Friday from a Seattle courtroom, hope spread that President Donald Trump’s executive orders might add up to little more than longer, more threatening tweets. Federal Judge James Robart’s ruling in State of Washington vs. Donald J. Trump, et al has put a major kink in the president’s attempt to bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
At age six, Boris Krichevsky fled the former Soviet Union with his parents, younger sister and his uncle’s family. They came to America in 1991 as refugees. Today, Capitol Hill resident Krichevsky is an educator and a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington.
Wassef Haroun, who was born in Syria and raised in Lebanon, moved to the U.S. for school. He met his wife, Racha, whose father is Syrian and mother is Iranian, while they were both college students in Houston, Texas. Together they moved around a lot — Seattle, Paris, Dubai, and back to Seattle. They opened Mamnoon restaurant on Capitol Hill’s Melrose Ave.
“We are afforded lots of great opportunities by being here that we simply could not be afforded at home,” Haroun told CHS.
With the battle over Trump’s blocked immigration ban — and the appeal filed Saturday — as background, both men talked with CHS about their views molded by both their backgrounds coming to the U.S. and the work they are currently doing.
Krichevsky may not be a citizen from one of the seven Muslim-majority countries that Trump’s executive order signed last Friday intended to bar from entering the U.S. but the attempted ban reminded him of his experience as a Russian-Jewish immigrant.
“When I saw some of the images on the news in the recent days, it resonated a lot with me because we were that family at JFK (airport in New York) in ‘91, but our experience was different,” Krichevsky said.
For Haroun, his family in Lebanon and wife’s family in Syria would not be able to do something as simple as visit their loved ones in the United States.
“It reaches into my life as an American citizen,” Haroun told CHS.
The executive order attempted to bar citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for the next 90 days. Refugees would be banned for 120 days. Syrian refugees would be banned indefinitely. Travelers across the country and the world were caught in limbo with the sudden executive action, and activists flooded airports to protest.
“There was a lot of talk during the campaign about the potential (of a ban),” Haroun said. “I think we were all really stunned by the reach and the aggressiveness of the action.”
Most people are born into their religion, Haroun said. Targeting Muslims, who according to the Pew Research Center, were 1.6 billion people strong in 2010 making it the second-largest religion in the world after Christianity, hurts America’s standing in the world.
According to Haroun “most immigrants pay back many times over” what they get from living in the U.S. both culturally and economically.
“To us, immigration is an attribute to American society,” Haroun said.
Last Monday in Seattle City Hall, the Seattle City Council passed council member Lorena González’s Welcoming City ordinance. The legislation directs the City of Seattle to invest $250,000 “for students in the Seattle Public Schools affected by federal policies directed at immigrants and refugees in 2017.”
Krichevsky’s Ph.D. work is in teacher education. He works with teachers at schools and districts throughout the state.
He said a teacher recently emailed him asking him for advice on handling both undocumented students and students celebrating the Muslim ban who share a classroom.
“And educator’s role is to help facilitate conversation and help a student grow, so we want to be careful about how we talk about politics in the classroom, but we do have to do something,” he said.
By engaging in more meaningful civic conversations with students, it will give them the tools necessary to be more critical of elected leaders and make more informed decisions, Krichevsky said.
Giving them these tools starts from the beginning, he said and should be tied to teaching critical perspectives of history as well.
“I do think that education is the key for young people to develop a critical, informed voice to combat these paradoxical or unfounded ideas,” Krichevsky said.
At Mamnoon, which opened in 2012 offering modern Middle Eastern dishes, the Harouns are working to be a “beacon of diversity” — their team and customers represent a variety of cultures.
One of the “key drivers” for opening Mamnoon was to connect people with Middle Eastern cultures, and Seattle has been a welcoming city for that, but that’s obviously not the case everywhere.
“It really saddens us and angers us to know there are people who don’t want the diversity,” Haroun said. Life with hummus and pita is better than life without, he said.
While the restaurant has donated thousands of dollars to refugees, Haroun said one of the best things people can do is to bridge the gap between different cultures. Attend events, learn about different countries’ music and soccer teams, and watch documentaries about different cultures, he suggested.
“They are real people with real lives. They are very much like you and me,” he said.
Working in rural Washington schools, Krichevsky knows that much of the state supports Trump. It’s not something that can be ignored, he said. He believes liberal Seattleites have a responsibility to engage with conservatives when middle ground can be found.
He thinks that if Trump supporters better understand what it means to ban Muslims, build a wall on the Mexican border, and be friends with President Vladimir Putin, they might be more critical of the commander in chief.
Krichevsky told CHS his parents see parallels between Trump and Putin and similarities between how some Americans are reacting as they saw in Russia.
“The danger of slipping into an oligarchy or a country where there are fewer freedoms is very easy and it’s very peaceful oftentimes,” Krichevsky said. “It’s not necessarily the case that there’s a big revolution or there’s violence or Tiananmen Square. It can be a slow transition.”