I want to talk to immigrants for a minute.
Over the nearly 15 years I've practiced immigration law, I've heard prejudiced statements that would fit right in to what we've been hearing over the past 18 months.
An educated Pakistani woman once told me, "We tried to help her, but you know how those Spanish people are," referring to a proud Latina. A Turk self-righteously complained to me once about all the "black guys smoking weed" across the hall. A Saudi businessman gleeful that a bunch of Filipino workers could be hired at "$200 - $300 a month." A Ghanaian who assured me that another Ghanaian was lying because she could tell the man's tribal affiliation from the shape of his head. An Ivorian blaming Burkinabé for the accession of Ouattara, and a proud Burkinabé with similar contempt for Christian Ivorians. A Congolese slightly miffed when I asked which Congo she was from. A Bolivian mestizo complained to me about a fellow Quechua Bolivian saying they always victimize themselves. An Indian-origin Hong Konger with few redeeming things to say about mainland Chinese.
To quote our President-Elect: "Stop it."
Prejudice may be an easy way of comprehending the world around us, but it's a cop-out. These prejudices are a Godsend to those who benefit from a platform of division.
So STOP IT.
I wish I could show you what I see. The Iranian who loved when I paid cash with bills folded the way common in West Africa (four bills with the fifth folded over; aids in counting). The Latino who responded to my broken Spanish in broken Urdu. The Syrian and the Salvadorean weeping with joy after simply getting the chance to work. The Sunni who married a Shia and raised his daughters Shia. The Ghanaian who couldn't stop talking about Afghan kabob.
So dear immigrants: stop wondering why the Central American kids get work permits while you've waited 10 years for a green card in line. Stop thinking that your lengthy wait to bring your fiancée over gives you a soapbox to decry illegal immigration. If you had an option, consider yourself lucky: many people didn't. If you don't have an option, stop resenting people who did.
Stop blaming other immigrants and put the blame where it belongs: on the system.
You hear what I'm saying? Diversity is good; disorder is not. Our country is a cross-section of humanity like no other. We have a unique opportunity to work on a common purpose. That's right, the election has steeled my resolve. The spike in hate crimes steeled my resolve. The de jure suspicion on my people steeled my resolve. I hope you'll help.
If we are successful, that would be one American ideal I wish we'd export.
Fake news. Propaganda. Echo chamber. Statistics. Post-truth. Confirmation bias. Facts. Real stories. Hoaxes.
Who knows what to believe? One reminder from 2016 is how fragile facts can be. They can be manipulated, compartmentalized, segregated, or just drowned out. People have always pushed their own narratives, but that gets harder to do with the awful din.
Of course this has real impact, since policies have always been made on these narratives. We need good, clean data. But we also need it in the database, and databases are only as good as those doing the data entry.
Take the case ofYasmin Seweid, who admitted she made up a story about being the victim of a hate act. It's not what she did, it's the chatter that ensued that infects the data.
As an immigration lawyer, I see the fear of reporting hate acts in immigrant communities. There are cultural stigmas, fear of deportation, retaliation, re-victimization, language barriers, and a whole host of other reasons. Hoaxes amplified by social media have the potential to seriously infect the data that will be used to formulate policy - or effectively prevent any policy from forming.
The "marketplace of ideas" articulated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to lead to the truth by competition. Religions, too, have long touted the inevitability of truth. To me, 2016 has been a powerful reminder that when everyone has a megaphone, it takes longer for the truth to emerge. The math is different: even the worst ideas which historically may have remained disregarded at the fringes have a chance to take root and grow. More concerning is the very real possibility that free speech itself will be curtailed, further inhibiting the ability of the market to correct itself. Gingrich's careless rhetoric about a new version of the "House Un-American Activities Committee" is a perfect example. (Yes, I am concerned and no, I don't think it's impossible.)
Our legal system of checks and balances takes time to check and balance, and in the interim, people get hurt. Therefore, the speed with which truth emerges from the marketplace becomes supremely important.
So preach on, everyone. Keep doing what you're doing. But please keep your data clean. And push back against bad data. Push back hard, and push back now.
