April 1, 2020
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Imam Omar Suleiman: “Human Rights, Faith, and the Border” | 2019 Human Rights@Duke Lecture

– It’s my honor to welcome all of you to the Annual Human
Rights at Duke Lecture. The Annual Human Rights at Duke Lecture was established in 2018, as a forum for scholars and practitioners to discuss current human
rights research and activism. It is a collaboration between the two Duke human rights centers here on campus at the Franklin Humanities Institute and at the Kenan Institute of Ethics. This year, we are also grateful for the support of the
Center for Muslim Life, the Muslim Students Association, Duke’s Amnesty International, Duke University Middle East Study Center, and the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Together we would like to
welcome Imam Omar Suleiman in giving the 2019 annual human rights at Duke Lecture on the topic of “Human Rights Faith and the Border.” Imam Omar Suleiman, is a
well known religious leader and theologically driven
activist for human rights. He is the founder and president of the McLean Institute
for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor
of Islamic studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Southern Methodist
University in Dallas, Texas. He is also the resident scholar of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center and co-chair Emeritus
of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square, multi-faith coalition of clergy for peace and justice. He frequently writes for news outlets such as CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, the Huffington Post, and the Dallas Morning News, and in May, 2019 he
delivered the invocation in the US House of Representatives at the invitation of Congresswoman,
Eddie Bernice Johnson. He has been active in community service, interfaith dialogue
and social justice work for a number of years and
it is through this work that he came to the
attention of Emily Stewart, the wonderful assistant director of the Duke Human Rights Center
and the Director of Teaching for Equity Fellows Program here at Duke. In July, 2019 Imam Suleiman
was one of the leaders of the Moral Monday on
the borderlands action that took place in El Paso, Texas. With only weeks of advanced
notice, more than 500 people showed up to witness what was happening to our brothers and sisters on the border. As Emily has recounted, it was a powerful experience to be surrounded by so
many people of faith gathering together for a common purpose to stand up against an
injustice felt deeply within. Some saw this moment in history
as a reckoning of the souls. Imam Suleiman has also participated in the love knows-no-borders immoral call for migrant justice action that the American
Friends Service Committee helped organize when the
migrant caravan arrived. Drawing from his deep involvement, we all welcome Imam Suleiman to give the annual human rights at Duke lecture on human rights, faith and the border. Please join me in welcoming him. (audience applauding) (speaks Arabic) – Peace be with you all. How’s the, oh that’s good, you guys can hear me now, right? Okay, my voice is not that much
louder than hers, I promise. So it’s a pleasure to be here
with you all this evening. We begin in the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful, and we pray that he
surrounds us with his mercy and that he brings us together
in a way that is unifying and in a way that’s productive and in a way that we move beyond simply grieving over
the horrific situation that we see at the border and otherwise and actually be mobilized to action. So the way that I wanna
divide this lecture is to actually start with
my own personal experience at working at the border and what I’ve seen at the border, and then go from there and transition into how we start to compare this crisis to other situations which
we see around the world. Should I stop for a moment? Are we good? Is it working? Is it going up and down or are you guys hear me throughout? Okay good, everyone gave a thumbs up. So I’m gonna start off with just the personal side of this and transition into, again, what’s taking place at the border and how we can actually have a serious policy discussion as a country about what we’re supposed
to do about the situation. Now, on a personal level, my parents are refugees,
my parents are migrants. So I understand that reality
in a very different way. My parents are both Palestinian. They met at University of Houston. And so my entire reality is American, I was born and raised in New Orleans and by the way, Zion, Pelicans. So, we have a connection now. But I understood that reality
in a very different way because growing up I
knew my parents’ story, but at the same time, I hadn’t really experienced
my parents’ reality. They had a very difficult time finding their way in the
United States of America, but both of them rose to
distinguished positions and were able to not just make
the most of their situations as far as the individual
American dream is concerned, but to be very giving people and people that taught us as well to care deeply about refugees. And so I have these
memories of coming home and my dad didn’t pick us up from school and when I said why, he
said, “We gave our car away.” “Who do we give our car away to?” “We give it away to Somali refugees.” Another memory of coming home, and learning that there
were nine Bosnian refugees that were gonna live in our
small home for some time until we were able to situate them. And so that idea of being deeply connected to political struggles, deeply connected to people was something that I grew up with at
a very personal level. And then there’s the
faith-based element of this. As Muslims in particular,
where our religion encompasses the prophets of the Old Testament and encompasses Moses, peace be upon him, and Abraham, peace be upon him, and Jesus peace be upon him, and of course Mohammed, peace be upon him. All of them share that
common story of migration. They all share that common
story of being persecuted and run out by their people, and though God is the ultimate caretaker in those stories, you always have another human being on the other side that acts as the vehicle of God’s mercy that takes them in and then
chooses to support them. Again, a vehicle of God’s mercy to them. And of course… We’re gonna do this one? I promise we’ll get this right. I feel like I’m at a protest. If you’re ever at a protest and you’re given like a 10-minute speech, you could have switched
five mics in 10 minutes. But… Timeout. You sure? Do you wanna take this
one out the way too? Can you hear me now? You guys hear me well now? All right, great. You can take this one away
or should I leave it here? If it decides to come on. And so there’s that faith story that it was always a
vehicle of God’s mercy on the other end of that migration that took those prophets in and that championed their rights and supported them even
if they didn’t necessarily believe in the calling that
caused them to be driven out in the first place. So there’s that idea of
prophet hood and where we stand with the prophets of God and that their story is
so deeply intertwined with the story of migration to the point that in Islam, our calendar is known as the Hijri calendar. It’s the calendar of migration. We start our calendar by the migration of the prophet Muhammad,
peace be upon him, fleeing persecution received
by the people of Medina, at that time Yethr and taking him in and sharing their resources with the prophet, peace be upon him. And knowing that by
sharing with the prophet and sharing with those
that migrated with him, that their society would be enriched and that they would be
enriched spiritually as well as socially by the presence of those blessed people that were fleeing those detrimental circumstances. And there’s something to be said also about how, and maybe
that’s another discussion, but, the people of Medina, for those of you that are familiar with the Islamic story of Medina, the people of Medina had
their own tribal divisions and were trying to find
their own identity, but were ultimately united and supporting another group of people. And in offering themselves, they found the best of themselves in championing the Mohadzedin, championing those that
migrated from Mecca, and gained the collective identity of being the onslaught, of being the supporters, the helpers. Literally the name of
the people of Medina, those tribes became the helpers. And they were too busy helping the other that became of them to fight
amongst each other anymore. And so there’s something to be said about our politics as well as a country, when people are united in good, that usually causes
things that potentially could pit them against one another, to dwindle in importance because there’s a common
unifying purpose of good that brings out the best of ourselves and tribalism feasts on
the lowest of ourselves. So that is the story of our religion. That’s the story of our faith and from a migration ethics perspective, I did a lecture series of which I’m compiling a book right now, “40 on Justice,” 40 prophetic traditions on justice. If you search up the lecture series, 40 hadiths on social justice, 40 hadiths on social justice. One of them was about
migration ethics in Islam and how we draw from that and I also had the blessing
of co-authoring a letter with Imam Zayeed Shakar
to the Muslim community as we launched the Muslims
for Migrants Campaign. Paying bail money for migrant parents and reuniting them with their families, that talks about migration
ethics and Islam. I don’t want that to become
the source of this discussion, but just to say that there
was both a personal experience as well as a faith-based experience. Now where does my journey with the start? It actually doesn’t start at the border of Texas and Mexico. It actually starts in Syria. Since the massacre of the Syrian people had led them to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, all over the world, some even in Dallas, Texas where we are, I had the opportunity over a few years to actually go to the border of Syria sometimes because of
the political situation at the border actually
entered into Dadah into Syria and work with the refugees there depending on who controlled
the border at the time, particularly the Jordanian
and the Syrian border. My first time gonna the Syrian border to do work with the refugees, gave this entire discussion
a new element for me. I have young children and
every time I met children they seem to be of the
same age as my children. I kept on finding that
the names were similar to the names that were known to me. My mother was born in Damascus. I’d never been to Syria before the war. And there were two combating emotions as I was leaving those camps and I had the opportunity
to go four times. One was the emotion of
humanizing the refugees and the people that had
been not just tortured and not just having a piece of their lives or their family members
