My experience with “them”

As a public school teacher, I’ve had the great privilege to teach so many people of vastly different backgrounds, nationalities, religions and experience and I kind of feel like the reason so many people hate/fear (fill in your own term here) those who are different from themselves is that they have never been around or rarely been around people different from themselves.  Therefore, with what is going on this past weekend, I thought I would share my experiences teaching and knowing Muslims who have come through my classrooms and life over the past 14 years to give a better understanding of why I find this immigration ban from certain places so reprehensible.  Throughout my life life, I have encountered many people of the Islamic faith, but I will focus this writing on my time as a teacher.  So when I hear about bans of people based in at least part on their association with Islam, here are the young people I think of when others talk about their safety and terrorism.

I think of my first year as a teacher, one of the brightest, most thoughtful students in my class that year was a young lady who was so excited to teach me about her faith and helped me present the unit on world religions from her perspective.  She proudly talked about her choice to not wear the hijab and how that did not make her any less faithful than those that chose to and how she respected the others’ choice and described how her choice was never criticized by those who shared her faith.  She showed me how to pronounce certain words correctly (something I still struggle with today) and gave me  my first real understanding of what it meant to be a member of her community and I will always be grateful for her help in creating my understanding of her cultural heritage.

I think of the many young ladies who chose to put their faith on display by wearing their hijabs as a show of their faith knowing full well the possibility of discrimination and ridicule from those who did not make an attempt to understand their choice.  I want to make it clear that it was their choice to do so, not out fear or oppression but as public expression of their faith and pride of their culture and out respect for the tradition and family that they belonged.  None of them saw it as oppression, but instead the free practice of their religion.

I think of the young  man who came  from Iraq escaping the sectarian violence or the young men and ladies from Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan and other chaotic and unstable places to lead a safer better life in this country free from daily violence who fully appreciated their opportunity to attend school away from violence and oppression often present in their homelands.  These young people were some of the most appreciative and respectful people to ever come through my class and life and they have enriched my life experience in ways I cannot quantify.

I think of the young man from last year who is a state champion quality wrestler whose father is an immigrant who wants his son to have an opportunity to succeed through hard work and opportunity that this country can provide.  A young man who I talk to on a regular basis who struggles managing his sport and academics, in other words, just like almost all my other students.

I think of a young man who came to my school from Jordan who is the definition of positivity and one of the  friendliest humans you will ever meet who has the unique ability to make everyone is his presence feel valued and cared about.  A few years after graduating high school, he invited me to his wedding and I attended it with a colleague.  We obviously were different from most everyone else attending the event, but we were made to full completely welcome by everyone there.  Most of the people there went out of their way to make me feel welcome and explain what was happening so that we would be comfortable and not disrespect any of their traditions.  Not once did I feel judged as being out of place.  Not once did I see a side look of disapproval, but instead inclusiveness and appreciation that we wanted to be a part of their culture.  It was a unique wonderful experience I will never forget.  I consider that young man to be my friend and feel honored that he considers me a friend too.

I think of the Salutatorian of the senior class one year who gave a speech in front of a crowd of mostly white, mostly Christian (probably mostly conservative Southern Christians) and spoke openly about his faith and American values and was given a standing ovation by the crowd and was probably one of the best, most inspiring speeches I’ve ever heard in my life.

But ultimately, I think of a family of which I had the privilege of teaching two brothers who came through my classes.  The older brother is a hard working passionate young man who fought hard for his beliefs and whose viewpoint I highly valued in my class and his younger brother who I would just say was a nice, thoughtful young man very concerned about the welfare of others.  A few years later, he attended Dental School at UNC with the desire to return to Syria during the summers to provide free dental care for the refugees who lost everything in the civil war there.  But before he had the chance, he was murdered by an individual who robbed this world of the wonderful giving young man and his wife and sister in law.  This is a tragedy that would have embittered me, but his family handled it with grace and dignity beyond what I could imagine.  His sister went on TV (CNN and other major networks) to decry the increasing violence against Muslims and extol the virtues of forgiveness and leading a life of value to honor her younger brother with a grace and dignity that I marvel at.  His older brother started an organization in his brothers honor to carry on the good that he intended to do in his life.  This family is truly amazing and I admire them greatly and our country is better off having them here and oh by the way, they are from Syria one of the countries we are trying to stop people from coming to the US.

