When Not-Bad People Obey Not-Good Orders

Feb 17, 2017

Commentator Shaheen Pasha has a passport full of stamps from Muslim nations as well as European countries and far-flung Asian destinations. It’s always been a source of pride to have been able to see the world. Now it’s a source of concern.

I’m a Muslim-American journalist with a Pakistani name. Being pulled out of passport control lines for additional searches or to answer questions about my travel history has been part of the job in our post 9/11 society. Not a big deal. But with recent government orders targeting Muslims and people of color, for the first time I’m afraid.

I'm not the enemy. I never felt the need to explain that to anyone until this year. But now, in certain situations, I feel I have to reassure people.

There’s report of individuals now being forced to hand over passwords to their computers, phones and social media accounts. I’m afraid my phone could be seized. Then the government would have access to my sources and their contact information. I’m even more afraid of being treated as less of an American despite my blue passport and New York birth.

I’m not the enemy. I never felt the need to explain that to anyone until this year. But now, in certain situations, I feel I have to reassure people.

I don’t believe everyone sees me as a threat, of course. According to polls during this past election year, about 70 percent of Americans had more favorable attitudes toward Muslims than in the past. Yet other polls show nearly half of all Americans support the "Muslim ban." In other words, some people say they’re okay with the Muslim faith. Just don’t come here.

Yes, there are massive crowds gathering across the U.S., chanting "No Ban" and "No Wall." The courts stepped in. And it’s comforting. But Americans working in airports or conducting government raids were and are tearing families apart. The news is full of examples. A breastfeeding baby kept from her mother. A child detained by customs officials. An undocumented mother snatched from her children and deported back to a country she hadn’t seen in decades.

The Americans carrying out these act have the power to make a difference. But they’re choosing to stay silent when faced with directives that challenge their humanity. That both saddens and frightens me.

These aren’t bad people. But they’re doing bad things. Some may well believe in the ban. I’m betting others are pretty conflicted. History has shown us what atrocities occur when societies dutifully follow orders that are inhumane.

Americans are at a crossroads. We must choose to stand up for what’s right. Now. While we still have the power to make a difference.

Shaheen Pasha teaches international journalism at UMass Amherst.