taken away from them but actually creating a
human connection with them and feeling activated for their cause in an entirely different way. That’s one emotion of
connecting to the Syrian people, but the second one was,
every time you finish doing refugee work, when
you drive out of camps, anyone that’s ever been to refugee camps, you can’t help but be overcome by despair, when you realize that you’re
driving miles and miles away and there are no lights and there are no
comfortable accommodations that make the nightmare go away for them. And you may have helped 100, but you just saw tents that
encompass 100,000 people. So you start to wonder, am I really making a difference here? Am I really making a change? So family separation, the
family separation policy was handed down by the Trump
administration last year. And of course that was brought to the attention of the American people, the images of family separation. Some elements of which took place under the Obama administration
as well but certainly the country had become
acquainted with this topic of family separation in
a whole different way. And I, and a group of people
went to McAllen, Texas, where children that were
taken from their families were put and are put in warehouses. Warehouses for tires and glass and all other sorts of materials that have been converted into
children detention centers. Child detention centers, that we pay hundreds of dollars for
each child on a daily basis from our taxes where people are sleeping on concrete floors with
no windows and no one to actually hold the administrators of those camps accountable, or to do proper medical checkups or to give proper legal access to those children that
are in those centers. As we protested outside
those detention centers, we noticed there was a bus that was coming out that
was full of children. At that time, of course
we acted instinctively. We surrounded the bus in protest. We didn’t really know what we
were gonna do with the bus, but we were all driven to
surround the bus and protest. And we were able to hold the bus for about 20 minutes with
those children on board. And that’s when I had a
chance to actually walk up to the bus and the
windows were deeply tinted and I could see the children
through the windows. And so I put my hand up on
the glass and the children on the bus started to congregate around that row and each one of them would put their hand on
my hand on the glass. Some of them were crying,
some were smiling, some were waving, some
would just put their hand up and stare up with
absolutely no expression. That same blank expression that I’d seen in the faces of the children of Syria. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life because it was as if there
was another realm of people that were permanently
and physically removed from me that I could not even speak to because I couldn’t hear their voices. I could see that some of them were crying, but I couldn’t actually hear their cries and perhaps if we were able to converse, I wouldn’t have even
been able to understand what they were saying because I wouldn’t speak their languages. But for those moments,
putting your hand on a glass, those of you that are
familiar with the cruelty of the prison experience
in the United States where families where a father or mother would interact with their
child only through glass. Putting hands on glass
and looking those children in the eyes and praying for them, but not being able to touch them, not being able to comfort them, not being able to hand them a toy, not being able to give
them a bottle of water, not being able to offer
any type of comfort whatsoever except for those
moments of connecting. Never knowing their names,
never knowing their stories, just knowing that these
were a bunch of children that were ripped away from their families and being transported from
warehouse to warehouse, and the fact that some of them, in fact, pretty much all of the
children on that bus were willing to give themselves
to me for that moment and put their hand on my hand so I could pray for them
and I could look at them while I prayed for them
brought this entire spectacle of dehumanization to another level for me. And again, I had to go back to those two competing emotions. Is it about me being able to comfort a few of them to be
able to go home at night and say I made a difference? Or is it about connecting with them enough to where their humanity, their humanity becomes so undeniable
to me as a human being to where their cause
becomes so precious to me that not only am I
activated to work for them and to try to lift them out
of their horrific situation, but I’m able also to carry their stories to other people that won’t
have that interaction. And then I started to realize,
you look at these two images, one of them is Toledo, Texas, the other one is the
Zahtaree Refugee Camp, the biggest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The images become identical. You start to see children in tents, you start to see people that
live in inhumane conditions. The biggest difference
between what I saw in Zahtaree and Mafraq in the Syrian sense,
what I saw in Toledo, Texas was the presence of
military in Toledo, Texas. I had the opportunity
to go to Toledo, Texas, which was known as Tent
City due to an order given by Dallas County
judge, Clay Jenkins, where we could offer pastoral
care to the children, we were not allowed to take pictures, we were not allowed to to share anything of the identity of the children
that we would work with, but we were allowed to go pray with them. I took it, a few of us from Dallas decided to actually travel to Toledo a few times and to work with the children there. I’m not speaking Spanish or
some of the other languages present and the refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras
simply had verses of comfort from the Quran and translated into Spanish that did not have any particular specific theological implications, just verses about comfort
and verses about ease and verses about love and
mercy and supplication. I had them translated by a friend of mine and I just took them on paper and decided that I would read them and then we also would sneak
in some arts and crafts and just have some time to
do basic arts and crafts with the kids that were there. For some of them, their only experience being Catholicism, they
just took us all as priests. And so I had bread and some
of them took it as communion and I didn’t realize that was happening until two or three times when I realized that they were doing communion and I was trying to give
bread out as food and drink. But I would assume that
the majority of them had never interacted with a Muslim before, and never interacted with an Imam before and were probably just
really confused by me. And then after that they started to come and they started to ask us for prayers. Each and every single child asked for us to pray for their moms. All they would say is pray for my mom. And it struck me that in Dallas, when the family separation
policy was first handed down and some of these children
were put on commercial flights, they were writing notes and they were sneaking them to passengers with their mom’s phone numbers on it trying to find their
parents dawned on me again that we are looking at
dehumanization and torture and oppression in so many different ways. The administrators at Toledo, Texas, made it a point to try to assure us that these kids were well fed and that they’re even
getting some recess time behind barbed wire. They get to go kick a soccer ball around. We give them popsicles on
days that they’re good, but you can’t give them back their moms and they have no idea why
they are in that situation, what they are doing there,
nor do they understand why they are the source of
fear for so many Americans when they’re just kids
trying to live a normal life. The next image that I’m gonna show you is very painful one, so I’ll give you all a sort of a warning of this image but when you start to
connect, once again, the dots between poverty and the refugee crisis, the global refugee crisis, and before I actually put it up there, how many of you have seen the
documentary “Human Float?” It’s a fascinating documentary. It talks about the global refugee crisis. You know, if you start to
travel the world enough, you start to realize
that every refugee camp at some point starts to look the same. Poverty starts to look
the same around the world, once you spend enough time around it, the conditions start
to resemble one another as you start to travel. This next image is one that two of them that struck us deeply. They’re painful and they look the same. On one side, you have
Alan Kurgi, Syrian refugee washed up a resort on
the shores of a resort speaking to the neglect
of the Syrian people around the world, a child. We have tried to ignore this crisis. We have tried to tell ourselves that someone else is
gonna take care of them and people are being confronted
through their TV screens through their computers of
this global refugee crisis and it trends for a few days,
but just like everything else, Donald Trump tweets something else out and our attention is distracted once again while they remain in their detriments. Alan Al Kurgi when this image came out on the left of that Syrian refugee, there were discussions that
took place on the global stage about whether or not this
was gonna be the one, this was gonna be the one that changed the conversation
about Syrian refugees and their treatment around the world, their treatment in Europe, the Muslim ban. That didn’t happen. On the right side, a father
and a daughter that drowned in the Rio Grande trying
to escape persecution and enter into the United States. The father with his arm around daughter. I cannot imagine what
those last conversations were like of despair, of trying to rescue his daughter
and give her a new life. And often, by the way, in the discussion of the migrant children,
we demonize the parents. I heard that rhetoric
and the dreamers debate over and over and over again. It’s not their fault,
it’s their parents’ fault. But their parents did not
come here for themselves or to get better jobs. Their parents came here
so that their children could actually have the lives
that they could not have. They are not to be vilified. The pain that those parents feel when they cannot succeed,
when they do not succeed at giving their children the decency and dignity that they
deserve is a very real pain and one that can indeed be fatal. On the left Rahat, a Syrian refugee. On the right, Jacqueline Pow,
the young girl from Guatemala. And this is probably one
of my favorite images and paintings that
displays how I feel like we need to treat this entire discussion of border ethics. Before I get into policy and legislation and the ethics of it as to what we can do. This was a painting by an Omani painter about the Syrian refugee
crisis on a canvas. What we have to do is
not just be disturbed. We have to be disturbed enough to act, disturbed enough to disrupt
