This spring, my Istanbul-based tour guides planned an educational tour to Iran and extended an open invitation to our tour guides and staff. A half-dozen people in my office — eager to learn more about an often-misunderstood land — signed up and booked their plane tickets to Tehran. But now, in response to the USA denying entry to Iranians, Iran has (quite reasonably) decided to keep out Americans. Of course, a few cancelled vacations are just the beginning: Many, many people around the world are already suffering far greater hardships because of this weekend’s events.
As someone who loves how effectively travel can foster international understanding and peace, it’s clear to me that, by overreacting to a trumped-up fear of outsiders, our new president’s actions will actually make us less safe.
I traveled to Iran a few years ago to produce a documentary for public television. I was struck by the wonderful, kind-hearted, open-minded people that I met there. Getting to know the Iranians was the highlight of my trip. And I believe that the show we produced did more to contribute to peace than anything I’ve ever done.
It’s clear to me that thoughtful travel can be a force for peace — and, yes, national security. When we travel to troubled lands and get to know people who are supposed to be our enemies, we humanize them. By meeting each other face to face, we make it tougher for forces in their land to demonize us with their propaganda, and tougher for our government to demonize them with ours.
I’ve seen a lot of walls in my travels. They are monuments to failure, and they’re never good. Whether separating East Berlin from West Berlin, Protestants from Catholics in Northern Ireland, or Israelis from Palestinians in the Holy Land, walls are an instrument of misunderstanding and hate. I know this because in each case, I’ve actually met the people on both sides of those walls, heard their perspectives firsthand, and gained both understanding and empathy.
On Friday, President Trump built his first wall — made not of concrete and barbed wire, but of a dangerous and half-baked executive order. And now, Americans who want peace and who love the world will be the ones paying the price.
I don’t care whether you voted for Trump, or whether you identify as a Republican or a Democrat. We can respectfully agree to disagree on most issues. But if you’re a traveler who has a curiosity about this world, banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA is bad news. You want to talk about safety? For the last eight years, we’ve remained extremely safe from external terrorist violence…without ever closing our borders to an entire faith or nationality.
Meanwhile, I can imagine no more successful recruitment tool for ISIS than Trump’s new ban. Just like new subscriptions to The Nation magazine are booming and the ACLU is getting more donations in three days than they normally do in an entire year, the appeal and allure of ISIS is also spiking.
Right now, I’m trying to figure out how I can make a difference in this fight. I’ll share more thoughts soon. In the meantime, I invite you to meet a few Iranians, through my public television special. As you see these faces, keep in mind: These are the people our president has decided are too dangerous to meet in person — the people who our president risks radicalizing at the same time he risks radicalizing our own country.