The country will still be there.
Your job will still be there. Your problems will, too.
You'll still be better off than most of the world's population.
You can still hold the winner's feet to the fire.
You won't become a refugee.
Keep your wits about you. Don't get played.
I grew up with qawwali - the devotional music of South Asia. To this day, no other genre can make me feel the power of emotion intended by the poet. When amplified by the masterful voice control and crescending tone, it leaves you feeling - there is no other word - mast.
Although I am fluent in Urdu and proficient in Arabic, I am no translator. The terms used in Persian poetry have so much cultural, religious, and historic connotation that they defy translation. One might explain them but you lose the elegance of the original.
For example, the description used by the poet of detaching oneself, not caring about the entire universe, and finding a single, indivisible joy in sending blessings and prayers to the Prophet. These are sufiyana kalam - Sufi or mystical concepts. They make many orthodox Muslims uncomfortable - and extremists enraged - but perhaps the shock value of the borderline deification of the Prophet is part of the intended electric effect.
If you let the words sink in once you know their meaning, you'll eventually feel their meaning. Just like you're supposed to.
The lyrics are an adaptation of the poetry of Hafez, perhaps the world's best-known Persian poet. As is common in qawwali, the artists mix Arabic, Persian and Urdu together - which (to me) adds to its dramatic effect, even if people do not understand all three languages.
A big thank you to M. Tauseef Amin, who wrote the original lyrics into a YouTube video of the qawwali, and translated the Persian and Arabic into Urdu. My sister and I couldn't find an English version - so here goes.
* - Photo of Amjad Sabri used under CC 4.0 license MalikRizwan88, resized.
I'm leaving Dilley, Texas where I've been volunteering with the CARA project this week. Each day, there were over 100 women with children who had endured a journey toward a most uncertainly secure future.
What do I mean by "uncertainly secure?" It's when you run toward parts unknown because it has to be better than where you are.
As I try to process dealing with just a few days of wave after wave of desperate humanity, I've got to recognize some people. That's the "on the ground" (OTG) team (lawyers and others) who up and moved to Dilley to provide counsel to the thousands of people arriving every day. They do this every single day, arriving at Baby Jail before 8 am, working 12 hour days there, and then back to the ranch where they work on into the night. They've built a lean, mean, legal machine to give these women a chance to reunite with their families. And maybe, in the sobbing words of a ten-year-old detainee I spoke to, just "go to school" and not have to hear older classmates ask each other, "You MS-13 or Mara 18?"
Working with selfless people is humbling and inspirational. This work is exhausting and I can't imagine many be able to last as they do. Listen to what I'm saying: There are young people who willingly give up a comfortable life and utilize their degrees and experience 18 hours a day to help people who wouldn't otherwise stand a chance. Relying on volunteer labor, they help these women - every day - explaining the system, helping them complete the forms, working with ICE, the Asylum Office, and the Correctional Corporation of America (the private company that runs the 2,400 inmate facility). They empower them to tell their own stories, believing in them, and then scour statutes, regulations and case law to fashion razor-sharp legal arguments capable of cutting through the tangled web of asylum law and for-profit detention.
The majority of these women pass their interviews and are granted a chance to apply for asylum, escaping the violence of their home countries, and begin to develop a sense of self-worth. The multi-year battle's just beginning for them, but what they lack in knowledge they more than make up for in grit and determination. The OTG team's work makes real, palpable difference in the lives of thousands of people.
They ask for nothing in return. Nothing.
What an inspiration it was to work for them, and *be* the welcoming America that makes our country great. So many people don't know these everyday heroes and visionaries making a serious dent in the evil practice of family detention. They deserve the best wherever they go. We volunteer lawyers are privileged to have crossed paths with them.
Yesterday I witnessed the blank horror of a family who realized they had just become refugees.
A young Turkish couple, here temporarily on assignment. And after the failed coup and the completion of Erdogan's metamorphosis into a dictator, I told them asylum was the best - and only option. A one-way street, a bell that doesn't unring, fraught with pitfalls, and whatever other options you were thinking about, forget it.
