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What It Feels Like To Be Targeted By Trump’s Muslim Ban

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Nothing is like the tension of a passport that is hated—this one from Syria. Inside the passport is a sticker from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In bureaucratic language, it says, welcome to the United States. Everything about it suggests finality. The colors, the texture, the expensive look of this little instrument of statecraft. How much effort it takes to get this sticker! How many forms to be filled out, how many interviews, how many questions.

Your country vanishes before your eyes, its cities crumble before the horrid energy of armaments. Your modest expectations dissolve. You were a geologist, a respectable but ordinary job. You worked for the oil industry. You have few politics. You wanted a decent life. You are a good man.

You stand in line, waiting. The official in Istanbul airport says, sorry. The Americans don’t want you anymore. They hate your passport.

You step aside. You weep. Your wife is in America. She received asylum last year. Your son is there. He is two years old. They live in Long Beach, California. You wonder, why is it called Long Beach? Does it have a long beach? Or is Long the name of a distinguished person? These are the kinds of thoughts you have. You don’t want to think of anything else. You want to hide inside a tunnel, your emotions bottled up, dissolving your hopes like acid on chalk.

Your name is Nael Ziano. You have a DHS stamp in your passport. Today is January 29. You did not know that U.S. President Donald Trump would sign an executive order that would dig a deep moat between your desires to see your family and their longing to have you with them. A Turkish television crew catches your tears. You are not ashamed to cry. You have spent the past few years in Gaziantep, Turkey, working with other Syrian refugees for the International Organization of Migration. You were their lifeline. Now you are your own.

Courts from Brooklyn to Boston offer rulings on the executive order. These are haphazard decisions. Some agree with the president. Others disagree. There is no harmony. No one knows what this means. Everyone is confused. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security have no clear guidelines. There are seven countries on the list. Your dismembered, bleeding country is there too. Your passport is hated. The moat gets deeper.

You met your wife at the University of Damascus. She studied chemistry. You loved rocks. And you loved cars. Anything with wheels. Anything that moves. It is a funny thing, to like rocks—which move so slowly—and cars, which move so much faster. But now, at Istanbul airport, you want to move. But you are stuck. The pace is glacial. Your son loves cars, too. He likes to play with buses and cars. He wants you to be in a car. He wants to show you the rocks he has found in Long Beach.

Protests at American airports gives you hope. You see people, thousands of them, shouting, “Let them in.” You realize that you are one of “them.” They want you to come in. You want to hug your family. They want you to hug your family. Your friends, like blind mice, rush here and there to get someone to take your case seriously. “Let them in,” but “them” is made of many—students from Iran, mothers from Iraq, a doctor from Libya, a geologist from Syria. Ibtisam Mahmoo Hussein (Iraqi), who lives in Oman, cannot visit her 91-year-old mother in a Las Vegas hospital. Samira Asgari (Iran) cannot take up her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. A hundred thousand visas were dissolved in Trump’s whims.

Your friends find the last human beings in the U.S. political system. They listen carefully. They see that there is real injustice here. You went through the legal channels, faced all the vetting and then—because of time—fell into a trench. You were reduced to your passport, and since it is hated, you were hated. One U.S. agency confounds another. This is chaos. Trump is not draining the swamp, he is muddying the waters.

You try to board this flight and then that. Turkish Airlines to Los Angeles and Lufthansa to Boston. But nothing works. You are trapped. Your home is with your family. You want to drive to them. You want the borders to dissolve and the seas to part. But you are too tired for that. Moses had god on his side. You have your friends. But they are not god.

The media calls. Journalists speak with great sympathy. They can feel your authentic pain. You are not pretending. But the media cannot part the sea. They are also tired. In all the chaos of the Trump days, they are disoriented. They can only report things in bursts. This happened. Then this happened. Then that happened. People are tired. Before they can discuss the first outrage, three more have happened. They will forget you soon. You are getting smaller and smaller. It is exhaustion, surely, but also amnesia. No one will make a film about your tragedy.

Your name is Nael Ziano. You were born in 1984. You have a Syrian passport. It has a stamp from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You want to live with your wife and son in Long Beach, California. You have simple desires. But there is a moat that divides you. You have so little strength.

Suddenly, a federal judge offers a verdict. This judge, James Robart, had volunteered for refugees before he sat on the bench. Community service does deepen compassion. Trump maligns him on Twitter. The judge does not care. He does not answer to the president. Your flight leaves in half an hour. You have already been told you cannot board. You are distraught.

The U.S. border patrol tells the airlines to let you board. You board. It is unimaginable. The plane flies over the Mediterranean Sea. You look down. You see a speck in the water. You wonder if it is a dinghy. Already this year about 300 migrants, fleeing war and starvation, have died in those waters. Last year, 5,000 people—people like you—perished there.

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

IMAGE: Nael Zaino with his sister-in-law Katty al-Hayak at Boston Logan, seconds after he appeared from Customs and Border Protection. Photo by Anais Surkin.

