Meet the young Muslim refugee taking white liberals to task in Minnesota

The so-called “resistance” to Donald Trump’s administration has been growing since the day of his inauguration, taking on anything from LGBTQ rights and immigration policy to health care, racial justice, prison reform, and imperialist foreign policy. In our Front Lines series, Fusion speaks to activists leading the charge in diverse ways.

Ahmad Qais Munhazim is a 31-year-old graduate student at the University of Minnesota and one of the organizers of the “Caravan of Love,” an immigrant and refugee march and rally on February 11. At press time, the Facebook event has more than 2,000 RSVPs. Ahmad spoke with Fusion by phone.

So, tell me what you’re doing this weekend.

There’s a lot of organizing happening here in the Twin Cities, but to be honest, a lot of the time it’s white liberals getting together. I come from a place where we have been screwed over by white liberals and Republicans, all of them together. So it’s hard now to just see them becoming our savior, taking the lead.

“A lot of the time it’s white liberals getting together.”

So I thought, Why not do something that’s by immigrants, that will actually be a raw experience and that can speak back to other people? And also the purpose was not to have this organized around a specific political intention, but as a time for compassion. That’s what’s missing between all these immigrant communities living in different parts of the city. We want them to come and tell their stories. We get asked all the time, “Oh, how did you end up here? It’s so cold, why did you come?” As if we had the option to choose. A lot of people don’t have that, and when you’re given the option, you take it, because it means you will survive.

How did you start organizing around immigrant and refugee rights?

I know very closely what it’s like not to have a permanent home. I call myself, like, a lifelong refugee or immigrant. I’ve never felt like anywhere belongs to me. I’ve been in the U.S. for almost eight years now, but I’m from Afghanistan, and I also lived in Pakistan during the war. I left home twice, one was during the end of the Russian war, when the war turned into a civil war, and we were refugees. So I grew up partly in a refugee camp.

“I know very closely what it’s like not to have a permanent home.”

And then from there, after the U.S. invasion, we moved back to Afghanistan, and then I moved here for school. I also worked for the United Nations Commission for Refugees for five years. I was on a student visa but right now I am in asylum, so I’m currently in a kind of limbo. I know what it’s like to be seen as a second-class citizen by the state.

The talk of organizing a protest in this way came right after the ban on Muslims and imposing laws on refugees, who are the most vulnerable human beings. When people have the privilege of citizenship, they don’t know what it’s like. So I really just want to give a voice to those stories—they’re usually told by a politician, or the media.

How is activism different in the Twin Cities than elsewhere?

There are so many immigrants the Trump regime has directly attacked. There’s a huge Muslim community, and a major Mexican and Latino community here. And when Trump was doing his campaign, he called Somali terrorists. And the Somali people have given so much to Minnesota, and they’re here because of the U.S. intervention and Somalia. I just want to help bring all these different broken communities that have been hurt or attacked.

You’ve done work advocating for LGBTQ Muslims, too. How does that intersect with what you’re doing now?

Right now I’m putting that aside. I identify as a Muslim and a gay man, but at the same time, when I’m in a Muslim community, I’m not much more accepted as a gay man. When I’m in a majority-white community that accepts my gay identity, they don’t accept my Muslim identity, so I’m torn between the two, and the different kinds of activism. So right now, I try to minimize my gay identity a bit.

But in general we have to understand and protect each other. And we have to show up for each other because this is going to get violent in the near future.