By Carmen George
An interfaith group denounced “Islamophobia and bigotry against Muslim communities” outside the downtown Fresno federal courthouse on Thursday – the day a revised presidential executive order was scheduled to go into effect that would prevent citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
“This is systematic racism. It’s bigger than a Muslim ban. … Once you forget your history, you are doomed to repeat it,” warned Muslim chaplain Imam Raqeeb Abduljabbar, referencing other controversial moments in U.S. history, like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Abduljabbar was among approximately 30 people at the evening news conference, which was organized by Faith in Fresno before federal judges blocked President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban this week. Those in attendance shared some relief about the recent rulings but continue to call on elected officials to “stand up against policies that seek to dehumanize and further divide, and to support policies that protect our families and communities.”
The original order, signed by President Donald Trump in January in the name of security, blocked citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. and suspended the U.S. refugee program. Some changes in the revised order include reducing the number of banned countries from seven to six – removing Iraq – and replacing a ban on Syrian refugees with a 120-day freeze requiring review and renewal. A federal ruling in Hawaii addressed both the travel ban and refugee ban, and a Maryland ruling applied only to the travel ban.
Organizers of Thursday’s news conference said there are thousands of families in the Fresno area with ties to the countries listed in the travel ban.
Members of a Syrian refugee family, Thafer Kashak and his 15-year-old daughter, Deema, are among them. They shared part of their story of losing their homes and a sweets shop and factory in Syria due to the violence. Kashak now works as a sous chef in Fresno.
Speakers also referenced a trip to the state Capitol on Wednesday, where around 300 Faith in the Valley members rallied to urge legislators to pass SB54: the California Values Act and SB31: the Religious Freedom Act.
Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel said the travel ban runs counter to American values. To illustrate that, he shared the famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“We look for the rainbow in the endless skyway and wrestle the brush from the hands of those attempting to paint each color white,” Winer said. “What happened to America the Beautiful?”
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, led the crowd in a couple chants, including, “One people, one fight.”
Nekumanesh referenced data showing that over the past 30 years, no citizen from the six Muslim-majority countries in the revised travel ban has killed any American on American soil. The travel ban instead, he said, is “based on prejudice, racism and ethnocentricism against Muslim-majority countries.”
“The United States is strong, forward-moving and honored only because of our diversity,” Nekumanesh said. “Anything that attacks or undermines our diversity is detrimental to the prosperity and future of our nation.”