U.S. To Resume Admitting Refugees As Trump Fights Judge’s Order

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Saturday moved to begin admitting refugees, including Syrians, as soon as Monday after a federal judge on Friday blocked a Trump administration temporary ban on refugee admissions. An email from the State Department’s refugee office reviewed by Reuters on Saturday said the U.S. government is working with its legal team and interagency and overseas partners to comply with the ruling.

Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order had suspended refugee admissions for 120 days and indefinitely barred Syrian refugees but U.S. Judge James Robart in Seattle on Friday blocked the president’s order.

A U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Saturday that officials “expect some refugees to arrive Monday.”

The U.S. instructed the International Organization for Migration “to rebook refugees of all nationalities, including Syrians, who were” to schedule to arrive since the Trump’s order was signed, the email said.

“We are focusing on booking refugee travel through February 17. We are asking that arrivals resume this Monday, the first normal travel day of the week, if possible. We are aware that some refugees may not be ready to depart on short notice,” the email said.

A United Nations spokesman, Leonard Doyle, told the New York Times about 2,000 refugees were ready to travel.

Refugees do not usually enter on weekends, a U.S. official said, as the department hews to a strict set of rules on how their admissions are processed.

Other travelers from seven Muslim majority countries affected by President Donald Trump’s week-old curb on immigration can rework their flights after the judge’s order, as long as they have valid visas.

Refugees fleeing war, hunger and persecution have less autonomy. Advocates working on their behalf urged the government to move quickly on admitting them.

International Refugee Assistance Project Director Becca Heller called for “the instant resumption of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to immediately take the most vulnerable refugees out of harm’s way.”

During the week of the ban, the government admitted 843 refugees — but no Syrian refugees, government figures show. Officials previously told Reuters that they were “in transit” and had already been cleared for resettlement before the ban took effect.

For refugee families, they are trying to keep expectations in check and hope they do not end up back where they started.

Ayham Oubeid, a Syrian living in Cleveland, has been waiting for over a year for his brother George’s family to come to the United States as refugees. His brother, who has health issues, is living in Dubai on a work visa that covers him, his six-year-old daughter and five-months pregnant wife.

George left his job and moved the family out of their apartment when he was told they would be resettled in the United States on Feb. 13. But the family’s plane tickets were canceled when Trump announced the temporary ban. Without George’s job, the family could lose the work visa and be sent back to Syria in the midst of its deadly civil war.

Upon hearing of the judge’s ruling from Friday, Oubeid called George. He was careful not to be too hopeful, knowing the judge’s order could be overturned.

“I don’t want to get excited. I don’t want my brother to get excited. Because it was hard for him when he lost everything and was told he couldn’t come,” Oubeid said.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards and David Shepardson in Washington, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken, Dan Grebler and Diane Craft)

IMAGE: In internally displaced Syrian boy looks out his tent in the Bab Al-Salam refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, northern Aleppo province, Syria December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The Saudi Hypocrisy Behind Trump’s Muslim Ban

Last Friday, President Trump delivered on one of his most controversial campaign pledges by banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. He claims that the ban will protect America from terrorists. Yet, shockingly, the ban doesn’t include citizens of arguably the world’s largest exporter of “Islamic” terror—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and global financier of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam.

Why isn’t the Kingdom on the list? The reason is as simple as it is disturbing: Saudi leaders have helped the president and his friends make billions. Now, thanks to Trump, a Syrian widow and her children, running for their lives, will encounter a locked door in America — while a Saudi oil tycoon kicks back and relaxes at Trump Tower.

For decades, Saudis have spent billions to support schools, charities, mosques, and nonprofits that suppress pluralism and promote their corrupted, extremist form of Islam, which has done so much to defame the vast majority of peace-loving and tolerant Muslims, both here and around the world. In keeping with this mission, the Saudis have directly and indirectly financed the same Islamic terror organizations American troops have been fighting since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. As a 2002 Pentagon briefing put it: “The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.”

Worst of all, Western governments have been caught up in the Saudi export of violence from the very beginning. The British helped install the Saud family as the monarchs of Arabia after World War I, and the royal family surely wouldn’t still be ruling today if not for American military and political support. Once the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (today known as Aramco) struck oil in 1938, the Saudi rulers became our key economic, political, and military partner in the Middle East.

To protect this partnership, the Kingdom has purposefully expanded its financial ties to the United States over the years. Riyadh has invested $750 billion in the U.S. economy, including many placements in bedrock Wall Street funds and U.S. securities. Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest purchaser of U.S.-manufactured arms. And just last June the Kingdom made news by investing $3.5 billion in Uber, the largest investment ever made in a privately held company.

The list of Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds with extensive fundraising operations in Saudi Arabia reads like a “Who’s Who” of American business, including major firms from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to Blackstone and BlackRock. All these corporations are unwittingly helping to fund Saudi Arabia’s expansion of extremism.