the comfort of people around us that think that we can
simply turn away from this and continue to perpetuate the policies that lead to these
detrimental circumstances over and over and over again. And so I wanna talk about for a moment how we actually take this
forward from a policy perspective because it’s very easy to feel debilitated and to feel completely incapacitated when you see all of these things and you realize how many
can I actually help? There’s the element of charity
and charity is wonderful, so long as it is not used as
a means of escaping policy. A good friend of mine who works in combating homelessness told me that it’s great
that you take sandwiches out to the homeless on a Saturday morning, but when are you actually
gonna try to end homelessness instead of taking a sandwich
out on Saturday morning? No one will really reprimand
you or admonish you for taking sandwiches out to the homeless. But when you start to challenge
predators and slumlords and city councils that are usually bought by some of those same powerful
people into the zoning issues and the racialized poverty that continues to perpetuate homelessness, you better believe that
you will have opponents and that you will end up being political even if you just wanted to do charity. In Dallas, we had the
blessing of opening a center called Dallas Response. We’re able to connect with the border, with some of the facilities in El Paso and to get permission to accommodate some of the asylum seekers and to connect them with their sponsors. You guys remember that
image of the 962 people stacked up in El Paso
in a detention center in a few months ago? Those were asylum seekers
whose legal cases for asylum had already been approved. These were not people that
tried to jump a fence or a wall. These were people whose cases
have already been approved, but they were not being
given the opportunity to connect with their sponsors. And so they have 72 hours to
connect with their sponsors and we were able to connect
with those facilities and to get the permission to
host some of those refugees, those migrants and those
facilities in Dallas and to connect them to their
sponsors within 72 hours. And so Dallas Responds, pulled together the hotel associations pulled together the bus
networks around the country airlines, all sorts of things to be able to connect people quickly. But before that, to bring them into Dallas to Oaklawn United Methodist
Church where they would have a decent transition, where they would be able to to
sleep in a comfortable place, comfortable in serious
quotation marks here because relative to the
facilities that they were leaving, anything is comfortable when
you’re not sitting on it when you’re not standing on a toilet or drinking from a toilet. We were able to provide cox and meals and just basic facilities in the meantime while we connected them to their sponsors. And one of the things that was fascinating about Dallas responds is
that we were able to connect faith groups that lean
politically conservative, that do not agree with most of us on what immigration reform
actually looks like. But I’ll never forget what the head of the church of Latter
Day Saints in Dallas said. He said, I don’t know what the solution to the immigration problem is or what’s happening at the
border is, but this isn’t it. And the church of Latter
Day saints mobilized to get those cots provided, to provide all sorts of aid and relief. The Jews and the Muslims competed over who would provide the food. And so breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you had nice Muslim Jewish controversy over who was gonna provide
the meals for those people. You had faith groups that came together that showed the best of
our faiths and compassion and demonstrated that our hearts are bigger than our
policies currently suggests that there are people
that are willing to work and to volunteer to do
what needs to be done to relieve some of our brothers
and sisters at the border of the pain that they are in. So we were able to connect and we were able to facilitate that. But again, it always comes
down to what about policy? Now in this America, as far
as the left is concerned, as far as Democrats are concerned, Trump is always the
lowest common denominator. So the brutality of what takes place under this current
administration is unacceptable. We cannot have children in cages. We cannot have ICE rates to
this level to this extent, we can’t do this, we can’t do that. You watch every presidential debate, you’re going to hear
the same talking points over and over and over again. But how do you actually
move beyond this isn’t it? To something that is longer lasting and something that actually
solves the problem? We have a discussion
about American foreign aid and we talk about those
countries that we destabilized, that our country destabilized
politically and economically we deported or we exported gang violence, ruined political infrastructures, destroyed the economic infrastructures of the very countries that
these people are fleeing, created many of those
conditions, not 400 years ago, but 50 years ago, 30
years ago, 10 years ago when you’re talking about
Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador and now those same people that flee the conditions
that we helped create, we say, sorry, you are not welcome here because America first. And so how do we actually
talk about foreign aid? So when the discussion comes up about America actually trying
to carry out its duties as a country that’s supposed to lead on the global scene morally, by putting money back
into those societies, stabilizing those societies, cleaning up a lot of the
mess that we created, then it becomes a discussion
about our foreign aid where our country has
no problem whatsoever spending billions and billions
and billions of dollars to either kill people
and destabilize regions or maintain our positioning as
the United States of America, our power in certain
regions around the world. We have no issue putting
billions and billions of dollars in military aid to nations that we have no business
whatsoever giving money to so that they could maintain their control and maintain their power and maintain our American
interests in those places, but when it comes to us
taking the responsibility of helping to clean up much
of the mess that we created, then suddenly the
discussion of foreign aid comes in once again. When we talk about
private detention centers and the discussion about
private detention centers, I want you to look up Southwest key and understand how Trump
donors gross $450 million off of the same policies
that Trump is creating and recognize that what we’re
essentially talking about is a government trafficking operation that we’re simply turning away from. But is it really immoral
or is it really radical to challenge the existence
of private detention centers and to ask ourselves why is it
that these detention centers are able to make money off of the policies that continue to yield
catastrophic conditions for human beings at the
border or otherwise? When the discussion of
abolishment of ICE comes up. Oh my God, you are a radical. How dare you talk about abolishing ICE? Don’t you realize that when those airports that Abraham Lincoln and Ronald
Reagan were under attack, it was the ICE agents that came in and that protected America’s integrity? If you have a driver’s
license, you’re older than ICE. But this idea that it’s somehow a historical American institution as solidified itself in
so many people’s minds that till now I think to my knowledge, the only democratic presidential candidate that’s actually said that
we should abolish ICE and redistribute some of the money that’s been allocated to
its other institutions is Bill de Blasio. I don’t know if anyone else has
actually taken that position of abolishing ICE because you
sound like a crazy radical if you talk about abolishing ICE. Now, in order for us to
properly understand it, well we need to understand its formation, its establishment in the first place. From an ethical
perspective, ICE was formed out of the department of Homeland Security which was created under
the Bush administration. DHS was formed in an
Islamophobic climates. The entire institution of DHS was formed in Islamophobic climates. It was formed in my mind,
and I think objectively in a lie, that Muslims are more
dangerous than other people, which America’s one and a
half a day mass shootings would tell you we’ve gotten much bigger problems than Muslims. But it was formed in a
lie that Muslims pose a greater threat to the
Homeland and other people. And many of the initiatives
that stem from that are rooted in Islamophobic thinking. ICE was formed out of
DHS also out of a lie that immigrants pose a greater threat, that illegal immigrants pose
a greater threat to society than ordinary Americans. Where objectively speaking, areas where there are high portions, high populations of
undocumented immigrants, where people are in that situation, you do not find any correlating evidence to suggest that people
that are undocumented are more violence or more likely to be of a threat to the homeland. And so if you think about this idea that someone actually thought
that it was a good idea to create a military-like force and allocate billions
and billions of dollars every year annually to
send this militarized force through impoverished
communities of schools and places of worship and courthouses and stop people in Walmart parking lots and ask them for their passports and then strip them
away from their families and put them into the system where those same private
detention centers are fed and putting that family
in permanent detriment was a good idea and it’s for the safety of the United States of America, then we need to have a broader discussion. What I always tell people is that before we could
talk about abolishing ICE, we need to talk about
abolishing the premise of ICE because it’s a false premise,
an entirely false premise that the agency was founded on. After Muslim ban, Dallas has the largest ICE
raids around the country. And after Muslim ban, just
the week after Muslim ban, there was a well known, honest man that was picked up by ICE in the community and his children for
that week, grown children were urinating on themselves in school because every day when
they went to school, they were wondering if their
father was gonna be home when they came home. And you think about that. Fear that that’s created
in the community now where honest, hardworking people who have tried to do things right but ended up in a horrific situation where their papers expired
and due to technicalities and loopholes and other things, they were not able to
gain legal documentation and now they’ve got their heads down and they’re just trying to do what’s right for their families. But people are afraid of who? They’re afraid of law enforcement. They’re afraid of any
type of public situation which could lend itself
to this militarized force raiding and picking up a bunch of people, sometimes, by the way,
