As governors say no to refugees, local Muslim-Americans worry about safety

Nov 18, 2015, 10:09 AM | Updated: Oct 11, 2022, 8:59 am
Zayna Badr, 9, of Redmond. “If [the Paris attackers] did say that they were Muslims and they ...
Zayna Badr, 9, of Redmond. "If [the Paris attackers] did say that they were Muslims and they killed somebody, then that just makes them not Muslims because you can't be a Muslim if you kill somebody." (Sara Lerner/KIRO Radio)
(Sara Lerner/KIRO Radio)

As fear spreads across the country over the legitimacy of Syrian refugees, suspicion is spreading to anyone who is Muslim. It’s making some local Muslims nervous.

More than 30 governors now say they do not want Syrian refugees in their states, but Governor Jay Inslee has been repeating his stance all week: that refugees are themselves fleeing terrorism and Washington will continue to offer them a safe place to resettle.

“We are going to continue to welcome those who seek refuge from persecution, regardless of where they come from and regardless of what religion they practice,” he said. “And I think that is an important American attribute.”

But the governors say they fear refugees could be terrorists in disguise, even though the process to vet refugees in the United States is dramatically different from Europe’s.

John Sandweg, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says refugees get more scrutiny than any group entering the country. First, they’re vetted while still in refugee camps abroad.

Then, “…every refugee selected for resettlement is personally interviewed by a DSHS individual,” he said. “This process is deliberate, taking 18-24 months to be complete and no steps may be waived.”

In Europe, it’s different.

“There, countries are being forced to vet refugees after they arrive,” Sandweg said.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson are among the powerful names who have made statements lately, not only against Syrian refugees, but against all Muslims.

That worries Muslims in this country, including many local ones.

On Tuesday night, at the end of a long and winding street in Redmond, beyond a front stoop covered in sidewalk chalk, you open the door and find Nihal Fahim and her three daughters, who’ve just come home from school.

Nihal sits at the kitchen table with me along with her daughters, ages 12, 9 and 6, and explains what she’s been worried about lately.

Since the Paris attacks, mosques have been vandalized all over the country and Nahil says she’s nervous about her kids’ safety.

“I do worry somebody would upset them,” she said. “I do worry somebody would hurt them. I do worry somebody would say bad things here and there.”

Nihal is also the head of the pre-school at her mosque, all kids ages 3 to 5. She worries something could happen to them.

“Sometimes they go outside for the playground,” she said. The playground is fenced but … the fence has a gate and anybody can come in.”

A seventh grader, who asked not to be named, says she’s OK.

“I’m not really worried that much, not because I know that people will be nice. I’m not expecting them to be nice,” she said. “I know some people will be really rude about it but I know that I can stand up for myself and I can reply back to what they say. Like, I’m confident in myself.”

And what would she say?

“I would say ISIS does not represent me,” she said. “I don’t know what ISIS is. I don’t know who it is. They say they’re Muslim and stuff but I don’t think they are.”

Why not? “Because we don’t go around murdering people.”

Her little sisters are in fits of laughter at this point, as she explains why her sibling’s explanation is so funny.

“Because I don’t have any swords or guns or anything has to do with murdering,” she said giggling.

The girls are clearly familiar with misconceptions people have about them.

Before we finish, she asks if she can share one more thought.

“In our religion it’s considered really bad to try to kill somebody, so if [the Paris attackers] did say that they were Muslims and they killed somebody, then that just makes them not Muslims because you can’t be a Muslim if you did kill somebody,” she said.

Nihal says she’s proud of her daughters. She tries not to let her concerns about safety get to her. “I just pray that everything goes well and these kids are safe,” Nihal said.

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As governors say no to refugees, local Muslim-Americans worry about safety