Not surprisingly, Trump is continuing this awful partnership with the Saudis. But this time, it’s for an even more self-centered reason—they help keep him rich.

Take the Trump World Tower, a luxury skyscraper just across the street from the United Nations in Manhattan. In 2001, the Kingdom paid Trump $4.5 million to buy the building’s 45th floor. Since then, the Kingdom has paid Trump over $85,000 annually for building amenities. For years, Trump even had two Saudi princes living in his multi-million dollar condominiums.

During last year’s campaign, Trump opened eight new companies in Saudi Arabia—an almost unbelievable conflict of interest. “Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me,” he told an Alabama crowd over the summer. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Why is Trump’s complex web of hidden connections and conflicts of interest so detrimental to our national interest? The Saudi connection is a perfect example.

First, this relationship proves that Trump’s bans are not only un-American and misguided, but hypocritical. Blocking refugees and immigrants from poor Muslim countries will not prevent terror, but excluding Saudi Arabia from the list makes the new policy little more than a self-enriching dog whistle.

Second, it reinforces the pattern of the Saudi relationship. When Americans support U.S. companies that do business with Saudi Arabia,that helps the Kingdom export its radical agenda and suppress pluralism. And when we elect politicians supported by the Saudis, we make it easier for them to avoid accountability for empowering organizations that spread terror around the world. Once again, we’re being sold out by our elites—and as much as Trump doesn’t want to publicly admit it, he’s now one of them.

For over a thousand years, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived peacefully under Muslim rule in the Middle East. When Spain expelled hundreds of thousands of Jews in 1492, the Islamic Ottoman Sultan welcomed them with open arms and laughed at the Spanish King Ferdinand’s idiocy. How could anyone think Ferdinand was wise, he asked, when he “impoverished his own land and enriched ours?”

In the years ahead, we can learn much from the Sultan’s lesson. Saudi Arabia’s influence has poisoned peaceful coexistence and served to turn millions of innocents into refugees. Thanks to Trump, we’re now helping those who caused that suffering, while locking out the people — many of them our friends and allies — who need to rebuild.

Amed Khan is a former official of the State Department and USAID. He is an investor and philanthropist who founded Elpida Home, a public-private project in Thessaloniki, Greece that houses and serves thousands of Syrian refugees, which he is currently working to expand.

IMAGE: View shows the construction of the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Thousands Return To The Freezing Ruins Of Aleppo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Thousands of people are starting to return to formerly rebel-held east Aleppo despite freezing weather and destruction “beyond imagination”, a top U.N. official told Reuters from the Syrian city.

In the last couple of days around 2,200 families have returned to the Hanano housing district, said Sajjad Malik, country representative in Syria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“People are coming out to east Aleppo to see their shops, their houses, to see if the building is standing and the house is not that looted … to see, should they come back,” he said in an interview.

But given the appalling conditions, the U.N. is not encouraging people to return.

“It is extremely, bitterly cold here,” said Malik. “The houses people are going back to have no windows or doors, no cooking facilities.”

Aid is vital to prevent more deaths. The U.N. is helping people to restart their lives in one room of their apartments to start with, he said, giving them mats, sleeping bags and plastic sheets to cover blown-out windows.

BREAD AND WATER

Hanano was one of the first Aleppo neighborhoods to fall to rebels in 2012, and the first to be retaken by the Syrian government on its way to seizing back full control of the northern city last month – the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad in nearly six years of war.

As government forces rapidly advanced, some residents stayed put, tens of thousands fled of their own accord and around 35,000 fighters and civilians were evacuated in late December in convoys organized by the Syrian government.

After months of fierce Syrian and Russian air strikes, reconstruction will take a long time, Malik said, but the immediate priority is to keep people warm and fed. U.N.-supported partners provide hot meals twice a day to 21,000 people, and 40,000 people get baked bread every day.

Over 1.1 million people once again have access to clean water in bottles or through tankers and wells.

Mobile clinics are up and running, and more than 10,000 children have received polio vaccinations. Thousands of children who have not been able to attend school need reintegrating into the education system through remedial classes to rebuild their confidence, Malik said.

There was no register of births, deaths and marriages in the rebel-held sector, so the U.N. is working with the government to issue people with papers. “I met a woman with five children and she was excited that she now has her kids registered as Syrians. She has ID cards and a family book,” he said.

Bombing has destroyed hospitals, schools, roads and houses, and damaged the two main water pumping stations. The experienced U.N. official said the level of destruction surpassed anything he had seen in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Somalia.

“Nothing would have prepared us to see the scale of destruction there, it’s beyond imagination.”

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

IMAGE: Samah, 11, and her brother, Ibrahim, transport their salvaged belongings from their damaged house in Doudyan village in northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria, January 2, 2017. Picture taken January 2, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi