Professor caught up in travel ban returns

Monday, February 20, 2017

Duke professor affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban has returned to his family in North Carolina.

Mohsen Kadivar, a research professor of Islamic studies originally from Iran, had been living in Berlin as part of a fellowship program. Although he originally planned to stay until July, he decided to return to Duke last week after several federal courts put Trump’s executive order on hold.

 

Although he was thankful for a safe return, he said it was a disappointing to cut short his fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. He had planned meetings with scholars and was supposed to give a lecture before returning to Duke.

And Kadivar knows who he blames.

“President Trump is responsible for the harms that happened to my University and myself,” he said, noting that he also is angered by his inability to visit his aging parents in Iran.

Kadivar, a green-card holder, said that the process was of returning through customs screens at the Newark, N.J. airport was easier than normal. He had expected to be under investigation, but agents only asked how long he had been outside the United States, the purpose of his trip and whether he had visited any other countries besides Germany.

David Morgan, chair of the religious studies department, said that the decision to return was ultimately Kadivar’s but the University helped to advise him and work out details with his sponsor in Germany.

A legal firm working with the University on immigration issues noted that the situation was too fluid to trust that Kadivar would be able to return in July, Morgan said.

Kadivar explained that his decision was influenced by worries that the administration could impose a new ban as early as this week. In recent days, reports have indicated that Trump and his advisors are considering a new version of the original executive order—which barred travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries—that could fare better against legal scrutiny.

Since it is too far along in the semester to teach classes at Duke, Kadivar will take the rest of the semester to work on his upcoming book.

Kadivar—a prominent Iranian dissident and scholar who has spent time in prison for criticizing Iran’s government—said he sees similarities between Trump and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Many Iranians compared these two presidents,” Kadivar said. “You cannot expect what will happen from them. The character of these two presidents is so close to each other.”

He also noted that President Trump’s recent statements accusing the media of being “the enemy” of American citizens are eerily similar to statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that characterize the media as enemies of the Iranian people.

“What’s the difference?” Kadivar asked, adding that undermining the media in Iran was one of the first steps to establishing its current authoritarian government.

Trump and his national security team have also upped scrutiny on Iran. Before resigning last week, former national security advisor Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” after it conducted ballistic missile tests. Although Kadivar said he was against the Iranian regime, he thought Trump’s hardline approach to the country was incorrect.

The strength of U.S. civil society, the backlash of protestors against the travel ban and his religion have given him hope, he noted.

“This is the resistance of the independent judicial power against something that is illegal, unconstitutional and also I think against American values,” Kadivar said.

Morgan noted he has heard that another faculty member from one of the affected countries has been able to return successfully. More broadly, he suggested that there may be a “chilling effect” on international students making the decision to study in the United States.

Both Kadivar and Morgan praised how Duke administrators handled the situation.

“I was very pleased with the immediate response of the administration,” Morgan said. “At every juncture they were 100 percent behind us.”