There are a dozen or so other stories I could tell here, but these are the ones that stand out most in my mind of my experiences around Muslims over the past 14 years and I think exemplify why they contribute as much if not more to our society than anyone who was simply born here.  They are part of the fabric of our country and it would be a lesser place without their presence.  I write this in sincere hope that someone who does not interact with Muslims on a regular basis and simply believes the stereotypes perpetuated by media and demagogues will think about these young people the next time you think they all should be kicked out of this country and decide that maybe our melting pot has room for them and their families moving forward as we all try to create a more forgiving, safe world for us all to share.




The myth of in person Voter Fraud

One of the issues that  bothers me the most about the current legislative agenda of our illustrious General Assembly is the attempt to pass a voter ID law requiring voters to show picture ID in order to be able to vote.  The argument is that it is so easy to commit this type of fraud that it must be going on and therefore something needs to be done to stop it, besides almost everyone has this type of ID anyway.  Each part of the argument is completely flawed and with no merit in reality and has no real evidence to support its agenda.  First off, there is no evidence to support the notion that any election anywhere in recent times have been influenced by this type of fraud.  How do I know?  Well, the Bush administration in 2006 launched an exhaustive investigation to try to find if any cases could be found to advance the agenda of the some in the Republican party.  What they discovered was less than 150 cases from the entire country and they were all cases of voter error (like going to wrong precinct or convicted felon not understanding that they had to reapply for voting privileges in some states after release from prison, etc.).  In other words, not one single federal election was affected by in person voter fraud anywhere in the US and it is a practice that if it even exists is so rare that it has no impact on any election.  So there is no evidence to support it as a problem, “But it is so easy to do, it has to be happening or could in the future”.  First off, it isn’t easy.  You have to look up death certificates of dead voters on rolls, find out where they are registered, show up and hope that the poll workers (who usually live in the district) do not recognize the name, and that the voter has not been purged from the voting rolls or if it is a living voter that they have not voted earlier or won’t vote at all.  I’m not sure how another person would be able to find that out easily.  if you vote for someone else early in the day and then the real person shows up, most voting places will have cameras that they can look up to identify the person who has already voted.  And after all that, if you get caught, you’ll face arrest and a potential of 6 months in prison, a $10,000 fine and all for what?  to cast a vote that will have no impact on the results of the elections that they are participating.  In other words, who is willing to risk prison time and a huge fine for something that will have no impact on anything anyway.  But you say, everyone has this type of ID anyway therefore it is no big deal.  It is estimated that nearly 500,000 eligible NC voters do not have this type of ID and would have to pay money to acquire one in order to vote which is considered by most to be unconstitutional.  Now the legislature has tried to address this issue in a somewhat fair, legal manner, but it places the burden on the voter to prove their eligibility by casting a provisional ballot and giving time to prove their eligibility in other ways.  However, why should an American citizen have to prove anything to exercise their constitutional right and should voting be as easy as possible to maximize voter participation when many will not take the time to jump through the hoops that are put in front of them.

These ID laws are not the only ways the only ways the NCGA is trying to manipulate the voting process to their own advantage.  Limiting early voting times, preventing college students from voting on their campuses are just two of the other insidious plans they have hatched to limited ‘undesirable’ groups from voting in the coming elections that they believe will help maintain their grip on power which is really what this is all about for them.  They believe (falsely in my opinion) that this will bring them electoral advantage which is completely unnecessary considering how well they have gerrymandered the districts in this state.  The area of voting where there is actually considerable evidence that fraud is occurring is with absentee ballots, but you do not see a single discussion of the issue, why?  Because Republican voters more often vote through that method and the other methods that are targeted all have one thing in common, that Democratic voters are disproportionally effected by those restrictions.    In other words,  NCGA wants to make sure they maintain power at the expense of democracy and so they do not have to be held accountable by voters who are adversely affected by their policies which is in my mind an admission that you know that you are wrong and will end up losing in the end, but maybe they can push that off as long as they can.  It’s pathetic.