My parents immigrated from Iraq to Canada as skilled workers in 1996, during the reign of Saddam Hussein and before the US invasion. Even under the rule of a dictator, Iraqi citizens enjoyed benefits such as free education. My mother and father were both educated as engineers, civil and mechanical respectively. My father worked odd jobs until he got a six week engineering placement in 1997, and was offered a job one month in before even getting his Engineering certification equivalent at the University of Toronto in 1999. My mother worked as a civil engineer for about a year in 1997, but as a child I was too much of a pain in the ass to be left in daycare so she eventually quit for my sake. In 2004, my parents became homeowners after apartment-hopping for years in London, Ontario since Toronto rent costs were too high. My father also took up building homes; talk about immigrants literally building up this country. 15 years later, they've done well enough for me to be sporting a designer sweater while typing angry tweets about America from my Macbook.
Not every immigrant family is as lucky. On January 27, President Donald Trump approved an executive order that "suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen." If my parents had been held up at the airport in handcuffs 21 years ago, I wouldn't be here today. If my father had been barred from his regular business trips to the USA because of his dual citizenship, he wouldn't be able to maintain his position with his company. My family's story is nothing special; North America was built by immigrants who are exploited for their labour while simultaneously being shunned by the hegemony.
Iraq was destroyed by American imperialist endeavors, and its citizens were left dependent on Western powers for help, only to be shunned when seeking refuge. Immigrant labour is exploited by a capitalist economy that undermines their existence while destroying their home countries. Before Trump, American propaganda advocated for diversity and acceptance of immigrants. Now, even this curtain has been lifted and full-fledged discrimination is in practice. In Canada, at the very least our government is not overtly promoting an anti-immigrant atmosphere but tensions are high in respect to the situation south of our border.
Ideology is the foundation of every violent state apparatus. The American "War on Terror" campaign has evolved into a "War on Islam" and, in turn, a war on any individual whose heritage or citizenship is from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region regardless of their religious affiliations. Being apolitical is simply not an option for survival, even for refugees who see North American democracy as a haven away from the nightmares of their war-torn homes. Many arrive here with a blind optimism, and are quickly disillusioned as they experience discrimination they never expected to find in lands of freedom. Queer Middle Eastern people might look forward to exploring their sexuality in North America, but find themselves branded as "Arabs" before all else in a post-9/11 world and are forced to navigate this complication of their identity. Whereas back home queer Middle Eastern people deal with homophobia in their own societies, in America they face homophobia, though perhaps to a lesser extent, in addition to racism and xenophobia. Additionally, they may be assumed to be conservative or highly religious and as a result homophobic themselves based on their heritage. Professionals expect their skills to be respected in the workplace, but are told their education is not good enough. Those who succeed in their careers are resented for "stealing jobs" from "normal" (i.e. white) citizens, while those who cannot find work are reprimanded for draining public funding. Respectability politics and equality ideologies are instilled in these immigrants' children, and without realizing it we try to assimilate as we grow up in the West.
As a second-generation immigrant, I live at the fringes of Western and Eastern communities. Kids like me account for an oft-overlooked greyzone, with insights on many different groups. My Western education has taught me how to analyze and critique all structures, including Middle Eastern traditions, while my Middle Eastern upbringing has taught me to be skeptical of Western ideologies that will never fully accept me.
My mom laughed me off when I informed her of the initial announcement stating the #MuslimBan would affect Canadians as well. She's already seen NYC, LA, Orlando, DC, Las Vegas, and many other American hotspots - why should she give them any more of her money? She would never renounce her Iraqi citizenship to enter a country that hates her and destroyed her homeland. My dad's reaction was a more heartbroken, shocked response to the news, questioning my sources, reading articles, trying to fathom why the world has come to hate people like us so much. PM Justin Trudeau has since clarified "that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban." But what of our family overseas still seeking refuge? With Europe becoming increasingly hostile towards immigrants and the new American government being blatantly biased, Canada seems to the best place to choose to relocate to if possible. Those granted green cards to the US were given false hope as they are met with detention and interrogation upon landing in the country.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who had worked in Iraq for the US government for a decade, was detained at JFK but still shared warm sentiments about the "land of the free" and told the Guardian he does not resent airport authorities for doing their job. While his kindhearted nature is commendable, it is also dangerous to be too forgiving of authorities that obey discriminatory commands. The situation can easily escalate to these agents carrying out more harmful actions. His optimism and empathy reminds me of my first generation family members telling me to be thankful for Canadian laws when I complain about injustices in the country. But those of us who grew up here are wary of letting our guard down. Furthermore, recent immigrants fear speaking out more than second-generation immigrants do because even their valid displays of frustration will be interpreted as hostile. They face the threat of being considered terrorists if they assertively oppose unjust laws, so it is often easier to remain silent.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won a temporary stay over the weekend against Trump's Muslim ban, which means that people detained at airports will not be deported. This court win came about after a mosque in Texas was burned down and a woman at JFK had attempted suicide, distraught at the idea of being sent back to her home country.
Canadian politicians expressed support for refugees and intentions to help out with the situation, and the country is facing calls to get rid of the Safe Third Country Agreement which prohibits refugees who are turned away from entering the United States from applying for refugee status. Our public safety minister Ralph Goodale has promised to make it clear to Trump's team that Canada does not condone torture. It is undoubtedly comforting to know that our country's leaders stand in such stark opposition to the Trump administration, but this is only the beginning of the battle against four years of unconstitutional American policies.
In Canada, complacency towards the Trump administration is extremely dangerous. Trump came into power in part because the American people did not take his campaign seriously until it was too late. Now that he is acting on his platform, citizens have been rallied to frantic activism that feels futile in the face of four dark years of Trump's America. Although Canadians seem to have a better attitude towards immigrants, we must not ignore far-right ideologies that also exist in our country. Last night, six people were shot dead at a mosque in Quebec city where a pig's head was delivered last summer. I can't feel removed from discrimination against fellow minority groups in the US because it's far too close to home.
It's easy to feel powerless in such a troubled political climate, but now is the time to rally against institutional hatred in any way we can. Marching in the streets and physically occupying public space as well as posting resources on social media and blogs can make a difference. Contact your local MP to urge them to take action against Trump's policies and protect refugees. Donate to the ACLU to support their court battles against his unconstitutional decisions. If you are able to, look into sponsoring a refugee family (more info on how Canada's private sponsorship program works here). This of course is a large commitment, whereas donating to an NGO such as the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committtee or groups committed to bringing refugees to Canada like Lifeline Syria can be a one-time payment. Local mosques and university groups often host initiatives to aid refugees from the MENA region of all religious backgrounds, so be on the lookout for fundraisers you can attend or volunteer at. Prioritize your time and funds; it's not enough to just share Facebook posts when people are struggling to survive.
It seems that the "good person" bare minimum has diminished to just avoiding sounding like a full-on Nazi. Even supposedly forward-thinking university students struggle with the concept of political correctness, seeing respecting the humanity of others as infringing on their rights to free speech. It is not enough to simply denounce Trump and his supporters. If being Canadian means having a fundamental respect to life, liberty, and security for all individuals, then all citizens are responsible for taking action against human rights infringements that we have the power to prevent.
Follow Diyana on Twitter.