President Trump’s temporary order banning people from seven majority Muslim nations from entering the United States is a most unfortunate and thoughtless decision. The order targets people who have neither the desire nor the capability to carry out hostile actions against America. What’s more, these people are from some of the countries that have been destroyed by the misguided policies of America and its allies.
There is a Sudanese saying that goes: “You are gazing at the elephant while pointing your spear at its shadow”.
I couldn’t think of anything else after hearing about President Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees and individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries – Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and, of course, Iran, the perpetual enemy – from entering the United States.
While observing, like millions of people around the world, the hostility, racism and bullying towards women and other nations around the world in the discourse of the newly elected American president, two things strike me: First, the level of ignorance especially of history and the current state of the world by the leadership of a country that is considered to be the “most advanced in the world”. Second, the lack of principles and shame that undermine all efforts made over the past 150 years to humanize our global interactions by openly denying refugees entrance into the United States.
President Trump and his government have pushed the button to travel in time, evidently moving back to the days of slavery, wars, bounties and big walls.
However, it is fair to acknowledge that President Trump has never been secretive about his agenda. He was open and clear about his stands, and yet he won the elections using the same electoral system that had brought “America’s first black president.” Hence, we are forced to admit that President Trump’s agenda, as ugly and hostile as it is, apparently resonates with a considerable number of people who voted for him and enabled him to win.
As a woman of Sudanese and African origin, my lived realties have always countered and contradicted American political views of the world. My intelligence and awareness of the world were shaped in a free environment and I don’t mean free as in the notion of “free world.” Yes, I do think that growing up in developing countries, and not in the United States, gave me the freedom and privilege to be exposed without censorship to a wide range of concepts and ideologies as raw, ideal and contradicting as they are. Communism was not an evil ideology nor was capitalism. They were thoughts and ideals we argued about and debated at our doorsteps. Photos of Karl Marx and Che Guevara were placed on our humble muddy walls next to pictures of Gandhi and sometimes the Queen of England and Marlin Monroe. The next wall would have verses of the Quran and the Nubian evil eye symbol. There is no fixation on the notion of greatness or concept embodied in the motto “them versus us”.
Through the years I have observed and lived the consequences of acts taken by the United States against many nations of the world, mostly the poorest and most vulnerable ones. Those acts are resulting in political and economic destabilization and armies of refugees currently roaming the world.
Sudan where I am from and Somalia where I have had the honor to work are among the poorest and most fragile countries in the world. Both countries are commonly known for their massive numbers of displaced persons and refugees. Recent information about these two countries can easily be found in reports from refugee institutions and peacekeeping missions. These two nations, torn by civil conflicts, are strategic targets for proxy wars fought by militant groups bred, promoted and to a large extent manufactured by the United States. Citizens of these countries have been trapped for decades.
Somalia has been disintegrated since the end of the cold war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The country’s destiny is largely being played and manipulated by regional and international powers. Of late, Somalia has turned into a backyard for militant groups from around the world taking advantage of the chaotic situation. Somali people have become the core victims of violent militant groups such as Al-Shabab who advocate for the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis. Since they were founded in late 2006, to date, Al-Shabab has killed thousands of Somali people through targeted executions of activists and journalists and bombing of government building, hotels, NGOs and UN compounds. Al-Shabab has stoned Somali women and men and killed women university graduates to punish them for persuing education. Women politicians and progressive men as well have been systematically killed. Women street cleaners were killed for working on the streets, a place usually seen as the preserve of men (several blasts have killed about 30 women street cleaners from 2008 to date).
The country and its citizens are under severe scrutiny with limited contacts with the outside world since air travel is limited to few private airlines and formal trade and economic ties with the rest of world almost don’t exist. Majority of Somalis as traditional pastoralists have lost their livelihoods, their grazing lands being occupied and taken by the militants. They are forced to live in refugee camps or in temporary displaced shelters.
Sudan is a country with limited space for its citizens to exercise their civil, political and human rights. The country has been struggling with wars and political turmoil over the past three decades. The war in Darfur has left over 3 million people displaced with no livelihood opportunities. As of 2011 the Sudanese regime launched a military campaign against the political opposition in the two areas of Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. At least one million people have lost their homes in the recent war. Sudan has been ruled by a regime which pins its legitimacy on militant interpretations of Islam supported by the heavy hand of the Sudanese military and aligned militia, which challenge any opportunity for peaceful or democratic transformation. This same regime, however, has often colluded with the United States, European countries, Egypt and Arab allies of Western countries in exchange of intelligence information on militant groups.
Both countries have been subject to experimental political approaches that have alternately promoted unity and division. But nothing has worked as shown by the armies of refugees and displaced persons that keep rising with no local structures to provide minimum support and counter extended disasters. The political will in both countries was long defeated and paralyzed after years of failed international engagements hammering and uprooting people’s desires for sovereignty and peace.
The bottom-line is that citizens or refugees from both countries neither have the interest, capacity or the means to carry hostile acts against the United States. Nor is there any historical record or logic that could point or lead to such conclusion.
Refugees from Sudan and Somalia who seek settlement in countries like the United States carry massive burdens on their shoulders. They don’t take the rough journey to improve their lives only. They take the journey because they have to. They have to care for the sick and help the elders, send children to school and fix the bending walls of their humble homes so they are not exposed to the random rain and Haboob . They have to send small money for their mothers, stepmothers, stepfathers, children, uncles, cousins, old friends and neighbors to survive. Remittances are what people are surviving on in those forgotten parts of the world. It is what keeps the dignity and humanity alive despite severe poverty.
This is why they come to America: to find a place in the world away from the brutality and uncertainty of refugee and displaced camps and because they fear for their lives from persecution and random killing. They come to carry the burden and collect the pieces after being victimized and bullied by an unjust international system that only rewards the strong ones. They come for survival and to keep people alive. And for that they work hard, always trying their best. They do what they were asked to do, and they do not engage in hostility because they are on a mission – they have hundreds of mouths to feed.
And among all people, all nations of the world, President Trump and his regime have decided to point the spear at us, the easiest to attack, the poorest of the poor, while he and his regime keep gazing at the elephant in the mirror.
* Hala Al-Karib is a woman activist and researcher from Sudan working on issues of gender equality and justice in Sudan and the Horn of Africa.
 Dust storm that occurs regularly in arid regions throughout the world.
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