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Reaction and response

Iraqi Young Leader, International Programs provost discuss travel ban

Philip Kuhns

Philip Kuhns

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Heidi Gregori-Gahan was in Washington D.C. when the executive order regarding immigration and refugees was announced.

The executive order set forth by President Donald Trump halts immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. It also bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and all refugee admissions for 120 days.

Gregori-Gahan, Assistant Provost for International Programs and Services, was attending a leadership conference for international educators.

“I think our reaction was similar to the way we all felt on staff (last) Monday, which is shock and much dismay over what it said, how it was rolled out, how it may have been thought through or not thought through,” Gregori-Gahan said.

She said then the thoughts jumped to how this would affect current international students and scholars, as well as the effort to recruit in the future.

“I think our initial reaction was one of shock and then sort of helplessness,” she said.

The uncertainty regarding the order was the scariest aspect for Gregori-Gahan.

“That’s the thing that has us all feeling kind of sick to our stomachs,” she said. “We don’t know when the next shoe is going to drop. We also don’t know if other countries, predominantly Muslim countries or countries in that region, are going to say ‘well never mind we won’t send our students to the States.’ We just don’t know.”

One program which has drawn students to the university in the past is the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program.

Iraqi Young Leaders is an undergraduate and high school program sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs Division, and implemented by World Learning.

According to the program’s website, it has provided opportunities for over 2,000 students to participate in the program since its start.

One student who spent time at the university as participant in the program was Nawras Mahmood.

Mahmood was on campus during the summer of 2010, and at the time was a nursing student.

She now works in public relations for Kurdistan Save the Children, a local branch in Kurdistan of the national charity Save the Children.

As a result of the travel ban, Mahmood cannot come back to the United States, something she had been planning.

Mahmood said ultimately she was not surprised when she heard about the travel ban, but she did find the exclusion of Saudi Arabia “funny.”

“When you study the history of terrorism, the roots are in Saudi Arabia,” Mahmood said. “You understand this is not something related to a Muslim ban or to keeping terrorism away from America. It is just a random decision to shock the world and to shock everyone else.”

For Mahmood the shock came long before the announcement of the executive order Jan. 27.

She said it was disappointing to see the election come down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“It was interesting to me he won the election,” Mahmood said. “The shock was there, not here with the Muslim ban.”

She said she always saw Trump as a businessman who created a character for himself in the media and became famous because he worked on his image.

“Is that really what the American people want?” Mahmood said. “Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe they get bored with a lot of diplomacy and this kind of political diplomatic statement.”

Mahmood said from the news and even her own social media she sees Americans who are not pleased with President Trump.

But she said if people respect democracy they must also respect the result.

“I’m not a person that reacts to things very quickly. I don’t believe in reaction. Reaction is built on an emotional state,” Mahmood said. “I do believe in response. Responses are usually built on logic.”

Mahmood said in some ways it’s easier to accept the order because of the part of the world she lives in.

She lives in a region of Kurdistan, located in the northern part of Iraq. The people of Kurdistan are not Arab, but instead Kurds. Though Kurdistan is stable, it is  near other parts of Iraq which are not.

“The situation here is very dynamic,” she said. “You are in the heart of the war area. A couple months ago ISIS was a couple hours away from me…When you live in an area like the United States, which to an extent is very stable, and you have a system, it’s hard to accept this, but for me it’s easier.”

Mahmood said this is just a show for President Trump which she doesn’t see continuing, but even if it does last his four or eight years, it will end.

“Later on American people will decide what they want,” she said.

The reaction is what interests her the most.

“I don’t care about the decision itself; I care about the reaction,” she said. “…It will be interesting to see what the American people do; will they be silent?”

Mahmood said it was during the Iraqi Young Leaders program that she learned a little about her own diversity at home.

While making a timeline about their history, the students from Kurdistan and the other parts of Iraq found themselves arguing.

Despite being from the same country, the Kurds and the rest of the Iraqi people have different histories.

She said when they all returned home it helped them to question why they saw their differences as weakness and not strengths.   

“Diversity is what makes America very special,” she said.

Mahmood said the people in her community follow the changes and news of the United States closely, especially when it affects international policy.

“America is not close as a country where we live, but they are close in politics,” she said. “They are here.”

She said the situation right now makes her want to say “okay, let’s watch this.”

“For me it’s just like this,” she said. “It’s very obvious that it is temporary; it can’t last.”

Here on campus, the uncertainty of the ban expanding or extending and its effect on the university are at the forefront for Gregori-Gahan.

She is worried it could hinder other countries’ interest in sending students to the United States.

“People grab onto pieces of information and that becomes the reality,” she said. “That image of what we as a country are saying and what we should be standing for is just really troublesome.”

Gregori-Gahan said there should be a good process in place for vetting people who want to come to the United States, but she doesn’t feel the administration looked into current practices.

“What scares me is this decision might not have been based on the full picture,” she said. “Refugees go through years of vetting to get here, international students have to go through a large vetting process for a visa.”

One thing she said she did appreciate was the response of universities across Indiana and the rest of the United States.

“We need this talent; the international students and scholars that come here are usually the best and brightest that their countries have to offer,” she said, “and aren’t we so fortunate they choose to come to the United States to learn and to share, to grow and contribute.”

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Reaction and response