Fall – both the season and the semester – is now in full swing, and with it, comes the next batch of high school and university graduates trying to figure out what their next move is. Some UAE Millennials may decide to pursue their education further, while others jump straight into the job market.
Many also have to consider where they want to do these things. Historically, for many, a popular choice has been USA. But how will that change, now that the country is experiencing what is arguably one of its craziest election years, and with the rising intolerance towards immigrants— especially those from the Middle East?
Middle Eastern students make up almost 10 percent of all international students in the United States, with the greatest numbers coming from Saudi Arabia.
As of 2013, the US Census Bureau found that immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), at 1.02 million, made up 2.5 percent of the country’s immigrants – Of these, 80 percent are of working age (18-64).
Donald Trump, previously famous for his reality show, The Apprentice, and his self-declared billionaire status, first announced that he was running for president in June last year. Few took him seriously, and his theatrics during the primaries reinforced the belief that he would fail to be elected as the Republican nominee. He did not.
While the Republican Party, and his campaign team, have tried to get him to tone down, his statements and proposed policies remain as erratic, divisive, and scary as ever. After the Brussels attacks in March of this year, Trump told NBC’s Today program that waterboarding, an interrogation technique deemed to be torture and that President Barack Obama banned in 2009, would be “fine.”
If they can expand the laws,I would do a lot more than water boarding.
In another interview with Fox Business Network, Trump called for increased surveillance of mosques. “You have to deal with the mosques, whether we like it or not,” he argued. “These attacks … they’re not done by Swedish people, that I can tell you.”
Perhaps one of his most controversial positions is on immigration. Trump wants to build a wall on the US-Mexican border, to be paid for by Mexico, triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and end birthright citizenship.
Such an attitude is an echo of Hitler’s belief in an “Aryan” Germany, free from the corrupting influence of the Jews. Or, for a more recent – if fictional – comparison, there’s no room for “filthy little mudbloods” in Trump’s White America.
Most worrisome for those living in MENA, Trump has stated that he will support the increased surveillance of mosques, a database to track Muslims, and, in a campaign statement following the 2015 San Bernardino attack, called for
saying that, “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” That “threat” being Islam.
The issue is not just immigration and foreign policy, however, but also the climate within the country as a whole. Current graduates/job-seekers of the MENA region are legitimately concerned.
Tashfeen Siddiqui, a former Tennessee resident and now a student at the American University of Sharjah, says:
I think, nowadays, because of the election, the Islamophobic attitudes have gotten more blatant, gotten more loud. People have found a voice and that is not necessarily a good thing in this scenario. Trump [has been] going on stage and saying these things that he says, so blatantly and so proudly. Now these people have been given a legitimate platform to air out these racist, terrible things that they have to say, and get away with it.
Of course, not everyone in MENA is a Muslim, but the region is still equated with Islam, and that could pose a problem for all.
In the UAE alone, 76 percent of the almost-6 million strong population are Muslim.
On the other side of the political battle, we have Hillary. Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and wife of former president Bill Clinton, first ran against current President Barack Obama in 2008. There was speculation that she would run again, and in April 2015, she announced her candidacy. True to the political platform of the Democratic Party, Clinton is a far more liberal candidate, especially when compared to Trump.
However, she is not entirely scandal-free. Clinton came under fire when it was revealed that she did not use a secure government email during her time as Secretary of State, giving rise to national security concerns. While she has since been cleared of wrongdoing, many feel that she cannot be trusted— a concern Trump has capitalized on, by calling her “Crooked Hillary” at every opportunity. Her position on immigration is much more tolerant than Trump’s, but many, even in this part of the world, still do not like her.
Manaf Yusuf, a 20-year-old med student in Bahrain, says that Trump is “obviously Islamophobic,” but that Clinton is a “hypocrite.” He believes that if either one is elected,
things will get worse for the world. But we just have to wait and see [who] will cause instability in the world.
People are worried. However, some feel that the US is still the best possible option.
Yusuf, for one, plans to specialize in the States despite his concerns.
“It’s the best choice I have, but whether it’s going to stay that way, I’m not sure. Right now, I have no better option.”
Siddiqui, on the other hand, has no plans to return, and says America was always low on her list for personal reasons. “However,” she says, “The elections have served to enhance those feelings of not wanting to go there.”
If there’s one thing that this election – and the opinions and concerns it has triggered in Millennials here – can teach us, it’s that anything can happen.
Many UAE Millennials, like Yusuf, feel that the relatively high standard of higher education in the United States is worth the potential risks, while others are now turned off by the thought of America entirely.
The only general consensus is that the rising xeno- and Islamophobia is scary, with some willing to brave it, while others are not so keen.
“I feel like I could survive it,” Siddiqui says thoughtfully. “But I don’t know that I would want to, you know?”