Roane State staff member Breanna Wright, left, listens as Kasar Abdulla speaks at Roane State’s main campus in Harriman.
April 19, 2017
By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
A native of Iraq who fled her homeland during wartime and faced a hateful backlash in her first American home after the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City described her experiences to Roane State students and others during her recent visit.
Her March 30 talks on Roane State’s Harriman and Oak Ridge campuses were sponsored by the college and the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning (ORICL).
Abdulla, recognized for community activism in Nashville, was named a “Champion of Change” by President Obama in 2013 for her work on immigration integration in Tennessee. She is now director of advocacy and education at the nonprofit Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition in Nashville.
She described how at age 6 while living in the Kurdistan portion of Iraq her family was awakened at dawn in 1991 by a loud knock on their door during the first Persian Gulf War.
A Kurdish freedom fighter told the family, “You must run if you want to live.” They fled on foot to a Turkish refugee camp, where they encountered numerous hardships.
While life in the camp was hard, “I felt like nothing could imprison my mind,” Abdulla told her Oak Ridge audience.
The large family was eventually sponsored on an immigrant relocation program and moved to Fargo, N.D. But life there was disrupted by the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing in 1995 of a federal building.
Muslims came under suspicion, she said. Her home was vandalized, and for the first time, she was called a terrorist.
Her large family relocated again, this time to Nashville, home of American’s largest Kurdish community.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers “shook my world again,” she said. “People were looking at me as if I did it,” she said. She recalled how a store cashier told her, “You Arabs blew up the Twin Towers.”
Abdulla during her Oak Ridge talk criticized President Trump’s planned crackdown on immigration and his proposed plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.
“It is not going to make us safer,” she said. “This is not who we are,” she added.
“It will have a huge negative impact on us as a nation,” she said of Trump’s effort to ban travel from six Middle Eastern countries with predominately Muslim populations.
The current immigrant resettlement program in the U.S. is “already intensely vetted,” she said. “I was vetted for four years.”
The U.S. “helped break down the Berlin Wall, and now we want to build a wall,” she said of plans for the Mexican border wall.
“Our civic duty is to hold him (Trump) accountable and give him suggestions and solutions.”
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