Immediately, thoughts of family. Will they go after my family? Should I go back and risk jail so maybe they won't go after my brother?
We have no one here. No one.
When could we ever go back? What? I have to wait 3 years to maybe win my case, then 5 more to become a citizen? I can't really travel?
I can't fight my case at home...there is no law in Turkey anymore. I have to trust you, my brother, my family has to trust you.
We have to make a decision. We have no more country. We have kids, but so does my brother. How can I leave them? What if they go after my parents? Who knows what will happen? If I don't go home I'm guilty. They'll call me a Gulenist. They did already, I found out yesterday. I'm on a list. I'm on a list. I'm on a list.
I'm on a list.
To watch people become refugees is horrifying. There were no tears - just a blank, numb look - and that just made it worse. They asked me to decide for them. I guess getting robbed of your life has a deleterious effect on your cognitive abilities. I couldn't decide for them, of course. I properly stayed safe in the advisory zone, droning on about legal options, immigrant intent, and exceptions to the one-year bar. The husband turned to his wife and said, "He's a lawyer," meaning, of course, that my legal drivel wasn't helping.
I thought back to the cases of hundreds of other clients who have suffered the trauma of forced displacement. People's responses to the trauma are varied, but God, they're all *so human.* Witnessing the initial shock, however, is secondarily traumatic. The horrid, blank look of educated, proud and accomplished people who can't even conceptualize what the next step might be.
No one chooses never to be able to go home.
Dear Mr. Gingrich:
I'm going to award you a prize. A prize for the most ignorance ever crammed into one sentence. Really. You outdid Trump, and that's no small-fingered feat. "We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported."
I just had to try to break that down.
First, let's try to understand what a "person of Muslim background" is. Would that include Boris Johnson, whose great-grandfather was a Muslim Turk? What about ex-Muslims, including ones who are known Islamophobes? What about non-Muslims who think Muslims should have religious freedom? Or people with Muslims in their families...*ducks blows*...like our beloved Muslim POTUS? I don't understand, Mr. Gingrich. I'm quite sure the Founding Fathers didn't describe people in terms of their religious "background," which is probably why it doesn't exist in the Constitution.
Second, a religious "test." Well, this one's been beaten to death after Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration "until we can figure out what the hell's going on." When your civics knowledge is below that of the average fifth grader, Mr. Former Speaker of the House, I'm not too confident you'll ever figure out what's going on.
Third, "believe in sharia." As Asifa Quraishi-Landes wrote in the Washington Post this morning, shariah "is a body of Quran-based guidance that points Muslims toward living an Islamic life....Shariah is divine and philosophical." You can believe in God, or believe in an article of faith, or a divine book, a prophet, etc. But we don't "believe" in shariah - we follow it. It's a legal and ethical system. Your ignorant commentary, Mr. Gingrich, belies a basic understanding of what "sharia" means. You'd fail a Sunday school test on the subject, but you want to test all of us.
Fourth - "shariah." You arbitrarily - and without authority - define shariah by headline-grabbing rulings involving stoning, flogging, subjugation of women, and death. Yes, there are a lot of troublesome rulings, as there are in every legal system. But as Imam Zaid Shakir has written, "Normative Islam is based on both rulings and interpretive principles. Those who, like ISIS, separate the rulings from the interpretive principles underlying them, both misrepresent Islam and open the door to varieties and degrees of harm that the religion strictly forbids." Like our system of common law, the sharia as a legal and ethical system has the tools to tailor rulings for different societies and different times.
This is emblematic of the acceptable drivel when it comes to my faith. In 2014, Fox host Megyn Kelly debated Hassan Shibly of CAIR-FL. Whenhe confronted her about her ignorance of maqasid ash-shariah, she retorted, "Well I know they stone women!" More recently, Ben Carson (who?) furthered the ignorance by saying "what I would like for somebody to show me is an improved Islamic text that opposes Shariah." Both of these public figures benefit from the vacuum of facts: no one really understands what shariah is, so it can be arbitrarily redefined as an object of hate. But you don't get to define it, Mr. Gingrich.
