VIEWPOINT: Hope in American Ambition

By signing an executive order banning the entry of individuals to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, President Donald Trump has perpetuated Islamophobia at the government level.

Domestically, the ban raises concern among foreign nationals, and their families, who have made it to the United States and productively  contribute to society, while others question their humanity and the compatibility of their religious beliefs with American ideals. The situation appears dismal, but in the power of the people, I find hope.

At 10 years old, a boy in Syria fell in love with the United States when he watched John F. Kennedy on television. At age 26, as the first in his family to earn more than a high school education, he traveled to the United States on his own.

He did not speak a word of English, but with a medical degree from the University of Damascus and the determination to make it in the United States, he memorized the dictionary, retaught himself his entire medical training in English, and became double-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and pathology.

Along the way, he met his wife, a fellow Syrian in the United States. Despite the discrimination they faced, going back to Syria was never an option. They knew they belonged in the United States, and after the 1982 Hama massacre, they knew the United States would be a safe place for them and to raise their children, including me. Today, he has delivered more than 10,000 babies in his county, treats patients for free and has been recognized by multiple bodies for his excellent patient care.

Growing up in the United States, I distinctly remember learning about “America, the Melting Pot” in my Islamic primary school and confirming to me that I belonged. Yet as I grew older, I began to realize that I was not so welcome.

In college, people would remark that I was oppressed and misguided for covering my hair, a choice I had personally made. I was teased in my work place and told that my headscarf would greatly inhibit my upward mobility and professional success. Even then, I was still a proud American. I knew that I had inalienable rights protected by the government and that my religious freedom was one of them — until the Presidential election.

Candidates on both sides used inflammatory rhetoric on Syria and Muslims to gain political points. While these comments may have brought popular support, they also diminished my humanity in the eyes of my fellow Americans.

Muslims and Syrians were no longer humans; instead, we became the “eyes and ears on the front lines” and the “Trojan horses allowing terrorism into the country.” When President Donald Trump took office, I hoped he would leave his rhetoric on the campaign trail and change his stance. I was wrong. But I was now more optimistic because of the activism that began to sweep the country starting with the Women’s March and the nationwide protests against the travel ban.

In that sense, Trump’s travel ban is one of the greatest things he has done so far because it has compelled the people to speak up on behalf of Muslims.

James Madison famously wrote, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” referring to the competing ambitions within our branches of government. However, I would like to believe that his words would apply to the newest travel ban.

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition, and the people have demonstrated ambition to protect American ideals from this divisive executive order.

Every great power, nation and actor must make difficult choices during difficult times. America is no exception to that. These last few weeks have brought to life the America I learned about in primary school. I believe in the American people. I believe in their strength, ingenuity and our “ambition to counteract ambition.” I believe that we will overcome.

Fifty-four years ago, a boy fell in love with America because of one of its most charismatic presidents. Today, the world will fall in love with America because of the ambition of its people to stand up for what is right.

Noor Shakfeh is a student in Georgetown’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

CORRECTION: The print version of the piece, published Feb. 7,  misrepresented statements written by the author. The Viewpoint originally stated the author “found hope in the people,” not in the story of her family. The author also expressed the Presidential election “normalized the issue of her humanity,” but did not attribute this attitude to the American people.

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