By Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad is a journalist and the founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to oppose compulsory head scarves in Iran. She can be found on Twitter: @MasihPooyan.
I am an Iranian, a journalist, a campaigner against Islamic extremism and a 40-year-old mother. I was forced to flee Iran’s media crackdown with my teenage son, Pouyan, in 2009. I came to the United States as a green-card holder in in 2014 after being a political refugee in the United Kingdom for five years. Due to my work, I cannot go back to Iran.
After seven years of being in exile due to Iran’s repression, I feel as if I am facing another crackdown, thanks to President Trump. His executive order to suspend the flow of refugees into the United States for 120 days, and to halt immigration for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days, could prevent me from seeing Pouyan, my only child, who is a now a student in the U.K. We feel as if we are both in limbo. I am unsure if he can come see me, or if can I go visit him, without being deprived of the right to come back to the United States. If were unable to return, it would be the end of my life here as I know it. When I think about not being able to see him, I feel sick.
Trump has resorted to this policy of barring Iranian nationals allegedly because of the fight against terrorism. I am not a terrorist. I am not a murderer. I am merely the victim of Iran’s repressive government. The authorities in Tehran put dissidents in jail, and force girls from the age of 7, including Christians, Jews and other religious minorities, to wear veils. I am coming from a country where there the government has erected institutional walls between the Baha’i minority and the Muslim majority, treating Baha’is as second-class citizens.
I’ve been fighting against Islamic extremism and Iran’s repression for all of my adult life. When I was 19 years old, and pregnant with my son, I was briefly imprisoned in Iran for my political activities. During the height of the election fraud of 2009 in Iran, I was one of the few journalists to highlight human right abuses in the aftermath of the elections. Millions of people marched in the streets for a better and more open country. In response, the Iranian government cracked down on them and mercilessly killed many protesters. I tracked down the families of hundreds of Iran’s victims and publicized their stories through my articles, television program and documentaries which were shown around the world. Because of my work I became a target for the Iranian government. I would face jail or worse if I were to return to Iran. Even as I live in exile, the Iranian authorities have launched smear campaigns against me. Other exiled journalists have been victims of similar measures.
Iran has built a wall around my family and me. My family has been taken hostage by Iran’s judiciary, barred from leaving the country. I have not been able to see them for seven years. The pressures and isolation of living in exile has even made me contemplate suicide. But having my son with me kept me connected to life. He gave me a reason to go on.
Even though Pouyan and I do not know when we will be able to see each other again, his mind is on those who are even less fortunate than us. When I complained to him about Trump’s order, he said, “Mom! Compared to what Syrian refuges have to endure, I feel guilty talking about our own problems. The Syrians have suffered much worse.”
All of this is why the idea of a wall in the United States to keep out refugees fleeing repression and war makes me shudder. I think of the millions of those in the Middle East who not only have had to flee homelands, but now face discrimination here in the United States, their adopted land. I know very well that ordinary people will be suffering immensely. I know because I already am.
On Sunday afternoon, I walked outside my house in Brooklyn, in a daze of emotions and thoughts after the events of this week. I bumped into my 64-year-old neighbor as she was walking her dog. She quietly asked me, “How are you coping these days? I have been thinking about you and your son. I am so sorry for you, and all of this that is happening. I don’t know my country anymore.”
Her kind and humane gesture both comforted and stunned me at the same time; I realized that in the past seven years, no one has ever offered apologies for what I have endured. No one has said “sorry” for me being separated from my family in Iran.
But my neighbor’s words have given me some hope in the goodness of the American people, hope that there are other Americans that will speak out on behalf of refugees and people in exile like me. Right now, that hope is what I will hold onto.