Thursday, November 03, 2016

Mr. Trump, Don’t Question my Patriotism!

 By Nury A. Turkel

The night before I became an American citizen I could not sleep. I was excited. I couldn’t believe I was about to be safe — once and for all — from the threat of Chinese repression. I was eager to swear an oath to defend the nation that protected my individual freedom and dignity. When morning came, I went to the courthouse two hours early. Even after the birth of my son in June, I still consider it the best day of my life. It was the day I became a free man, an American.

Where I grew up, violent repression and discrimination were a way of life. I am a Uyghur, an ethnic minority in China. We are Turkic Muslims with an eclectic cosmopolitan culture that developed on the Silk Road. The Chinese, ruling our homeland since 1949, have never trusted our people. Like Tibetans, we are marginalized, stigmatized, and more than occasionally brutalized. Innocents are regularly tortured, slaughtered, arrested, sometimes for crimes as banal as reciting ancient poetry or speaking our language. No one under 18 can practice our religion, even in the confines of our homes. Thank God most of my fellow Americans have never known what it means to live without the protections of our constitution.

I am forever grateful and loyal to the U.S. for my rights and the opportunities the nation has given me. Yet I am worried and sad. Donald Trump’s exclusionary policy has disturbing implications not only for patriotic Muslim-American citizens, but also for our constitution. It is personal because I am one of those Americans that Mr. Trump wants to portray as unpatriotic. The things Trump says about “the Muslims” are the same things the Chinese said about us.

He mentioned forced registration a few months ago, banning Muslim visitors, creating religious tests. The rhetoric shifts back and forth as the political necessities of the day change. And maybe I’ll be exempt because I’m the Muslim equivalent of a “Christmas and Easter Christian.” All of it is from the same strain of fear and hate that our founding fathers warned about in the federalist papers. Attacks against Muslims and immigrants in general — event rhetorically — an attack on upon our entire system and liberal democracy. Occasionally, throughout American history, we have seen virulent strains of hate and violence against immigrants like the Irish or Italians. They used to talk about Catholicism the way they talk about Islam. But today is different. Back then; the merchants of hate never had Twitter, or years of practice on reality TV to polish their image.

The America I know and revere treats people with dignity and respect regardless of an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender or country of origin. America has given me the freedom to speak out against China’s human rights abuses, and the opportunity to become a lawyer. So much I feel compelled to advocate the values of our country. Perhaps, as a friend of mine says, this combination of indignation and entitlement is what shows just how American I have become? But as a new father, I am keenly aware of the importance to show my son the importance of what our founding fathers bestowed upon us. The strength of our great nation stems from the collage of immigrants who came to work and thrive in America, but the fiber that binds us together has always been the ideal that all men are created equal, and are equal under the law. In law school, I learned these ideals were not always put into practice, but more importantly, I learned that we have always been striving for a more perfect union. Will we still strive under Trump?

My story is by no means unique. There are a couple thousand Uyghurs in the U.S., but also many other immigrants who have come from countries that violated their human rights.  We came to the U.S. to flee oppression, but we work hard to gain an education, raise decent families and contribute our knowledge to society. Through hard work, we have become contributing members of the American society. And we understand the debt we owe to America. Many Muslim sons and daughters have joined the military to fight for our nation’s pluralistic values and freedom. We have taken an oath to defend the constitution, and we take it seriously. During World War II, Japanese-Americans and German-Americans were accused of treason, but their sons still served. As a result, the U.S. had a tremendous advantage: keen insight into our enemies’ culture and language that our enemies did not possess. As we fight terrorism, our Muslim soldiers and civilians give us this same advantage. 

Therefore, my question to Mr. Trump is this: are these the kind of people you wish to exclude from the United States through your proposed “extreme vetting” process? By doubting the loyalty of Muslim-Americans, Mr. Trump ignores our contribution to our homeland. Excluding other Muslim immigrants may score political points, but it is national security that loses.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has consistently shown her encouragement for the hard work of immigrants to the United States. She has spoken of the need to integrate communities and offer support to individuals and families who can contribute to the economy and society. In the words of Secretary Clinton immigration “strengthens our country.”

Elections sometimes define who we are as a people — and this we can all agree is one of those times. I hope I’ll be able to tell my son when he is older about a man who tried to whip up fear and hate against immigrants but failed. And I’ll say that the man failed because we as a nation realized his hate was against our values and our constitution.

Nury Turkel is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

This opinion piece was originally published at