even American citizens, because they’re Brown and putting them in ICE detention centers,
ultimately deporting them and leaving their family
in consistent peril. If you think about that
and the ethical stain that that leaves on our country, that we have accepted that as normal, that it’s okay for children in Mississippi whose parents were trying
to make an honest living in these plants, taking low paying jobs, waiting for us to figure
out our immigration issue are on the streets begging
for sandwiches and for water. And if you ask yourself, is that anything, does that do anything to make us safer? Does it do anything to make us better? Because often we pit those
two things against each other. Does it make us safer? Does it make us better? Is this something that we’re okay with, because it’s not just that the border. The border crisis exists in
the inner cities in America. It’s not just that the border, and oftentimes we focus disproportionately on the border in the physical sense, ignoring the realities that
take place in our inner cities. And if you think about what
this means in terms of policing, what this means in terms of school, what this means in terms of if this is supposed to
root out violent criminals, imagine people not
wanting to call the police or not wanting to call law enforcement in the worst of situations
because they’re afraid that ICE is gonna show up and pick a bunch of people up as well. And so you’ll have domestic
violence that goes unaddressed, things that are not restricted
to an immigrant reality, things that are a part of
the human reality in America that are as American as anything else, but they’re not going addressed because you have a militarized force that goes through communities
and rips families apart on a daily basis and no one
wants to deal with that. I actually share with you
something very personal that happened with me on Wednesday. On Wednesday night, I was
driving to teach class at SMU. I was in a car on my way to class at SMU, one of my students was driving and as we were exiting the highway, there was a rainbow and he was remarking on how beautiful that rainbow was and he was talking about
how the cars are stopping, slowing down because they’re looking at that beautiful rainbow. Just as he says that, we
get popped in the back. Just as he says that and pull over and it’s a young undocumented man who was shivering and
crying because he says, I was just looking at the rainbow, please don’t call the police and get me taken away from my children. I’ll do anything. Here’s my passport, I
have cash, whatever it is, I’ll fix your car but I
have a three-year-old, I have a one-year-old. I was just looking at the
rainbow and you know what, we didn’t call the police. And I thought to myself at that moment what a blatant injustice is that if that was me driving that car and I happened to be
looking at the rainbow and I popped someone by accident, then you could pull over to the side, call the police, call
the insurance companies and it becomes a nuisance,
it becomes an incident but at the same time, I
have no fear whatsoever of going back home and living
the rest of my life normally. But it struck home actually
struck me five days ago and this is the paranoia and the culture that we are creating here within our inner cities. If you talk about the way
that we are failing to process the over 800 legal asylum cases that exist at the border right now as those people that came
through through Dallas responds, we had White supremacist protesters that were threatening
to blow up the church because we were taking people that had legal asylum cases processed but just did not have the opportunity to connect to their sponsors. What does it mean to expand the legal avenues of immigration so that people do not have to resort to these types of situations
in the first place? What does it mean to provide
a pathway for dreamers who are just as American as anybody else who know nothing but an American reality, except that it’s not reflected on paper and not just provide a pathway for them, but their parents who have also come here and made an honest living for themselves and for their children. And then you start to have some of the more substantive discussions. Beto O’Rourke has a very interesting part of his immigration plan
called the community visa idea. And the community visa idea
reflects the Canadian system where communities are actually
able to sponsor refugees, take care of refugees. Not sponsor them entirely, but sponsor them to the point that they can ensure that
their basic needs are met. Why not give the American people
and these places of worship a chance to actually rise to
the best version of themselves, especially places of worship that had been at the front lines of combating other types
of ill societal ills that plague our community? Why not allow them to rise? If we had a substantive discussion about what it means to decriminalize crossing into the border? Once again, there’s this idea that things are historically applied. And so when you say decriminalized
crossing the border, illegally crossing the border, it sounds like what you’re
talking about is letting ISIS and all sorts of horrific
gangs overrun the border. The reality is is that
even though there were laws that criminalized crossing into the border or crossing the border for
years and years and years, that are actually historical,
more historical than ICE, they were not actually
enforced until the Bush years. And I don’t recall us having this massive immigration
problem in the 90s where gangs ran the border and the country started to fall apart because suddenly you
had illegal immigrants that were coming into the country and forming all sorts
of cities within cities. So these are challenging
and substantive discussions that we have to have. You saw the democratic
presidential candidates when the question of healthcare came up, when you talk about universal healthcare, do you also mean universal healthcare for illegal immigrants? And oh my God, no, wait, hold on. We have no issues taking taxes or social security from
people who are undocumented. Shouldn’t there be a
basic ethical function of what you put into the system, you get back as a guaranteed right? And so the challenge becomes how do we actually start
to form a moral framework that addresses these issues, not in isolation of one another,
but in a comprehensive way. And so I want to put
forth a few ideas here and then I’ll open it up to Q&A. Number one, the value of a human being. The sanctity of a human being and actually looking at the
sanctity of a human being as the foundation for any discussion of any person, whether
they are American citizens, legal immigrants or migrants
that are undocumented, starting with the value of a human being. And I actually want to read a statement from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that I found very important
to this discussion. I had the blessing of being at University of Michigan last week and I gave a lecture on the intersecting legacies
of Malcolm and Martin. And one of the things about Dr. King is that in those last
three years of his life, his view on Vietnam, not
just his policy on Vietnam, but the evolution of what he was saying about the Vietnam war is very instructive. When Dr. King first
challenged the Vietnam war, he challenged it on the basis of America spending money on war while it had plenty to spend
on here in the United States. If we could not rid ourselves of poverty and the horrific
conditions that take place domestically here in the United States, how could we send these tens
of millions of dollars to war and destroy other
countries in the process? And that it evolved into something else. Dr. King started to talk about how we were sending off people that did not have liberties
here in the United States to fight for that same liberty that they were being deprived of. Sending African-Americans off to war, to fight for liberties, to guarantee the liberties and freedom that they were not experiencing in any substansive form at the moment. And then if you look at ’67 and ’68 before Dr. King was assassinated, something happens in his
thinking and in his speeches. He starts to talk about the war from the perspective of Vietnam, of the children on the other side, of the people that were experiencing war, not just from this side of the
barrel, but the other side. And Dr. King said something that I find stunning in this regard. He said, a genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis
that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than section. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty
to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best
in their individual societies. Imagine then would Dr. King
would say to America first with the implications that that statement actually comes with. And so you start from a moral framework, which is seeing every human being essentially as a human being that has their dignity protected and that when we take
care of other people, that when we open ourselves
to cater, to care, to show compassion for other human beings, that it brings out the
best of our patriotism, it brings out the best of our humanity, it brings the best out of our
religious beliefs as well. You get to see people. There’s this concept of in the Quran of people competing in good. You get to see religious communities competing to do good. Competing in this belief, not
just that every human being is a human being that
has God-given rights, but every human being is
honored and dignified by God and to not honor and
dignify that human being is actually to not honor God himself. To take it into that dimension, there’s a beautiful prophetic tradition. The prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, said that on the day of judgment,
God will say to a person, “Oh, son of Adam, I was sick
and you did not visit me. “I was poor and you
did not provide for me. “I was hungry and you did not feed me.” And so the prophet
Muhammad peace be upon him, said that a person would say to God, “Oh God, how could I feed you “and you are the Lord of the world?” And God would say that, “Don’t you know that my servants, “so-and-so was hungry and had you fed him, “you would have found my reward with him?” Oh God, how could I provide for you and you are the Lord of the world? Don’t you know my servant
so-and-so was poor and had you provided for him you would have found my reward with him? Oh God, how could I visit you and you are the Lord of the world? And he says, don’t you
know that my servant so-and-so was ill and had
you visited my servants, you would have found me with him? So this idea of actually
starting operating first and foremost from a premise that every child is
dignified and honored by God and when you don’t honor
and dignify that child, you are dishonoring yourself. You are dehumanizing yourself. Dr. King talked about racism not just being dehumanizing
to the victim of racism, but to the racist themselves. You are rendering yourself inhuman when you don’t act upon
