While at JFK on Saturday, My Thoughts Turned to Bona Students

Anisah Chauhdry (right) alongside Rawan, a Syrian refugee
Father and daughter Dr. Tahir Chauhdry and Anisah traveled to Saudi Arabia in December. .

"No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here."

The words echoed through my head throughout the entire night Saturday.

I boarded the charter bus headed to Logan International Airport and pulled out my phone in hopes of speeding up the hour-long ride from Kingston, Rhode Island. I went to Twitter first, as I usually do, and read the headlines “Thousands gathered outside JFK in protest of Muslim Ban.”

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Videos of the crowds of people outside the airport began popping up one after another chanting: "The people united can never be divided" and "Let them stay; let them stay!" 

"Outside of terminal 4 at JFK, while lawyers fight on the inside, the protests have EXPLODED in size demanding justice for the detained," tweeted Jack Smith IV, reporter for Mic.

Upon arrival at Logan in Boston, I scrambled to my 20th row window seat to get to the 8-inch screen, the JetBlue special, and flipped as fast I could to whatever news station I could find. For the remainder of the flight I flipped between MSNBC, Fox, and CNN.

The protests were a result of President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order on Friday, which banned any incoming refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Sudan.

A day later, numbers of refugees, with legal grounds to return to the United States, some with visas, green cards, and even an 18-month-old United States citizen, were being detained in airports nationwide, some for as many as 17 hours, unable to move forward with any further travel plans.

I was anxious for the wheels to touch down at JFK International Airport in Queens so I could rush to Terminal 4 and snap a few pictures of the thousands who had gathered in support of those being held. 

Being that I was gates away in one of the America’s largest airports, I didn't quite make it in time before I had to hurry back to board my flight back to Buffalo. But it didn't matter that much. Upon arrival, I could feel the energy of the entire airport. 

Walking around every face I saw I tried my best to sense what they were feeling. Some uneasy, a few unbothered, but many well aware that they were in the presence of an event that will one day be recorded in history books.

For the 45 minutes I spent in Terminal 1 I felt an array of emotions I have not felt since the time my mother explained to me what was happening the day I was sent home from my kindergarten class on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

And I thought of fellow students I knew at St. Bonaventure University, who had direct ties to some of the countries listed in the executive order. 

Among them is Anisah Chauhdry, a freshman biology major at St. Bonaventure who grew up in the Islamic faith and continues to practice the religion introduced to her by her parents.

Over the recent winter break, Chauhdry took a trip to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, a pilgrimage that is not required by her faith but can be taken at any time of year for a spiritual renewal. Traveling around the Middle East is not anything unusual for Chauhdry who has been to more than 12 countries.

Last May Chauhdry took a trip to Thessaloniki, Greece, with her father, Dr. Tahir Chauhdry, who practices as an OB-GYN in Olean, to help provide medical care to those in need. In Greece, she became close with a few Syrian refugees with whom she stays in contact.

Chauhdry agreed to meet with me when I got back on campus during the early hours of Sunday morning.

“When I first heard the news today I was heartbroken and sad,” Chauhdry told me, as we sat in her dorm as the time neared 3 a.m. “I had heard about these plans President Trump had, but was surprised to actually see him go through with it.”

Chauhdry was quick to point out that people need to begin to realize the difference between ISIS and Islam and that those who are involved with ISIS are not true followers of Islam. “The true meaning of Islam is peace,” said Chauhdry. “Anyone who says different and feels like they can create a new Islam filled with hate and violence is not a true follower.”

Aniesah Miller, a sophomore sociology major with a concentration in criminology, is of Yemeni descent and expressed concerns about her family living in the United States. 

"At the end of the day I just have to pray that my Muslim family is safe," said Miller, whose family surname had been Almontaser.

Miller admits to holding back tears when she first heard the news while sitting in the Hickey Dining Hall. "I just had to get up and walk out," she said. "One of my friends asked me what was wrong, and I just started crying,"

Amir Dastoori, another student effected by the ban tweeted, that his grandmother had spent over $2,000 in travel arrangements to come from Iran see his upcoming graduation in May, but now will not be able to attend due to the travel ban that Trump has installed.

Dastoori, who lived in Iran until the age of 8, said he was hurt and confused when he first heard the news. “I wasn’t sure when the next time I would get to see my family would be,” said Dastoori, who still has family living in Iran.

“I also never imagined Iran would be a country targeted by the United States since there have been no recent terrorist attacks affiliated with Iran,” he continued.

The senior finance major also urged people who support the ban to take keep in mind that a lot of innocent people are being hurt by it.  “I don’t think anyone should be denied the rights to see their families across borders,” said Dastoori.

After my meeting with Dastoori, I thought back to boarding the connecting flight to Buffalo, when I again rushed to my seat. Once seated, I felt the slightest bit of relief to see on the tiny screen of the seat back, the protestors with their hands raised and shouts of excitement over the news that the a federal judge in Brooklyn temporarily blocked Trump’s executive order for those who were currently being detained or those already in transit, allowing them to remain in the United States until further briefings were done.

It wasn't a total victory, if a victory at all. But what it was, at least for the thousands of people who had showed up to protest at airports nationwide, was a glimmer of light in a dark time that proved the checks and balances instilled in our government DO work.  

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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