Friday, 17 January, 2020

US Travel ban on artists such as Farhadi could hamper American culture

A group of 60 authors, actors and musicians including Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith have signed a letter that calls on Donald Trump to rescind the executive order that banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees from entering the US.

The joint letter, which was released by PEN America, states that the consequences of the executive order are “entirely at odds with the national interests of the United States”. It goes on to highlight the high-profile artists who have already been affected by the measure, which has been temporarily halted after an injunction issued by a judge in Seattle was upheld by the ninth circuit court of appeals on 9 February.

The group uses the example of the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is nominated for an Oscar for his film The Salesman but won’t be attending the ceremony. They also point to the Syrian musician Omar Souleyman, who may not be able to perform at World Music Institute in New York, and the similarly uncertain fate of the Palestinian-Syrian playwright Rama Haydar, who is also set to come to New York in 2017.

The letter reads:

“Preventing international artists from contributing to American cultural life will not make America safer, and will damage its international prestige and influence. Not only will such a policy prevent great artists from performing, but it will constrict the interchange of important ideas, isolating the U.S. politically and culturally. Reciprocal actions against American citizens, such as those already taken by the governments of Iraq and Iran, will further limit the ability of American artists to move freely.”

It adds:

“Arts and culture have the power to enable people to see beyond their differences. Creativity is an antidote to isolationism, paranoia, misunderstanding, and violent intolerance. In the countries most affected by the immigration ban, it is writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who are often at the vanguard in the fights against oppression and terror,” the letter states. The group added that by stopping the travel of artists from the countries which are affected by the travel ban, Trump would “silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict”.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, added: “Closing our doors to writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals not only fails to make America safer, but also creates a sort of cultural isolationism that will tear at our nation’s creative fabric.”

Despite the backlash to the order, which caused travel chaos and was widely condemned for both the way it was rolled out and its basic premise, Trump said he was considering a brand new order that would probably change “very little” from the first.

Speaking in a press conference after the injunction was upheld, Trump said: “There are tremendous threats to our country. We will not allow that to happen. We will continue to do things to make our country safe. We will not allow people into our country who are looking to do harm to our people.”

The letter comes after a similar statement from the American Library Association (ALA), which has been at the vanguard of opposing the travel ban. “Our nation’s 120,000 public, academic, school and special libraries serve all community members, including people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable in our communities, offering services and educational resources that transform communities, open minds, and promote inclusion and diversity,” it said in a statement at the end of last month.

The Guardian contributed to this report

Photo: Zadie Smith, Philip Roth and Margaret Atwood were among those who signed the letter. Composite: Getty Images & Wireimage


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