basic human instincts that are put in you by the divine. And so when we talk about America first and we talk about protecting our borders, what does it mean to protect
our soul as a country, our actual soul as a nation? When we talk about domestic policy, can we really talk about a domestic policy without talking about our foreign policy? And if we talk about
reparations in this country as the right thing to do, because America has a past
with its citizens now as well an inequity that has never been resolved. And so when we talk
about reparations here, how do we broaden that
to an ethical framework that you do actually
bear some responsibility to fix the mess that you have created. Be it domestic or abroad, that you do bear responsibility to people who you have put in a
detrimental situation. When we talk about America thriving and we talk about America thriving, not in spite of the world,
but actually through being a productive citizen of
the world as a nation. It’s always stunning to me that when we talk about these issues, we act like we don’t
have a legal framework or policy place to start. There are immigration advocacy groups that do have it figured out. They do actually have it worked out as to what an ethical policy looks like in dealing with the border. And I can tell you that
none of those discussions revolve around a wall. The problem is not a
wall or a lack of a wall. The wall represents something. The wall represents a
low base White nativism, but it’s not actually about a wall, is it because you don’t have people
really climbing a wall. You have people stuck in borders, you have people stuck at the border, you have people either in
refugee camps on the other side or in concentration camps on our side. You have people in these
horrific situations and then you have an unfounded
fear, a baseless fear that distracts from the real fear that we should be having in our country, that our country is imploding, not because of illegal immigrants, not because of people on the outside or conditions that are
caused from the outside. Our country is imploding for
unresolved American issues, unresolved native problems. But through the lens of White nativism, we’ve made it about a wall
and keeping people out. The reality is that we can
be enriched by immigration, that we have been enriched by immigration, that people that have
come to this country, that those that have
migrated to this country have been of the most productive citizens, and I use the word citizens
intentionally to it. They have been productive. They have worked to the
enrichment of this country. They have lived in fear
due to irrational fear that causes them to live in
that perpetual uncertainty and we have a responsibility
as people of faith and people of no faith, to not
just challenge our country, to act in a more dignified
fashion towards them, but to challenge our country to live up to its purported ideals. And so with that, I’m
gonna open it up to Q&A. I appreciate you all being out here. Sorry if I took a little bit too long. (audience applauding) – Is that working? Oh my goodness, it’s working. Thank you so much Imam Sulleiman. I just want to let people know that if you want to use our
overflow room for prayers, it’s just to the left in East Duke 108 and please feel free to come back as we have a question and answer session for about 30 minutes. And several small rooms that
you can feel free to use if you would like to. We are gonna open it
for question and answer. This mic is very sensitive. So we have this mic which
Omar Bin Alal will take around if you raise your hand. If you prefer to write out a question, we also have note cards
that we will be handing out. Emily, do you have the note cards? Omar has the note cards. He’s multitalented. If you would like a note
card to write out a question, please raise your hand
and Omar can come around and give you one. Or is that can go on
and I’ll give you one. And if you would like to ask a question, I would just ask you to try to make your question relatively brief so we can include as
many people as possible and if you could kind of
restrict it to questions as opposed to comments, we
would really appreciate it. Finally, after the event
concludes, just outside, we have some desserts and tea. So you’ll have a chance
to talk to Imam Suleiman outside in the lobby here. Please feel free to stay,
have a little something to eat and continue the conversation informally. So you’re gonna take it over there ’cause you’re much faster. – [Woman] So I have a question about what our priorities
should be as a nation. Should we direct our
priorities to providing relief to these countries that we
have wronged in the past or should we direct our attention to treating the refugees
with better conditions? – That’s a great conversation. I think the first thing is
to not allow those two issues to be a pit against one another. And so it was very interesting
when Muslim ban happened around that same time, I think it was a few months afterwards that Trump had bombed
certain facilities in Syria. I don’t remember which ones because he talks about
how he was just enraged when he saw the facility, when
he saw the chemical attacks used by the Assad regime
and felt compelled to actually take action, to take military action against Syria. And a lot of people cheered that on. And it was sort of like, you
do realize that the same people that you’ve turned away from
our border and Muslim ban and people don’t realize the restriction. I don’t remember, I don’t
know how many Syrian refugees actually were admitted
into the country in 2018. I know that in 2017, I believe
it was only 18 people total. 18 total Syrian refugees that actually were
admitted into our shores. It’s the same people here. So I think that a lot of times we inherit cognitive dissonance that exists with policymakers because we feel like
that’s the only language that we can speak with and the only way we can make things make sense to people. And I think it’s important
for us to push back on that and to say, look, it’s upon
us to not just help refugees, but to play a productive role
in stopping the situations that’s turning them into refugees. That these refugees, should
it be sources of hope, not sources of fear,
sources of inspiration, whether they’re here or
whether they’re abroad, that they’re human beings and sort of insisting on
that essential human value. So I think from an activist perspective, from the things that we
do, I do think we have the capacity to do both. I think that in fact,
I think that the more you interact with people on a human level, the deeper of an understanding
you gain of their situation. And so I would hope that Americans that have this idea of
refugees or migrants would actually take
the time to meet people and to listen to them and
to listen to their stories. Something changes about you
when you see one of those kids. If you look up, there’s a BBC documentary called “The United States of Hate.” “The United States of Hate” was
about my community in Texas. Don’t ask me why Muslims
chose to settle in Texas. A state that has 10% of
the country’s hate groups but for some reason Muslims
chose Dallas and Houston. So there’s just a ton of Muslims, hundreds of thousands of
Muslims in Dallas and Houston. You’ve got over 300 mosques in Texas. I don’t know why, I don’t know whose idea
it was, but it happened. So it’s sort of like how
Somalis settled in Minnesota. It just doesn’t make
much sense, but, okay. Well we just got to go
for it at some point. You just got to deal with it. So “United States of Hate” was
about the White supremacist, armed militias that protest in front of our mosques regularly. So Dallas is the only place in the country where we have regular armed
White supremacist groups regularly have armed
White supremacist groups protest outside of our mosque regularly. Not every once in a while, regularly. And so BBC did a documentary about it and they actually gave me the opportunity to talk to one of those White supremacists and to introduce him to
a Syrian refugee family and they had him on camera saying these horrific things about them. And then he sees an eight-year-old girl whose leg was blown off
and tripping over herself to get around the park with her family, this happy eight-year-old girl and the guy just hung his head in shame and he said, I feel like an idiot. I was like, good, you should. You should feel like an idiot. That’s the point. You can’t say these things to people when they’re actually in
front of, when you start, I mean, there is some compassion. A natural instinct of compassion. So I think we need to expose
people more to those stories and not wait for a new
cycle to bring it to us. And that’s why to me, those
projects like Humans of Syria. There was a photo journalist
who published all the images of the protestors in Gaza
whose legs had been blown off. There is another photo journalist. I wrote about this in
the Dallas Morning News, called don’t let the
shouting in the Oval office distract us from the
shouting at the border. Because at that time they
had that Chuck Schumer and Trump and Pelosi
sitting in the White House and yelling at each other and bickering and it’s like, let’s not get
distracted from the issue. And I think that it’s important for us to amplify some of those projects. There’ve been people, photo journalists that have actually tried to capture the stories of people at the border. Remember the caravan? You guys remember the caravan before? The people at the border of Tijuana were teargassed and attacked because of the scary caravan? So there was actually a photo journalist and I just don’t remember his name, but I wrote about in the article who went and who actually tried to tell
the stories of these people at an individual level. Because once you start
to understand people at an individual level,
then you get a better pulse of what we should be doing with the circumstances that
led them to those situations. – [Woman] Thank you for being here. I appreciate the broad
view that you’ve given for the need for immigration policy. But I’m wondering in
the visits that you made to refugee camps, did you
come across any of the reason why children were being
separated from parents and more importantly, did
you encounter any reasons by which they’re going to try to put children again with their parents because it’s been reported
that a lot of them weren’t even documented as
to where the parent went and where the child is now. – Yeah, I can tell you that. So I had the opportunity to
go to most recently to Juarez with Reverend Barbara,
actually Duke alumni and the poor people’s campaign a we had a multi-faith
coalition that went to Juarez as really interesting
cause you drive into Juarez which is, they call it the most dangerous place in the world and you actually don’t even
