I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night. I stayed up until almost two o’clock in the morning, scouring the internet for books written by writers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. These are the seven countries from which Trump has banned immigrants from entering (or re-entering) the country. The Muslim immigration ban is hateful and sickening. It is a racist, Islamophobic, white supremacist policy; it reflects the absolute worst of America. I felt sick and shaky last night, and only fell asleep after RSVPing yes to the Facebook event for the protest against the ban taking place in Boston today. I am a just an angry, heartsick white girl—the fear and outrage I am feeling is not even a speck compared to the pain and hurt and terror that so many Muslim and immigrant families are facing right now.
I showed up with my feet today, along with thousands of others jammed into Copley Square, packed tightly onto Dartmouth street, chanting and shouting from the steps of the Boston Public Library. I believe that showing up is important. My own daily life will not be gutted and disrupted by this ban; it makes me sick and angry, but it does not put me in danger. I believe it is even more important, for those of us for whom this ban is not disruptive, to disrupt our own lives, to crack open the hard shell of complacency.
I stood with my brother and my parents, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others, joining in when a chant rose through the crowd around me, holding high my “queers against Islamophobia” sign, proclaiming that our liberation is bound together, that we must resist oppression in all its forms—whether it targets us or lives inside us, whether our privilege protects us or not.
After an hour or so of protesting, I wove my way through the crowd and into the Boston Public Library. I am writing these words from the Bates Reading Room, my favorite room in Boston in my favorite building in Boston. I love this room—its green lamps and comfortable wooden tables and walls of books, but most of all, the people. Hundreds of people, sometimes, reading, working, writing, all together in this space, absolutely silent.
Today, in contrast to the companionable silence inside the reading room, I can still hear the chanting from the protest outside. Noise has never been more beautiful.
With each new day of Trump’s presidency, I have been feeling more and more overwhelmed. How can we combat such blatant, rampant hate, hate that is backed up by so much power and so much money? Of course, there are a hundred answers to this question. I have much to learn from the trans women of color who led the Stonewall rights, the courageous leaders of the civil rights movement, the indigenous resisters at Standing Rock. Fierce activists have been fighting hate and racism and white supremacy for a long time. Trump—and his horrifying polices—is the new face of an old enemy.
Still, it is overwhelming. Still, it is hard to know where to start.
Today I showed up in my city to protest a hateful, racist policy. Now I am sitting in a library—one of the greatest achievements of human civilization—seeking out books written people whose lives matter just as much as mine, people from countries that Trump has just declared dangerous simply because of the religion that is practiced there.
Today I am drawing strength from these two different ways of existing within a crowd: the people standing and chanting and holding signs outside, and the silence of the people surrounding me: the quiet hush of many working brains.
Today I am overwhelmed, so I am starting here: with books and protest, with my body and my brain. I am going to keep showing up at protests. I am going to keep reading and reading and reading. I am going to listen to the voices of the people from these countries Trump has so recklessly declared other. I am going to welcome their words and their stories into my heart. I am going to show up and use my voice, and I am going to listen.
Over the next month, I plan to read at least one book written by a writer from each of the seven countries included in Trump’s ban. My knowledge of Middle Eastern literature is pathetically small. I’ve read The Kite Runner and Persepolis, but that’s about it. The list below is a starting point, gleaned from various articles, booklists, and recommendations on the internet. I have not yet read any of them; I’ll write more about them as I do.
Many of these writers fled oppressive and authoritarian regimes. Some of them left as children, refugees from war. Others immigrated as adults. Some of these writers are still living in the countries of their birth; others are living in exile; others have made new homes in the countries that welcomed them and allowed them to stay. Many of these writers have been persecuted for their art.
Of one thing I am certain: it is very likely, that if countries like the United States had not opened their borders to refugees and immigrants, many of these books would not have been written.
Gold Dust, Ibrahim al-Koni
In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar
The Cypress Tree, Kamin Mohammadi
The Blind Owl, Sadegh Hedayat
My Uncle Napoleon, Iraj Pezeshkzad
Closing His Eyes, Luay Hamza Abbas
Sabriya: Damascus Bitter Sweet, Ulfat Idilbi
No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, Khaled Khalifa
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire
Black Mamba Boy, Nadifa Mohamed
Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela
Cities Without Palms, Tarek Al-Tayeb
A Land Without Jasmine, Wajdi Al-Ahdal
The Hostage, Zaid Mutee Dammaj