The New Colossus: And Lady Liberty Awaits Our Response

A dear friend of mine, who voted for Donald Trump, wrote to me to question my protesting Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban” – why I marched in Washington Square Park – and why I said I will march as long as I have breath in my body. The Quran, he said, is clearly anti-gay and anti-woman – and Islam, he believes, is rife with terrorists. 

Given the events of the last few days – I thought I would share my response here. Make no mistake – like many people who voted for Trump, my friend is a good man – whose flames of fear have been stoked to an inferno by Donald Trump and the Trump Administration. 

My friend:

I think what you are seeing in many of these protests is a pre-emptive strike on behalf of the majority of the country that did not vote for Donald Trump, this Administration or its policies.

Given what Donald Trump campaigned on, what he said he would do, and the extremist cabinet (and Vice President) that surrounds him – I think people are watching these initial steps as a gateway to some very troubling future actions. When you look back at Nazi Germany – or any fascist or extremist government – the initial steps were – small legislations that constrained freedoms in what might have seemed minor ways. Those legislations were used down the road for more dangerous, insidious policies. The time to be vocal is now – before these ideas become normalized and entrenched.

On a core level, the execution of the “ban” speaks to the capricious cruelty of this President as much as the ban itself.  The 7 countries singled out have no ties to any act of terror in the United States.  Not one death in this country was at the hands of any citizen from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen.  Take that in.  People with legal and valid visas were stopped at airports across the country and threatened with deportation.  Allies who helped us during times of war.  Students coming back from vacation.  Parents with small children.  A father trying to visit his cancer-striken daughter. No warning.  No grace period.  Think about those who were detained.  Think of the unnecessary fear and shame.

We march, because we know that this President’s dark gaze could fall on anyone at any time.  

In terms of immigration and terrorism and ISIL – my view is that this government is fear-mongering and creating an “other” for people to blame and hate. When you look at the terror attacks in the wake of ISIL here in the United States, and you consider the millions of Muslims in this country living and working and leading perfectly normal American lives (3.3 million) – (many of whom came from the very countries you mentioned) – I think your argument falls down.  Statistically, terrorism by Muslims makes up one-third of 1 percent of all murders in the United States.  Read that again.

So because we have a few extremists – or – more accurately – mentally ill people with easy access to guns who latch on to the idea of jihad – we should fear, marginalize and isolate all Muslims?

And how many of the people who come here – have come here to escape the rigidity and extremism of the most oppressive interpretations of the Quran – and follow a more gentle, loving expression of their religion? Never forget that the people most affected by groups like ISIL are Muslims themselves. America’s history is inextricably linked to those who arrived here to escape religious oppression. Look at the extremely rigid and violent punishments meted out in the Bible – and in the Torah – and most religious texts – that have been rejected by Christians and Jews alike. How many Catholics rejected the Inquisition? How many Catholics or Evangelicals or Jews reject the most extreme views in their religions and happily practice personalized versions of their faith?

And, more importantly, when I think about this “ban.” I don’t think about “Muslims” – I think about individuals. I think about people.

I see faces.

And I think about our country and what it has stood for.

I watched Aleppo – and I am haunted by the faces of dead children and anguished parents who were desperate to escape ISIL and terror and death.  Mothers, Fathers, children – with dreams and hopes and gifts to give.

And we say… “No?”

Is that who you are?  Is that who we are?

You are a Cuban American. How many people did not want the Cubans when they came to Miami? “Drug addicts, deviants, criminals”… “taking our jobs, all on welfare.”

Cubans were hated and vilified and marginalized. They came here out of desperation – and fear – but with determination and hope – they were woven into the fabric of American culture.

Irish Catholics. Jews, Russians, Poles, Cambodians and on and on and on… our American history was, and is, created from the embrace of the unwanted.

At the end of the day, I think it boils down to – world view. I choose, perhaps to my own detriment, to reject a model of humanity that is based on fear… based on suspicion. Do we need better tracking of immigrants? Yes. For a whole host of reasons, not just terrorism. But all immigrants – not just Muslim immigrants.

And on the Muslim issue – with the BILLIONS of Muslims in the world – the solution to stopping extremists will lie in engagement with the vast majority of Muslims who are not extremist. The solution, as it is with every problem, will be found in building alliances – not marginalizing and vilifying. That path leads only to fear and darkness. It is a soulless path – and you will find no comfort there.

This government – claiming to be speaking for America – is trying to recast our country from a cruel blueprint of fear, racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia.

I try to keep my heart focused on the original blueprint for this incredible country – on the vitality of the “Great Experiment” – and in finding renewal in the energy of hope that arrives here with every new face.

But today, this day, when people are being turned away at our borders, I picture them – I picture the men, women and children – being turned away at our borders because of their religion.

I picture their faces – potential Americans – whose contributions we will now never know – and whose fates, in part, will be ours to bear – and I think of Emma Lazarus and the poem I learned as a child but never took to heart..

Until now:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. 
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these…the homeless, the tempest-tost – to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

But not today.

Not with this President. Not with this Administration.

Today Donald Trump has tried to silence the heart-beat of America.

But my hope remains strong. Perhaps stronger than ever. Because 65,844,610 people are keeping the “Great Experiment” alive…

A whisper has become a roar.  Do you hear it?

With every foot-fall, at every protest, with every chant and response, with every petition, every donation, every act of kindness. With every utterance of “No” – we are keeping the pulse of America alive.

Do you feel it?

Our resistance – rooted in the sound of our forebears, the huddled masses, crying out from history at the injustice – is the life support of our democracy.

And so we march.