, of all people, he should know what persecution looks like.
I wonder if the people in this country who voted Trump into the Presidential office will celebrate at the building of a wall they’ll most likely pay for.
We are headed into an era of overt suppression, where government agencies are banned from speaking out and—because reality is subjective—‘alternative facts’ are the new truth. I am afraid as an aspiring journalist, as a man of Middle-Eastern descent, as someone desperately searching for some good left in this country. The persecution of a religious group put us in World War II, and the persecution and isolation of racial groups are supposed to be our country's greatest shame. While we are a nation of immigrants, our story is fractured. The people fleeing persecution have become the persecutors; people have forgotten what it's like to be denied a better life based on their identity, and in their shallow protection of an America that passed them by they are in the process of repeating the mistakes of the worst parts of history.
Donald Trump’s election is the latest in a series of disturbing global trends toward isolationist populism, from the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to the rise of the far-right in France after the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan in 2015. The introduction of a bill to remove us from the United Nations deals a blow to the history books, in which we learned that a world divided is a world at war; the denial of entry for immigrants of Muslim descent deals a blow to one of the core aspects of the American identity: a refuge for “your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as Emma Lazarus wrote in The New Colossus, now engraved on our Statue of Liberty.
I wish my father would remember his history, and as a nation, I wish we remembered ours. We need to analyze and understand the fears that brought us to the conclusions we’ve made about others, and we also need to re-trace our roots. We need to remember the two World Wars and the mistakes that reshaped our global story, and we need to remember that once, we were simply people seeking refuge, too.
We all need to remember where we came from. And maybe from there, we can stop forgetting that the refugees we are denying entry want what we once sought, and now take for granted: a place to call home.