Inspired by Pastor Martin Niemoller's famous poem "First They Came...," Saba Nia implores her community to come together and refuse to turn a blind eye to injustice. Illustration by Anna Gong (Harvard-Westlake '18)
Harvard-Westlake High School

Op-Ed: Calling a Ban on Indifference

When the travel ban was first announced by the Trump administration, rising Harvard-Westlake senior Saba Nia penned an Op-Ed about how the travel ban personally affected her family. Now, with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision to uphold the ban over a year after it was first introduced, Nia revisits the piece she wrote.

When my parents moved to the United States after graduating from high school forever ago, they never expected that one day they wouldn’t be able to visit their first home.

My dad moved here before the 1979 Iranian Revolution to go to school. When the revolution broke out, and then later the war, he became an American citizen and stayed. He was 16-years-old when he last saw his home soil.

And I was 16-years-old last year, when after a decade of imagining that soil, my country — our country — with a flick of an unconcerned wrist, dashed those dreams.

My mom made the conscious decision to move here amid the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq war. She was the only person in the embassy’s packed lobby to receive a visa when decision day arrived; her parents couldn’t even accompany her on that long flight from Ankara to Kansas City. She was 17-years-old when she hugged them goodbye.

And I was 17-years-old, on the eve of my final year of high school and preparing to decide where my own future will take me, when my country – our country – rejected the possibility that anyone like my parents could ever today immigrate to place they now call home.

This is not an anti-Trump rant. No, this isn’t even an anti-prejudice rant or an anti-hate rant.

This is simply a human being calling out indifference.

Sure, marginalizing visitors from Iran and Iraq and Yemen and Libya and Syria and Sudan and Somalia and Chad and North Korea and Venezuela might foster intolerance at home and abroad, but there’s a worse side effect. Banning these citizens is now a reality, one that could normalize this behavior in the future.

In other words, worse than joining in this bigotry, some people will choose to accept and ignore this new norm; they won’t partake in discrimination, but they sure won’t stand up to it.

And this is not the first time, or the last. This ban is nothing close to the internment of Japanese American citizens or the genocide of Jews, gypsies and the physically and mentally handicapped during World War II; and the Holomodor under the Soviet Union; and the Armenian, Greek and Assyrians genocides in 1915; and the Rwanda genocide in 1994; and our own mistreatment of minorities and members of the LGBTQ community; and, let’s not forget, the millions of natives that died in the United States, across the Americas, and all over Africa and Asia every time a colonial power wanted a new shiny piece of land.

This ban is nothing like those atrocities and the hundreds of others I didn’t have enough room to list. But it stems from the same deplorable indifference that convinces someone he’s more human than someone else.

Indifference is worse than war, worse than bullying, and worse than crime. Indifference is what blinds people to the problems that need to be addressed, deafens hard truths that need to heard, shackles their feet and hands to a sense of self-importance so large it drowns out the voices of compassion and empathy and, dare I say, reason.

This is not a Trump ban. No, this isn’t even a prejudice ban or a hate ban.

This is an indifference ban. An avoiding-the-headlines ban. A well-I-can-just-hide-on-my-phone ban. A caring-is-dumb ban. A well-this-only-applies-to-big-world-problems ban.

Indifference is not limited to foreign policy or cultural issues or diplomacy. It’s something we have to address every day on an individual basis. Allowing friends to talk behind other friends’ backs is indifference. Laughing at a joke at someone else’s expense is indifference. Excluding others and treating them with little consideration or completely no respect is, you guessed it, indifference.

We have the opportunity to be active members of our community. We don’t have to march or go to rallies or protest, but if we try to preserve ethics, if we try to uphold the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” if we are brave enough to go against to status quo, the general opinion, the trendiness of nonchalance, we can make sure indifference won’t prevail.

My parents used to tell me to not be too vocal about my ideas, especially if they would ruffle some feathers. I always wrote it off as a side effect from living under an authoritarian king, a radical revolution and then an oppressive regime where the opposition was picked off one by one. So why have they started telling me again?

Rejecting indifference doesn’t seem so great if you get punished for doing the right thing. But when you are part of a larger entity, a nation, a team, a family, one person’s loss is everyone’s loss. And we can be wary and cautious and a little anxious, but we can never forget that we have strength in numbers, strength in justice, strength in ethics, strength in humanity. Our blood and bones and dreams and sorrows unite us more than any flag or faith or party. We can come together and make a difference, but only if we are willing to.

I will not be indifferent.