It has been something of an odd week. Some of you reading this column will have noticed that I was in the news, as I found myself one of those who were affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban. With just one signature, the President of the United States banned all of those whose ‘country of origin’ was Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or, as mine is, Iraq. On a quiet Saturday morning, I suddenly myself as a persona non grata in the USA.
I found this action – a complete banning of visits from anyone even born in one of these countries – entirely unacceptable. The announcement came just after our Prime Minister visited America last week to meet with President and discuss the ties that bind our nations together. The two leaders’ discussion ranged from trade to defence and security relationships, but linking all of the extensive cooperation between our countries is a sense of shared values.
It is these values that have made me admire the United States of America, almost as much as I do my own country of Great Britain. Of course, I was not born here; I was instead lucky enough to be adopted by this country. My father fled Iraq with my family when I was just a boy, to escape from Saddam Hussein’s brutal oppression of the Kurdish people. Since that day, my story has been one of luck and opportunity, a story that has been so similar to the idea of the American Dream.
Britain accepted me. Britain gave me the opportunities in life to start out with an idea in a garden shed, and build it into a multinational company. Britain gave me the chance to be elected to Parliament by the people of Stratford on Avon, the beautiful home of Shakespeare. Zahawi is not a traditionally British last name, but I do not just feel welcomed by this nation, I am wholly and entirely British.
My story has always been one of acceptance, and I have always been treated in the same way as any other British citizen. That changed last Saturday, when I was informed that I would be banned from even visiting America dude to my ‘country of origin’. Boris Johnson was able to secure an apparent exemption for those, like me, who are lucky enough to hold a British passport. However, even if my family are ok, it seems clear that those like me are less welcome in the USA.
For those of you have read my thoughts over the years you will know that I am not against immigration controls – and this appears to be a nuance some of those who heard my story are unable to accept. Every democratic country has the right, and the duty, to control their borders, and disallow those who are a threat to their citizens. I was affected last year by the visa waiver cancellation, and although it was an uncomfortable experience to attend the American embassy in London for an interview, it was understandable, and an acceptable change.
It is fair for a democratically elected Government to implement new checks, or new tests to determine who is worthy of entering their country. However, it is unfair to remove from every citizen of these Muslim-majority countries the ability to even try and evidence their worth. It is wrong to believe that nothing they can say and nothing that they can do could prove that they are honest, decent normal people.
The Prime Minister stated when she met the President that part of the special relationship between our two countries is being able to say clearly and firmly when we disagree. We must be wary of patronising or arrogantly lecturing America; it is not our place to do so. However, I am truly concerned that this order has strayed from the values that we share. Just as importantly, I fear that the President has poured fuel on the fire of extremism; and created enemies, rather than winning friends.
Nearly two million Brits have now signed a petition demanding that the President have the honour of a State Visit revoked. However, I could not disagree more with this position. I am looking forward to President Trump visiting Britain, and hope to be able to engage him in reasonable debate. Friends do not ignore each other, friends have honest, open and respectful conversations. I also think that the President is a big enough man to think again when he’s got something wrong.
I will always believe that the United States of America is a shining example of how to deliver Government for the people, of the people and by the people. The belief that the rule of law must be fair and equal to all, and that if you play be the rules you’ll be treated the same way as any other citizen, regardless of race or religion are the foundation stones of all decent, modern 21st Century democracies. The President should be politely welcomed to the UK, whenever a date is set, and respected as any long standing ally should. But I believe that this executive order has been a misstep, and I hope that the President will think again.