Amidst Executive Order Turmoil, MSA Moves Toward Solidarity

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Intercultural Center

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday, January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries for ninety days, resulting in concern on campus. The actions of President Trump have given rise to a shift in direction for the Muslim Students Association (MSA).

Nader Helmy ’17, a board member of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) said, “[The MSA has] never been a large group on campus. Now, for the first time, people know what MSA is. We have some visibility. The question that became even more pressing was, ‘What do we do now?’”

Now, after establishing themselves, the MSA is becoming more involved with activities on campus. According to Helmy, the MSA is collaborating with political groups and has had a joint meeting with ARCS (Anti-Racism Coalition of Swarthmore).

Helmy says that the MSA’s mission now is to open their arms to those in need.

“We want to open our solidarity work wide open […] We want to be a support resource for all students who look to us, whether [they are] Muslim students, students from Muslim-majority countries, students from Muslim families, whether they identify as Muslim, or not. We want to include non-Arab Muslims, South Asian Muslims, Black Muslims, [who] have been even more invisible than Arab Muslims,” Helmy said.

For a while, the MSA had stayed away from political activity. “We wanted to establish ourselves as people who had principles and ideas and beliefs outside of politics […] The idea of the Muslim American as an identity is coming into a lot of people’s minds […] I think for the first time in the past two or three years, being a Muslim American is an identity […] Being a Muslim extends way beyond the bubble of ‘faith’,” Helmy said.

Helmy, who has been on the MSA board for two years, commented on MSA’s growing presence on campus. “We weren’t the issue of the day, and now because of all that’s been going on, we are,” Helmy said.

However, Helmy says that the MSA’s new direction has been in the works for a while.

“The discussion of the role of the MSA obviously did not just start with the immigration ban. We’ve been percolating for a few years”

Helmy, a U.S. citizen, said “It hasn’t barred me or my direct relatives, but it’s put us all in a state of fear”

The travel ban elicited a response from President Valerie Smith in an e-mail affirming the college’s support for its students. A panel discussion was held later on February 3 in the Intercultural Center, co-hosted by the Muslim Students Association and i20.

On February 4, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the travel ban in after federal judge James Robart ruled against it. However, turmoil still lingers as the White House issued a statement shortly after promising to pursue an “emergency stay” on Justice Robart’s order with the objective of reinstating the ban.

One of the students who was directly affected by the travel ban is Abdikarim Hussein ’20, who is from Hargeisa, Somalia. Hussein’s high school in Somalia is reputable for sending students to the United States for higher education. But the prospect of a travel ban threatens to put an end to that.

“I am not planning to go back home anytime soon. I made that decision even before the election,” he said. “[Travel restrictions] may affect new students coming in August […] Students currently in the United States have been advised not to travel for the next year or so.”

However, Hussein believes that he is not among the worst-affected.

“My visa is valid as long as I am enrolled in classes,” he said. “I do not think my education at Swarthmore will be hindered. I am more worried about refugees and undocumented immigrants.”

Regarding the suspension of the travel ban, Helmy said, “It’s a small victory. They might just draft a new ban. Maybe it’ll [include more] countries. In no sense is the fight anywhere near over. History has shown us how the law can be bent and changed when we’re not looking.”

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