January 31, 2017 at 5:47 pm EST | by Bilal Askaryar
I was once a refugee
refugees, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Haeferl; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

As citizens of a republic, our elected leaders reflect our morality. I don’t mean morality in a holier-than-thou sense, I mean basic human decency. Even the actions of leaders that we may not have personally voted for reflect on what we, as citizens, are willing to condone.

The United States announced that it will ban the entry of refugees and not issue visas for anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Make no mistake this policy is based on nothing but naked prejudice against Muslims.

This has happened before. In 1939, the United States refused entry to another group of refugees based on religious enmity: Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Refugees are by definition the most vulnerable people among us. Families don’t choose to sacrifice everything they have and leave their homes unless their homes become like the mouth of a shark. Scapegoating people who are fleeing for their lives because of our own “economic anxieties” is an especially heinous kind of inhumanity that no person with a heart should be able to defend.

Do you think you don’t know any refugees?

This is how Afghanistan, my family’s thousand-year-old home, became like the mouth of a shark.

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. They twice imprisoned my grandfather for months at a time and tortured him with electroshock therapy. He refused their offer to make him king if he publicly supported the occupation of Afghanistan.

As we continued to resist and their occupation began to fall apart, the Soviets heightened their intimidation of my family. My uncles had to go into hiding. My mother and aunts couldn’t leave the house. I remember riding in my father’s Volkswagen that was the same color as that special blue I’ve only seen in Kabul skies when a rocket, perhaps aimed at him because he was a diplomat, flew past my head. My father was imprisoned.

When the occupation finally fell apart, we heard the whispers of a group that called themselves The Students coming to fill the vacuum the Soviets left. It was the Taliban, and they were bringing with them a way of life no one in my family recognized as Islam.

 So finally, we were forced to leave. I can’t properly explain the connection my family has to that land. Home isn’t the right word. What’s the word for a land that has your blood in its soil and whose soil is the flesh that makes up your body? Whatever that word is, that is what we were forced to leave.

After fleeing to India, Pakistan, China, and Hong Kong, we were lucky to be granted asylum in San Francisco.

Today’s refugees will not. Why? Because we allow our elected leaders to willfully conflate the people that that are running from the horrors of war with the people responsible for them. Because we have the audacity to be afraid that a Syrian fleeing Aleppo is actually coming  to take our job.

As an American, that is not my morality, and I hope it isn’t yours either. Do everything you can to oppose this ban. History will judge us.

Bilal Askaryar is a gay D.C. resident who came to the U.S. in 1990.

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