go through a checkpoint. There’s no immigration. It’s sort of like go at your own risk. So no one even checks your papers before you go in there. You can literally drive into Mexico and start to drive through those camps and it’s at your own risk and they have the stay in Mexico program. And so every single person, it was just really what struck me was that unlike the refugee crisis, every single person had a story that just seemed more
tragic than the other. I’ll give you an example. There was a mother
whose two-year-old child is an American citizen,
but she’s undocumented and she’s in one of those camps in Juarez. If you literally held
her child out and said, can you just get him across the border and I’ll just die out
here, but this let him, I want him to have a chance at life. And you think about that. And that’s my thing about demonizing and vilifying the parents. These parents are so selfless. I mean, she literally said, I don’t care. I’ll just die out here, but can you take my baby across the border and he’ll figure it out. Just connect him with someone
so he can figure it out and he can have a chance to life. I mean, those types of
situations you come across and every story was more
tragic than the other. And then it just becomes that
vicious cycle of trafficking. Imagine if you’ve walked 8,000 miles to get to the border
and then you get stuck, and then the only way that you can put food on
the table for your child is to literally become a part
of a trafficking operation. To prostitute yourself, just in order to have enough
food to feed your child. So the separation is
perpetuated in many ways and the situations are very unique. But then we’re coming
back into the States. How many of you have been
through secondary screening coming back into the country? You go to a secondary screening room, it’s just another room. You’ve got just the blue chairs and you’ve got a picture of
the president on the wall and then you’ve got the agent. The border patrol is gonna come out to ask you a few questions. So coming back, driving back into El Paso, I just want you to understand this is driving back into El Paso,
I got pulled out of the car. I was with a bunch of faith leaders. I got pulled out of the
car for a secondary. I went in that secondary inspection room and every seat has handcuffs on it. They cuff you for no reason. I mean, why would you
cuff people for secondary, for questions as they’re
coming into the country? And so the dehumanization starts there, of just the way that you’re
treated at that point. So when you’re processing people, you’re not processing
people as human beings, you’re processing people like animals. It’s very easy for people
to get lost in that process. It’s very easy for those
people to get separated. And then if we didn’t
have the ethical calling to take basic measures in the beginning to treat people humanely,
why would those same people in those same agencies then
really exert themselves to try to bring those
people back together? So that dehumanization
starts at the border. And so when you’re ripping people apart, you don’t care who you’re
throwing into what warehouse or what detention center
or what prison cell. You don’t care if you’re
getting the paperwork right because you don’t care about the people that you’re processing. And the reality is, by the way, and I actually would make an admission that this is not just a Trump problem. A lot of this stuff was
happening under Obama. A lot of this stuff was happening under the Obama administration. I think a lot of us were not aware to what extent that this
stuff was already happening, but more people were deported under the Obama administration
than the Bush administration. He expanded ICE and though the dreamers
legislation was put in. We’ve had a broken immigration system for a very long time and I
think just with everything else, Trump just amplifies everything through its extreme ugliness. Just like he does with
everything else, right? And so for us, we now have a calling, we now have a duty having been
exposed to this as a country to say, you know what, not only should we be
keeping families united, we also should not, I don’t want families to be in permanent detention
and warehouses together. They need to be given a path
to a dignified existence. So it’s sort of overhaul of the
system from start to finish, how you treat people from the beginning all the way to the end of that process. – Firstly, thank you for
sharing these stories with us. In terms of the process of dehumanization, there’s a lot of misinformation. So a significant majority of people don’t know that much of the
people in detention centers are legal asylum seekers. So how do we as people,
but also content creators and journalists and
consumers of social media tackle that irresponsibility
and that misinformation? – Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I alluded to this, but let me just be more explicit. Immigration advocacy groups have done extensive
research on this stuff, but on the policy level,
so like in Texas, it’s ISIS and the United Dream Team,
North Texas Dream Team. And so many other groups have just done incredible work on the policy side of this where people need to be
educated on the policies. So I think writing
op-eds is very important and trying to get op-eds
situated is very important to where you just challenged
these false narratives that exist about people,
that exist about immigrants. The second thing is
the human side of this. (sighs) I’m a big Maya Angelo fan, and so when I went to Syria, there was this quote of hers
that just penetrated me. When you would talk to the people, at first there was a great skepticism, like they don’t really feel
like talking is that blank. And then when they start to open up to you and they tell you everything
about their lives, everything about their lives. They’ll tell you where they came from, they’ll tell you what they used to have and why it was taken away from them and I used to be this, I used to be that because they haven’t been heard for years and years and years and years. So they just open up and they go from not telling you anything to telling you more
than you could imagine. Everything once they have
a little bit of comfort. Maya Angelou said that
there’s no greater agony than an untold story inside. When you feel like you have a story that hasn’t been told, it is agony. When all people see you as are a bunch of scattered
refugees and poor people that are trying to take their stuff. It’s like I had an identity. I was not a refugee, I was not a migrant. I had something. I am somebody. I am somebody. That concept, so storytelling is important and I think that there’s the bridge here, the Halon and accord at the
end of the Jacquelyn Cow. The bridge here is that
you need to have the story generate the momentum from the story and then I have a clear policy path that is articulated in
the midst of this story as that momentum is created
and then push for it. So I think it’s all of us
sort of working hand in hand, but don’t try to recreate the wheel. Don’t try to recreate it
’cause you’ve got groups, immigration advocacy groups
that have done the research that have done the work. It’s important to work with them and to see how we can actually move people towards policy makers and not
just shattering these myths at the public level but also pushing forth facts of policy making, for facts actually drive the conversation. – So two questions from the floor and I’m gonna ask them together. What has been the most
challenging expectation in your own thinking that
you’ve had to change? What did you not expect
you’d have to think about? That’s the first one. And the second one is, you
mentioned the significance of understanding human experiences, especially in the current politization of the refugee crisis. It has become so important to learn about the
deeply human experience. For those of us who do not
currently have the capacity to go directly and talk to the people who have experienced such inhumane and undignified circumstances. Do you have any particular
readings or documentaries that you feel depict
individuals’ experiences well? – Okay, wonderful. So the first question, I think that one thing
I always struggle with is the urgency of the moment and the generational implications
of our current policies. So it’s on one hand it’s like
I just want to protest 24/7 I don’t want to stop protesting. I just want to live at
the border and do nothing but continue to protest
and protest and protest and just say, America, what
the hell is wrong with you? How do you go to sleep at night knowing that this is
happening in your country, that these ICE immigration
detention centers exist around you and that
this brutality is taking place and you’re not doing anything about it? And then on the other hand, it’s like, well, how can you play the
long game and push forward? And so naturally, wanting to just channel relief and aid and sometimes become, can sometimes overwhelm
you because it has, there’s something there. There’s something fulfilling
about actually being able to sit and sit in front of someone and immediately relieve
some of their needs. But I’m still not, those children are still
not going to schools. They’re still not a
dignified existence in place. And I’ll tell you one of those moments that actually changed a lot for me when I was sort of struggling with, okay, well I helped 100 people, but I just drove away from 100,000 people. This young girl, Syrian
refugee once again, to me, these situations are identical. I operate under the same
love for these people and I see them in the same light. And I look for those moments
that make something click. And so there was this
young girl named Rahab. Rahab was 14 when I first met her and I actually marked
the location of her tent so I could go back every time
I went back to see her again and check up on her family. And Rahab would take food and water and stuff and medical supplies. She doesn’t want any of that. We took micro homes, like little trailer
homes, Syrian refugees. She didn’t want any of that. She just wanted education. She wanted to go to school. And so at 16, I actually
sat with her and I said, “Why do you want to go to school so bad?” And she said that, “I need to be educated “cause I need to lift my
people out of this condition.” And I said, “Well what do you
want to be when you grow up?” She said, “I want to be a lawyer.” So that’s interesting. You want to be a lawyer? What type of lawyer? She said a human rights lawyer. And she actually said, “I want to prosecute Bashar
Assad at the UN court “for crimes against humanity.” She said it with such
confidence in her voice, I was just blown away by
how she didn’t flinch. This wasn’t a cute story. This is what’s been occupying her mind for the last seven years,
is that I’m gonna be the one to champion my people. And so what I realized in that process is that, you know what, even if you help, no one can lift the people like their own. There was something again last week, I was just talking about the intersection of Malcolm and Martin. There was poetic about Malcolm because Malcolm was set
up to fail in America. He literally was the Black tragedy, the African American tragedy