Mr. Gingrich, you can't test something you can't even define, let alone understand. Why should we be surprised, though, coming from you? You said poor kids lack work ethic, so they should be put to work mopping floors. Let's not even talk about your professed belief in the sanctity of marriage, when you couldn't even relate your own marital history without invoking your Fifth Amendment right. You equated aninterfaith cultural center near Ground Zero to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum.
Please let smarter people check your comments. Or, you know, just shut up.
I penned some thoughts on Eid morning and was thinking about how while crazed criminals were attacking the City of the Prophet, a normal person simply and beautifully expressed solidarity with a much-maligned community. I like to believe we both recognized that hate is an endless downward spiral, and if we don't take the time to express solidarity, we help perpetuate the cycle.
It's been quite a tumultuous Ramadan if you're a Muslim in the West. We've had to confront this evil nemISIS over and over. I myself have felt my gorge rising even during the fast: "Again?" You couldn't reverse engineer a more hateful group, or one that knows exactly where to strike our sensitivities. Striking Madinah, the City of the Prophet, and Islam's second holiest site, exemplifies this.
Facebook seems to be under fire for turning your newsfeed into an echo chamber, serving up only what it thinks you're interested in and thereby enhancing confirmation bias.
So I spent time reviewing a few recent issues of Dabiq, ISIS's propaganda zine. And their governance manual, as well as an online recruitment manual. I wanted to try to understand whether they were "Islamic" and what this death cult shared with me, if anything. How could they kill so wantonly?
I think about all the support I'm blessed to receive - colleagues and friends who know not all Muslims are like this - and still find myself wondering, if the roles were reversed, would I be so understanding?
Every time they strike, I see the same arguments unfold: we have an (understandable but knee-jerk) reaction of disgust and contradistinction, and we tweet #notinmyname from the virtual rooftops of the world. We're hit back with #ThisIsTrueIslam and are denounced as watered-down Muslims. In the middle are observations that both sides can find what they need in the Qur'an, and that willful blindness to the "Islam" of ISIS is ultimately a copout.
Every time. The same arguments. The only thing different this Ramadan is that the arguments didn't have time to unfold before the next macabre attack.
We're all getting played - Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These strong reactions are EXACTLY what ISIS wants. The nastier the better: conveniently call all normal Muslims "apostates" or "disbelievers" and there is a lot of low-hanging fruit that can't get out of the way of a sword. Reduce the world into black and white, so it will fit into 140 characters.
Because they hog media attention, ISIS gets the power and influence it craves. They're not the most dangerous or violent group in the world - that dubious distinction goes to Central American gangs like MS-13 and Mara 18.
We're connected to our brothers and sisters overseas. But in our zeal to distance ourselves from ISIS, and following through with the scripted dialogue that becomes more and more permanent every time they strike, let's not indirectly empower them.
They are dangerous and have to be dealt with, for sure. But the strong reactions of disgust - I can't help but feel this feeds into their power.
When I read Dabiq, I almost laughed at the childish black-and-white worldview. You can tell, when read in connection with their recruitment manual, who it's meant for, and how to get young minds there. They'll get all the impressionable ones, but they'll net a few smart folks who fall for it, too. I spent some time a few months ago comparing their governance documents with Mein Kampf - and the similarities are chilling. Look, folks. They're counting on you not understanding them, dismissing them, fearing what you'll find in their propaganda.
Don't give them that power over you. Some might say we should call for a jihad against ISIS. (Jihad meaning a righteous struggle, not some extremist war) I agree inasmuch as ISIS deserves to be fought against - but I don't want it to turn into a soundbite like "war on terror." Ideologies have to be starved, asphyxiated, pushed to the fringe. ISIS draws breath through its recruitment system, right? Who's choking it?
So let's remove the taboo, the fear that having a link to Dabiq in your search history will get you indicted. Don't be afraid of them. Learn who they are. And then make sure you are wherever they seek new recruits.
This isn't CVE. This is grassroots activism. It's not just Muslims that can do it. They're online. We can fight them from our computers.