Monday, May 29, 2017

#ReadingResistance - Part 2

There has been a lot of back and forth between the US Executive Office and federal courts since the issuance of Executive Order 13759, signed January 27, 2017.  This first order which suspended US entries of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  In fact, various parts of the first order were enjoined by various district courts and courts of appeals, most noticeably in Washington State v. Trump.  So much confusion and public outcry led to a replacement of the first order to a second attempt, Executive Order 13780.  This order restricted nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen unless they are lawful permanent residents of the United States, have visas that were valid as of January 27, 2017, or receive a case-by-case waiver.  Furthermore, Iraq was removed from the list of banned countries. Heightened screening and extreme vetting still require federal agencies, such as the State Department and the US Department of Homeland Security to develop strengthened screening procedures and criteria for populations warranting increased security.  Such immigration actions have caused decreased interest in travel to the US. Emirates Airlines has cut flights to the US by 20% because of the order and a recent ban on using electronics on flights from some ME countries, including Jordan. More importantly, tourism experts estimate that 4.3 million fewer visitors will travel to the US in 2017, resulting in a loss of $7.4 billion." The predictions for 2018 show an increased loss of $10.8 billion. (Cowger, Bolter, and Pierce, 2017. "The First 100 Days: Summary of Major Immigration Actions Taken by the Trump Administration," Migration Policy Institute Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute).

So, even though it has been 5 months, the immigration debate still rages on both sides.  It is confusing for those of us with MENA connections.  As far as interior enforcement of immigration laws, reportings on and arrests of noncitizens has increased, with several cities in at least 33 states have debated or enacted legislation preventing the enactment of such measures (so called, Sanctuary Cities). 

All of the above is our concern as citizens of the world. I am all for taking immigration precautions, but I also know first-hand that the vetting process is already rigorous, having gone through the immigration process with my spouse.  Our story, as well as other's I know, is full of difficult meetings, intimidation and thorough examination of every aspect of our personal lives.  It is hard to imagine a more rigorous system than the already existing immigration process. 

Again, how could I help?  I know books and authors.  I believe reading helps us understand the narratives of others.  The process of compiling #LIISSSY resources has given me a glimpse of the hardships that each country faces - exile, famine, persecution and death. It has helped me develop empathy. If you are afraid of the unknown, the only way to conquer that fear is to uncover what is unknown to you.  Reading is a safe way to learn about "the other."  Hopefully, in that process, you will also learn more about yourself.  

Enjoy the rest of the #LIISSSY lists.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


It began on Sunday, 28 January, when I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Arabic Literature (in English) by M. Lynx Qualey: "Resist the Bans: Support Writers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen."  This particular post was in reaction to harsher vetting for travelers from the named countries, a perceived prejudice of one religion over another, and overall misinformation about the facts.  Qualey shares how authors from Muslim-majority countries have not been granted visas for literature festivals and conferences, or how Skype "Authors in Residence" have been an alternative to complicated visa processing for some time now. 

Her post challenged me to take my own private stand in the very small world of IB School Libraries against recent changes in the US White House Administration. In particular, I was inspired by her thoughts:  
"The violence of such an executive act cannot be countered solely with art, or translation. Still, as Samah Selim notes, translation can be “a form of radical knowledge production.” We can also collaborate with, and listen to, literary voices, as well as forging supportive, enriching, properly compensated connections between writers and literary communities, thus resisiting the ban."
"Listen to literary voices" as a form of resistance? That is in my power to do.  As a librarian, I have found that reading books from other cultures and non-Western writers, most of them translated works, has made me more informed about global issues, more understanding of other narratives, and generally more empathetic toward members of the human race.

Now, reading is a form of resistance.  Once you have internalized something through reading, you cannot "unknow" it.  Whether it is love or hate, justice or prejudice, as William Wilberforce said:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” 
Thus begins #ReadingResistance.  Every day, I will curate and share with students and colleagues writing which is either translated or a re-telling of a personal narrative by each country on the #LIISSSY list. It's my very small contribution, my own act of resistance, in my library, in my school, in my world.  If you read one of these books or have a favorite, post it on Twitter with #ReadingResistance @Katsby90.

I begin with Libya.

The circle of friends around the White House is tightening, journalists are being attacked for asking the questions on the minds of a majority of Americans.  We have now been given a new newspeak for misinformation (alternative truth). I am reminded of a quote I read a long time ago, in a college course entitled, "Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry," a course I reckoned would be of interest to only a very few literary snobs and of relevance to none. The readings, as it turned out, are timeless and highly relevant. In an address to a newly-seated, populist Parliament, John Milton, somewhat an apologist for the Revolution, surprisingly delivers Areopagitica, with this being his final point of argument.

"Last, that it [censorship] will be primely to the discouragement of all learning, and the stop of Truth, not only by disexercising and blunting our abilities in what we know already, but by hindring and cropping the discovery that might bee yet further made both in religious and civill Wisdome."

In other words, words and books are not to be feared. They should not be silenced, for they sharpen our ability to think, to discover, and learn new ideas. When one reads, she invites a conversation into her mind. She has a dialogue that can and should make her a better person by challenging her acceptance of the status quo, of her own point of view, allowing her to enter into the sufferings of others with sure understanding.  #ReadingResistance is personal growth. #ReadingResistance is knowledge.  And as any good child of the 70s and 80s knows, "knowledge is power."