The first year my family were in America, December 1978 to 1979, saw the toppling of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran, and the rise to power of Ruhollah Khomeini (Ayatolla Khomeini), whose regime took 52 Americans hostage on November 4, 1979. I remember my dad telling us to be careful about saying we were from Iraq because Americans might assume that meant we hold the same values as the Muslim revolutionaries who captured the Americans.
I had enough on my plate trying to learn English, being made fun of by kids calling me “Luma Puma Montezuma,” and becoming accustomed to this new country. Adding fear to my already stressful American elementary school experience did not help. In spite of the taunting and mockery, I continued to say I was from Iraq.
I tried to explain that the people who had taken the hostages were Muslim, and I was Christian—Arab Christians wouldn’t do such a thing to Americans. I tried to explain that the reason I was even in America in the first place was because we too were afraid of the Islamic government persecuting us for our religion.
This week I’ve watched Twitter explode with Donald Trump’s statement to halt all Muslim travel because of their religion. He also wants to shut down all Muslim immigration to America.
Targeting One Religion Will Lead to Targeting Others
I have an existential crisis at times like this. I am conflicted in my being, and this tension within me is due to the identity struggle between the Iraqi Christian me and the American me.
When you have memories of a Muslim teacher singling you out, striking your palms over and over again, and marking you down (after all, Christian girls aren’t allowed to be smarter than Muslim boys and girls); when your family has to leave grandparents, aunts, uncles, and your country of birth because of harassment—well, maybe you can understand the internal tension.
At the end of the day, when the tears finally stop, my soul reminds me of who I am in essence, of who I am before the Iraqi and American me. It’s my identity as a Christian woman, a disciple of Jesus Christ. I cannot in good conscience do this to fellow human beings.
In my last essay, “Why We Should Resettle Refugees In Their Own Lands,” I advocated for closing American borders. I had in mind a time of war strategy, not what Trump is calling for. I cannot with any kind of integrity support such a stance—not even as an Arab Christian. Because of the gospel, I hold fiercely to the original intent of the Founding Fathers on freedom of religion. Proposing the truth, not imposing it on others, will eventually win hearts and minds.
Pope John Paul II wrote in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio:
On her part. the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!
The Islamic Jihadist see this as a weakness. Many Arab Christians also see it that way. I’m a bit worried about this. Many Arab Christians are here in America because of Muslim harassment, oppression, and even persecution in different forms. The saying goes: “We came here to get away from them. Why have they followed us here?”
I’m worried about Arab Christian support for Trump and his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some of my kinsmen don’t seem to understand that this kind of repression against one group today will become the suppression and silencing of another group tomorrow.
Yes, I Know It’s Not Fair
Now, I don’t know all the facts behind this story, but when 27 Iraqi Christian refugees are refused asylum while Muslims are coming in, I would not be surprised to see Arab Christians voting for a candidate who promises to stop Muslim immigration and infiltration into America. Notice how the priest in that interview, when asked directly about Muslim refugees, declines to answer and defers to “the wisdom of our government?” This is classic Arab Christian culture: demurring!
I feel bad saying this about a priest, but I know this culture, I know my kinsmen—they do not want Muslims coming to America, and certainly they feel the sting of injustice when they are refused asylum while the perpetrators of years of persecution have doors open for them and the attorney general of the United States promising the help of the Justice Department if Muslim kids start feeling bullied. What’s the statute of limitations on bullying? I can tell her all kinds of bullying experiences, but that doesn’t count because I’m a Christian Arab, not a Muslim.
Americans need to be aware of this kind of Arab rivalry, even in America. And I hope Arab Christians across America come to realize that Trump is not their friend and ally. There are issues beneath the issues. His tactics will not help us in the long run, and they will not help future generations of Arab Christians in America.