A Tale of Migrant Love
Countries mentioned in the article have strict views on criticism of the country and writer might therefore be expelled etc. The author therefore needs to be protected and stays anonymous.
She was born in Pakistan. He wailed his first cry in Bangladesh. They both grew up traveling a fair amount. She travelled to Europe and North America on family vacations. He explored Eastern Asia with his parents on his father’s business trips.
At the age of 19 she bid her parents a tearful goodbye and went off to Germany for her bachelor’s. This was exactly a year after he graduated from his university in USA and started his first job. While he was working in Mexico, Singapore and Canada, she completed her degree and moved to Austria for work. She travelled to the UK, Hong Kong and China for work.
It was in China that they met. It was in China that they fell in love.
The electricity and concrete of the fast-growing Shenzhen; the humid air carrying with it the scent of spicy food; the salt spray from the South China Sea were the backdrop. The connection was almost instantaneous. There was something in the vibrancy and the anonymity of a city of nearly 11 million permanent residents and another transient 10 million workers that encouraged connections. As if without an anchor, you would be washed away and lost.
Their visas were funny. He had a work permit which allowed him a specific duration of stay in China with multiple entries. She was always on a business visa, which meant she only had two entries for 3 months at a time and would need to cross the border to have an official “exit”. To cross the border the easiest way was to enter Hong Kong, but she also needed a visa to go there so every exit was carefully planned.
During this time, they thought to explore Asia together. Going to each other’s countries was out of the question. Due to the diplomatic situation, visas were almost impossible to obtain. Then Bangladeshis had visa free entry to a lot more countries than Pakistanis did. They laughed about her “terrorist” country, but in her heart this discrimination chafed.
Then they discovered Cambodia. It allowed visas on arrival to both! Happily, they planned a trip.
On arrival at the airport, her European residence permit was cursorily examined and she was waved through. His Chinese permit caused issues. He was detained for a couple of hours.
They decided Europe was out for the moment as he would need a visa to visit.
A trip to the USA was planned as they both happened to have visas at the same time. His work visa allowed him to go through immigration faster. Each of her boarding passes was marked with an “SSSS” and she was taken aside for extra screening on every leg of her journey. She was patted down thoroughly, and on her last flight back home she broke down in tears when they lifted her dress in a public area mistaking her stocking for jeans.
They tried to go to Scotland but cancelled the plans when they realized the cost of her visa would be more than the cost of her ticket to the country.
While applying for a visa to Thailand to attend a wedding together, her passport was lost in the post and she lost 10 years’ worth of travel history with it.
When she moved back to Austria, he decided to visit Europe. His visa approval was delayed for a month on technical grounds. This was in China where he was legally forbidden to travel within the country without his passport so he was essentially stuck.
During this time, they laughed and they argued and they got upset but they found a way. He moved back to the US and for a while they couldn’t meet as she did not have a valid visa anymore and he was forbidden to travel due to his ongoing immigration process.
But they made it through.
Now they’re looking at the new USA travel policies with wary and weary eyes.
Their countries are not on the blacklist yet. Pakistan being a very likely candidate to end up on that list would mean that she would not be allowed to enter the US. If Bangladesh was added to the list, he would be unable to leave the country for fear of not being allowed back in. He would not be able to visit her home country, for fear of having a federal file opened on him.
First World problems? But the story continues. A mosque in Texas was set on fire. Then six people were shot in a mosque in Quebec.
The palpable hatred towards Muslims is a constant burden Muslim migrants are waking up with every day. A sense of insecurity and being unwanted permeates the air. No matter what I’m doing, at the back of my mind is a clock ticking away. Ticking away to the next incident, ticking away to the next ban, and ticking away to when Europeans might start taking notes from the Trump administration.
So how does this affect the average Muslim? You know, the millions who will probably never travel outside their villages let alone to the US. This is how indoctrination and alienation start. How easy do you think it will be right now to talk to hot blooded and naive youths and say- look at how low and inferior they consider you; look at how superior they consider themselves; you’re not even good enough to enter their country.
The very thought of this scenario chills my blood.
Every country has a right to protect themselves. This is an undisputable fact. It is the duty of the government to ensure that its citizens are safe and secure in their homeland. More eloquent words than I will ever speak and more powerful arms than I can ever hope to possess have been raised to ensure that this duty does not cost anyone their basic human rights and dignity.
My heart has filled up to see all the people who have come out to protest. The lawyers who offered free legal help at airports. The people who protested in the streets. The judges who declared the ban illegal and discriminatory.
Now, I have two questions : will Muslims all over the world stand up for atrocities being committed in the name of their religion? And what is the role of immigrants in this situation? It is not a secret that I find the Muslim world’s response to Islamic extremism lacking severely. How many Muslims would have stood up for the rights of Jews or Christian if their government had decided to ban them? Pakistani men are regularly found innocent after murdering Christians on the rumors of blasphemy. In a lot of Muslim countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. Where are the protests and the marches? And before you lecture me about how it’s not the job of every Muslim to be held responsible for the actions of a few and try to be sarcastic about bringing this up at the next Muslim get together - remember the Americans who marched for your rights. What did these Americans owe any Muslim? Do they have a “white group” where they meet up monthly and discuss all topics “white”? If they had thought- ‘hey us average Joes aren’t responsible for what some crazy people do and believe’, we would have screamed racism and intolerance by the Western World. They stood up for their democratic beliefs, held their government accountable and defended their morals. When are we as Muslims going to do that? Where are fellow-Muslim voices when others - including your judiciary and your governments - hijack your religion to commit these atrocities against women and homosexuals? Or do you secretly believe that homosexuality deserves to be punishable by death...?
My second question is harder to answer in the light of my rhetoric in the previous paragraph. Just before writing this blog post I was advised by at least three different people to not write it. Or to be very careful about what I write. Or to wait until some time had passed before commenting on the travel policies. While I truly understand that this advice came from a good place, I was full of righteous anger. Shall I be a coward? Shall I refuse to voice opinions that stand up for what is right and what is just? Am I supposed to hide behind the excuse of my immigration and pretend that I am not being discriminated against? Yes, righteous anger and exclamation marks - that’s me.
Then I realized that I would not only be endangering myself, which is still an acceptable risk for myself, but also people around me. My family and friends who are also immigrants may become unwilling causalities in any consequences that are visited on me. And then we all saw the results of the “Day Without Immigrants”. People lost their livings in trying to protect their rights.
Being a migrant is like being in a glass box. People are watching every move you make. Any statement from your mouth is critically weighed and judged to ensure that you are not being ‘ungrateful’. For the period you are a migrant, you seem to lose all your political weight. You cannot vote. You cannot protest. You cannot speak out too loudly. You are the debutante at the ball.
Yet, you do not stop thinking . You do not stop feeling. You do not stop analyzing. And therein lies the conundrum of being a migrant. You chose to come to a country and be part of it. But until you are, you have no rights to criticize any actions that a country takes – even if they directly affect your life. What is one to do? Is there a path of moderation that one can adopt? Where you do not betray your values, but also do not get deported? If you figure something out, let me know.
That couple is still looking for a destination for a wedding location, by the way. If you hear of any locations that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis can travel to without a visa, drop a line.