I’m sitting in my home on Saturday listening to Maurice Sendak, the beloved children’s author, tell Terry Gross about his immigrant parents, and how they put all their money toward bringing one relative after another to America in the 1930s,
Sendak, you know, is the man who wrote “Where the Wild Things Are,” “In the Night Kitchen” and other classic American children’s delights. An immigrant, his parents refugees. In his impoverished childhood, the money went to bring the relatives over one by one — brothers, sisters, grandmother. Until Germany shut the borders and those left behind were killed.
Then I read the New York Times account of the people detained at JFK on Saturday — a family of refugees from Syria with approved visas. A man who worked in Iraq on behalf of the U.S. government, coming to join his wife and child. Then we realized that next, perhaps, will be the celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is nominated for an Oscar but comes from the banned Iran.
A blanket travel ban goes against everything we believe as Americans. And it comes not as we are under threat, on the brink of war or economically on our knees — which is typically when America does horrifically unconstitutional things like allow Guantanamo, waterboarding or the Sedition Act.
This travel ban comes apropos of nothing other than President Trump’s absurd reality distortion. It connects to no particular terror attack, and neatly avoids any countries where his companies do business.
Where is the country we know and love? The one that is hopeful, open to the world, devoted to welcoming the world’s “tired and poor” and offering a haven to those who go on to become our very own strength, like Maurice Sendak and about a million others we could name?
As someone who has many friends in Muslim countries and who has spent many years abroad, it does not represent me or the country I know.
The fact that it comes overnight by presidential fiat contributes to the sense of shock. Since when is this country run by a ruler rather than three branches of government? What is going on?
The artists and entertainers of this country must be particularly pained, as they know the power of culture and how it transcends borders, languages and nation-states. We are in the midst of celebrating the very international nature of movie culture at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, Sundance and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Less than a week ago I heard the soul-searing story of Kholoud, a Syrian activist who made the long trip to Sundance to talk about “Cries From Syria,” a documentary that will shake you to your core as you see the agonies imposed upon the civilians there – men, women and children. People she knew. Her people.
But now Syria – all Syrians – are banned. Kholoud is supposed to come back in March. A publicist for the film says with understatement that will now pose a “challenge.”
Our strength as a country lies in our diversity, in our openness to the world and in our embrace of the immigrant. It is also the source of the admiration other countries have for us. Our openness sets a moral example for others. Closing our borders to the weak and suffering sends just the opposite message.
We will not stand for blanket discrimination against Muslim countries. It is wrong. It is counterproductive. It is unnecessary. And it is profoundly un-American.