in person incarnation. Everything was set up against
him, facilitated his disaster and instead he built himself up to be an adequate
spokesperson of his people and refuse to succumb to all of that. And so my thing is that if we can uplift some of those stories and
give some of those people a chance to succeed, no one can tell their people’s
story better than them and no one can champion
their people’s rights, as much as they can. So we need to amplify those
stories and we need to uplift some of those individuals and not despair. And this is not belittling
the small good deed because if you look at the small good deed in comparison with the
large, horrible situations, at times it’s not worth
doing the good deed. And so you don’t do the good
and you don’t solve the evil that’s leading to those situations. And so I think don’t
belittle the opportunities that you have to work
with refugees and migrants and people in your situation. One of those examples, by the way, we started the Muslims
for Migrants Campaign, and myself through Celebrate Mercy. I raised over $150,000,
which is enough to free over 15 people to reunite families. Some of these people that we were able to free from detention, had missed the birth of their own children and I don’t want to say the beauty of it, but what was really amazing
is that none of them actually know that they’re gonna be freed. So some of them had been
in there for so long and it’s like someone just
paid your bail and it’s like, wait, what, who? Like, I mean, it just, they had no idea that someone was gonna pay their bail and they got out and all
of them are committed. Unanimously, each one
of them, no one wanted to just go home and forget
about everything that happened. Each one of them said, how
can I help the campaign? How can I now help other people? And so I want to actually
put that on everybody. Please go to launchgoodand.com/migrants and read about our campaign. launchgood.com/migrants
and read about our campaign because my hope and dream is that we’ll actually be
able to expand that campaign and every time they lock someone up, we will free them and
hopefully each one of them will become a spokesperson
for their people. And we can amplify their
stories using the media, using the arts, and then push for policy. Put those people on Capitol Hill. I was there on Capitol Hill when you have some of the Yemeni children
whose parents were blown up in drone strikes that were
funded by our government and people could not look them in the eye. People hung their heads in shame. Even people that had some
of the most vitriolic, bigoted speech couldn’t look
those children in the eyes because they knew that we did that. We put them in that situation. We need to disrupt and
make people uncomfortable starting with ourselves. And so I think amplifying
those stories is important. I’m not from here, but I’m sure there are
refugee services here. Are there Syrian refugees or any type of refugee services here in North Carolina
that you all are aware of? Who can connect the questioners? There you go. Omar, the man who can do it. All right, so connect you all. Yeah, go ahead. – So I was wondering as
students in North Carolina we’re far away from the border, we’re not religiously skilled in any way to do that kind of work. So that are tangible
steps that we can take to address this border issue,
but also more than that, all the work that’s being done often. You don’t see like
palpable outcomes of that. You don’t see any impact of it. So in the process of doing so, how do you keep yourself
motivated and keep going like to fight this
battle every single day? – So again, there’s this
element of analysis paralysis. It’s just too much going
on, so I can’t do anything. You can do something. You have a role to play. I don’t know which groups
in particular work out here that do immigration advocacy. Can anyone shout some of them out? Anybody? Immigration, what is it? Church World Service. There you go. Islamic Relief does work out here. Reverend Barber’s Poor
People’s Campaign out here. So I think connecting with those groups and seeing what we can do to uplift them and just playing a part
in being a volunteer and being an extra person, you’d be amazed how shorthanded these groups are. Even these major issues that actually dominate
our political discourse. You’d be amazed how little
volunteers these groups can usually find to actually
just do some of the leg work that’s necessary to move, to make meaningful change in these things. I think connect with some of these groups and see what you can do to make meaningful
change in your capacity. And your job is not to solve the crisis. Your job is to do your part in solving it and to amplify it so that we
can collectively solve it. So kind of removing it
from the individual domain and to the collective domain. This country needs to be
very uncomfortable right now. It really needs to be uncomfortable. And the border is not an El Paso. The borders in your ICE
detention centers here. It’s not in El Paso, it’s here as well. So we’ve got to shine light
on those things as well and do our work so that people
are aware of those as well. I would recommend frequent protests in front of your ICE detention centers. People need to know where the
ICE detention centers are. They need to know what’s happening. Sorry, you said something? – [Omar] For the sake of time, this’ll be our final
question for the evening. – [Man] Good evening and thank you. My question is what do you think of this new phenomenon
that was starkly evident in Houston, Texas
yesterday with the rally? Wherein, 50,000 immigrants
who were in the stadium, they cheered about the bragging
of prime minister Modi, about 11 million people from Cushman are being held in an open, near present 50 days and counting and
cheered President Trump when he talked about making more stringent policies for the border. These were 50,000 immigrants
who have been fighting for their minority and immigration rights and they cheered president Trump talking about making the
border more stringent. How do we counter that phenomena and what do you think of that? – Well, I was in the protest
on the outside and I can say that we probably had, I
was in Houston yesterday. We probably had 20 to 30,000
people on the outside too so that was very
encouraging, a diverse group. (audience applauding) That was a diverse group of people outside in Houston heat, which
is not easy to deal with hosting what was going on on the inside. Let me just say this. People ask me about the
counter and they say Trump’s Muslim ban is
not really a Muslim ban because he didn’t ban all Muslims. He didn’t put it on almost some countries. And I tell people Trump
doesn’t hate Muslims. Trump loves rich Muslims that give him money to do horrible things. Trump he’s got his resorts
in some of these countries. He’s making money off of
some of these countries. He will put his hand in the
hand of any Muslim dictator that’s going to further
enable his global policy. When it comes to White supremacy and the global rise of fascism,
it’s really interesting because the name, what’s his name, Breivik who carried out the massacre
in Norway a few years ago, Andrew Breivik cited,
actually cited Modi’s group as inspiration for his
White supremacist attack because he saw “Hindu fascism,” and I hate to use the word Hindu because the real Hindus were the ones that were protesting with
us against Modi yesterday. I don’t like to assign that to a religion, but this group of nationalists
and fascists in India, have been an inspiration to White supremacist movements globally. And so people are not looking at this through the lens of color. They’re looking at it through
the lens of nationalism and they’re looking at it
through the lens of fascism and the reality is is that I had, look, I went to Christ Church
after that massacre in March, the terrorist attack in March and I read through that manifesto. We are importing fascism now. We are importing terror
as much as the world is looking at what’s taking
place in our country right now and repelled and disgusted by it, these nationalist movements
are gaining traction. Steve Bannon is going around Europe, riling them up and using
America as a successful project, as an example of a successful project. So what changed? Modi was banned from the only person ever. It’s just incredible. The only person ever banned from entering the United States under the International
Religious Freedom Act was Modi or for the massacre of thousands
of Muslims and Gujarat. What changed to where he was given this glorious welcome last night, by the way, not just by Republicans, there were some Democratic
Congress people in there too? You know what changed, the money. Some of them who deemed themselves allies to the Muslim community were standing up on the
stage handing him these gifts while Trump and Modi shouted or played to these fascist sentiments. Ted Cruz and of course did their thing. You also had Democrats
that were there too. The problem is is that it’s fascism and then the inability to take a principled stand against fascism that continues to enable it to grow. And so why? Because this isn’t really about color, it’s not about religion, it’s about power. It’s about power. And so nationalism though it may have different iterations around
the world, it is one ideology similar to how European White supremacy is no different from
American White supremacy. Nationalism is one hateful ideology. So my message to people is, if tyrants recognize a
shared stake in one another, then it’s about time that oppressed people recognize their shared stake
in one another as well. And that we stopped looking at causes and look at the cause,
unite those causes as one. So if it’s an occupation
here and occupation there, it’s apartheid here, apartheid there. If it’s terror there, it’s terror here. It doesn’t matter who the victim is because the hate that it’s
operating out of is the same. So it’s important to tie
those movements together, not as a means of
diminishing those movements or disproportionally assigning efforts to some of them over others but as a means of recognizing
our shared interests and working together our shared
humanity and repelling it. So I’ll be honest with you, I was very encouraged
with the amount of people that came to the protest outside. And I was so encouraged by
the diversity of the people that were at that protest. I mean, you had the amount of people that came from the Sikh
community to that protest, it was absolutely beautiful. You had people that have
no connection whatsoever to India or Pakistan or Kashmir,
but they were all there. People that drove, took
buses from around the country to be there at that counter protest. So that’s where my hope lies. It lies in the fact that
more people are there, that there was a greater
diversity of people on the outside than there was on the inside that were cheering on
that hateful ideology. – [Host] Please join me in thanking Imam Sulleiman one more time. Thank you so much. (audience applauding)

