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The US under Trump: Why this American is worried

February 06, 2017 09:28 IST

'I have had a US passport for 26 years. I have a Hindu name. But none of that matters it seems.'
'Today I have also become an immigrant from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria.
'Today I am Changez Khan and Rizwan Khan.'
'All of us brown people have been put in the same boat by Trump,' says Aseem Chhabra.

Protesters compare Trump to Hitler in a protest in New York City, January 20, 2017. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

IMAGE: Protesters compare Trump to Hitler in a protest in New York City, January 20, 2017. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 

Towards the beginning of Mira Nair's 2012 film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the protagonist Changez Khan is seated in a dhaba-like cafe that caters to university students.

He is giving an interview to an American reporter Bobby Lincoln who will eventually turn out to be a CIA agent.

Khan (played with a lot of warmth and confidence by Riz Ahmed) opens the interview by saying: 'Looks can be deceiving. I am a lover of America, although I was raised very Pakistani.'

Later in a flashback Khan is interviewed for a job at a major New York financial firm Underwood Sampson. And he is asked why he wanted to come to America.

He responds: 'In America I get an equal chance to win and whether or not you hire me, I am going to win.'

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on a novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid looks at the plight and the disillusionment of a brilliant young man from Pakistan who is hired by Underwood Sampson, only to see his dreams shattered in the post-9/11 America.

Nair's somewhat imperfect adaptation of a perfect novel by Hamid was one of the two films I referred to this past week in order to make sense of what is happening to my country -- the US -- as I spend an extended period of time in my country of birth, India, for personal reasons.

The other is also an imperfect but important film -- Karan Johar's My Name is Khan.

A US military veteran holds a sign as people protest Donald Trump's travel ban at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas, Texas, January 29, 2017. Photograph: Laura Buckman/Reuters

IMAGE: A US military veteran holds a sign as people protest Donald Trump's travel ban at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas, Texas, January 29, 2017. Photograph: Laura Buckman/Reuters

 

Both My Name is Khan and The Reluctant Fundamentalist look at Muslims in America following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Those attacks were conducted by foreign nationals, but it unleashed a volley of hate crimes towards anyone who was brown skinned since some Americans could not tell the difference between an Arab and a Sikh, a Muslim from a Hindu, a gurdwara from a mosque.

All our lives were placed in peril; all our dreams were put on hold.

Changez Khan finally returns to his homeland and builds a life there. The book and the film debate whether he himself becomes a fundamentalist or not.

MNIK's Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, traverses across America, in a Bollywood filmy style, to tell the country's president that even though his name is Khan, he is not a terrorist. He finally returns home with his wife to San Francisco.

But where would Changez Khan and Rizwan Khan go today in an America where the hatred against brown skinned people has been unleashed by the State, and the country's newly elected president?

A protest group, Disrupt J20, in Washington, DC, January 20, 2017. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

IMAGE: A protest group, Disrupt J20, in Washington, DC, January 20, 2017. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

 

President Donald Trump has so far only restricted the entry of nationals from seven Muslim countries. Despite temporary bans imposed by the courts, immigration officials at airports have already used their discretion to question other foreigners with Muslim names and even those who might have traveled to one of the seven banned Islamic countries.

In the madness that ensued in the past 10 days, the former prime minister of Norway -- a very white man -- was questioned at a Washington, DC airport because he had made a trip to Iran in 2014.

It is heartening to see protesters across America -- at airports, on the streets, demanding an end to this hatred and the Muslim ban imposed by Trump.

I was blown away by the courage and commitment of young lawyers -- many women in hijabs, who parked themselves on the floors of JFK airport willing to help passengers who were held up by overzealous immigration officers.

But I am still worried. I am an American citizen. I have had a US passport for 26 years. I have a Hindu name. But none of that matters it seems.

Today I have also become an immigrant from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

Today I am Changez Khan and Rizwan Khan.

All of us brown people have been put in the same boat by Trump.

Volunteer lawyers work in a dining area of Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport in New York, January 29, to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

IMAGE: Volunteer lawyers work in a dining area of Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport in New York, January 29, 2017, to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

 

This much I know: America does not just belong to Donald Trump.

He has been given the privilege of being the leader of the country, but that does not give him the right or power or unleash his own horrendous vision of America.

We have courts, civil rights organisations, we have people who define the finest qualities of America -- the right to free speech being one of the most significant ones, but also the right to worship whichever god we want to follow.

America has been defined by the country's founding fathers and the nation's thinkers -- writers, poets, philosophers, artists, singers, actors, street activists.

That definition of America is what the country has stood for since it was born -- a tapestry of people who may look different, speak different languages, practice different religions, eat different foods, wear different clothes, but they also have common goals.

They all care for their families, their children, their communities and their nation.

I admire that America, a tolerant society that largely made me who I am today.

Donald Trump is a temporary resident of the White House -- only four years or (hopefully not) eight years. But the idea of America is much larger than Donald Trump.

He cannot undo the America that was built brick by brick, immigrant by immigrant since 1776.

A man holds a welcome sign as people protest against the travel ban imposed by Trump's executive order at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, January 29, 2017. Photograph: Laura Buckman/Reuters

IMAGE: A man holds a welcome sign as people protest against the travel ban imposed by Trump's executive order at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, January 29, 2017. Photograph: Laura Buckman/Reuters

 

I quote another president of America, the wonderful Barack Hussein Obama. At his first inauguration on January 21, 2009 Obama said: 'For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.'

I am a lover of that America.

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Aseem Chhabra