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An Open Letter from an Arab American of Syrian Heritage

posted on: Dec 16, 2015

An Open Letter from an Arab American of Syrian Heritage

In the midst of much anti-Muslim rhetoric in America, a ban on Muslims entering America has been proposed. While the media has been focusing on this proposal that has been widely rejected by politicians, it fails to shed light on a current bill that is about to pass through Congress that mirrors the same discriminatory tone.

HR158 revises the Visa Waiver Program to exclude dual nationals from Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan or anyone who has traveled to these four countries in the past five years. Since this waiver program is a mutual agreement between countries, any changes made by the U.S. can and will be reciprocated, which will subsequently affect Iranian Americans, Syrian Americans, Iraqi Americans, and Sudanese American.

Congress claims this is a protection measure, as if our “national security” is threatened by Europeans or Americans with one of these four backgrounds. In passing this bill, Congress is saying that anyone with ties to one of the four above-mentioned countries is more likely to be a potential security threat.

Before this bill was introduced, I was an American. However, with the passing of this bill, I will be labeled as a Syrian American, whether I label myself that way or not. If the bill passes, I would be separated from my American peers with whom I was raised.

I am American. I was born and raised in America. I hold an American passport.Tell me, am I less of an American?

Sadly, this is not the first time that the U.S. has made the mistake of discriminating against its people and later regretting it. How about the Japanese in internment camps? Looks like the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson because history is repeating itself. In a country of immigrants, in this day and age, why single me out?

It makes me wonder why are Syrians considered a security threat. Is it because of the existence of ISIS in Syria? Is it because you think all Syrians have ties to ISIS? Syrians are victims of the same horrific organization that you fear. Before you knew I was Syrian, did you think I was dangerous? ISIS is not synonymous with the word Syrian. As our elected representatives rush this bill, they have disregarded my American identity. It is one thing to debate the subject of Syrian refugees, but you cross a line once you target actual Americans – Americans who participate in the same concept of freedom that this country so boasts.

I am a typical American college student with the same aspirations as my peers. Every college student wants to study abroad and experience the world. HR158 singles me out for my Syrian heritage. I am not ashamed of the culture I was raised in. Is it justice to denounce my second identity, in order to receive the same traveling rights as my peers? This is exactly what HR158 is forcing me to do.

What blows my mind is that I am being punished for being a Syrian American. I am slowly being stripped of my rights and identity and the worst part is that no one knows it. The media is intentionally or unintentionally not covering this topic. So, the public is left in the dark about this heinous bill that Congress is about to pass.

The bill fails to provide legitimate exemptions to nationals who visited the countries for humanitarian, business, or family visits. I do have extended family in Syria. My grandfather, whom I love deeply, is growing weaker and sicker.

Once HR 158 passes, I will not have the opportunity to visit or see him before he dies as the U.S. will view me as a potential threat when I come back.

Once HR 158 passes, I might never be able to visit my second home. What exactly did I do to deserve this discrimination?

The bill also conveniently lacks a sunset clause, which means it does not have an expiration date. Therefore, Congress will not be obligated to revise it in the future. In other words, I, alongside any other Syrian American, will indefinitely be excluded from the visa program.

Can someone tell me where is the freedom in the land of the free?? What makes this a great nation is that we all live together and tolerate each other, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation. In fact, our differences make us enriched, united, and strong. This is the time when Americans need to stand up and oppose discrimination. This is the time when we ban together. This is the time when we say no to Islomaphobia.

In order for America to continue prospering for centuries, it will need to learn how to live alongside Arab countries in an increasingly shrinking global village. Ultimately, international dilemmas will remain intractable until cultures are able to appreciate other perspectives rather than just their own. HR158 does not solve problems, rather it just alienates Americans.

I stand tall with not only my American identity, but also my Syrian. I stand high with not only my English language, but also my Arabic. I stand strong with not only my American narrative, but also with my Syrian story. I am a Syrian American, but that does not make me any less of an American. Tell your Senators to say NO to Bill HR158.

Sincerely,

A concerned American of Syrian heritage,
Lian Najjar