Jean Kelley



  1. naeem choonara Posted on October 15, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Aslm from south Africa

  2. Funny Bunny Posted on October 22, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    All the bad things humanity did make my heart hurt. On a bigger scale, I can't do much, but my thoughts go to the men, women and children in refuges. I'll pray for them as often as I remember them inshallah.

    On my side, I'll try to help people close to me who are in need, those in my country and hopefully one day I'll be able to help more people inshallah.

    May Allah bless you, Ustaad Omar Suleiman for this lecture.

  3. ILove you Allah Posted on October 23, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    I love this imaam may Allah grant him jannah

  4. H Orakzai Posted on October 24, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    MashaAllah May Allah bless you Ameen

  5. H Orakzai Posted on October 24, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    MashaAllah May Allah bless u and accept your efforts Ameen

  6. M. Schnabel Posted on October 24, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    Somehow Imam Omar Suleiman radiates a special light. He sounds very sincere and at the same time he motivates further participation in our communities. May Allah bless him and his work. His voice and calmness reminds me of the late Malcom X.
    Greetings from Germany/Bavaria.

  7. first name Posted on October 25, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    thank you! excellent talk. i find it difficult and frustrating there are few or seemingly few organizations and volunteers out there that actually go and help people in need. i wonder if this is my own disease in the heart but i feel hopeless and powerless to bring justice.

  8. Mohammed Nizam Posted on October 27, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Deeply hearty lecture

  9. Rashid Abdi Posted on November 3, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    This young man is great. My Allah increase his knowledge

  10. Fathiya 3amer Posted on November 4, 2019 at 11:46 am

    May our almighty Allah pour blessings to Imam Omar for his efforts.
    And may Allah make easy for all those who are facing difficulties in this life.

  11. ‘Abd- Allah Posted on November 4, 2019 at 9:32 pm


    May Allah guide us to do the most possible good…

    May Allah relief all people who are suffering.