Community forum on President’s Muslim ban to be held this Sunday

MIDDLEBURY — This Sunday, Feb. 12, Middlebury’s religious community will hold a public discussion on the impacts of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order restricting citizens and refugees from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Organized by the Rev. Andy Nagy-Benson of the Congregational Church of Middlebury and Emily Joselson of Havurah, the Addison County Jewish Community, the event will feature a panel of local residents who are Muslim.
They will include Farhad and Amtul Khan, owners of Middlebury’s One Dollar Market; Middlebury College Prof. Ata Anzali; Beau Scurich and Naila Baloch, Middlebury College’s Muslim co-chaplains; and several college students. Organizers also hope to show excerpts from the 2014 PBS documentary “America at aCrossroads: The Muslim Americans.”
“We are all immigrants, and all have valuable stories to share about our unique traditions, and our commonalities,” Joselson said.
The discussion will take place at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library meeting room, from 4-5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and is the second in a series of monthly community conversations to be spearheaded this year by Joselson and Nagy-Benson that are intended to inform, enlighten and inspire thought in these changing times.
The pair developed their idea for a conversation series during a serendipitous meeting at the Burlington International Airport last November. Their chat touched on how Middlebury’s interfaith communities came together after swastika graffiti was discovered on Havurah’s door. They wondered what role they could play in moving conversations forward about the differences and similarities of the various faiths in the county.
“We expressed our confusion about how our country had become so divided, and our shared desire to reach across such divisions, by creating opportunities for conversations among the many communities in Addison County,” Joselson said.
They agreed that communication was an important first step.
“My hope for our country right now rests in opportunities for us to come together and have real, sometimes difficult, conversations with one another,” Nagy-Benson said during a phone interview on Monday. “This (forum) is one small thing we can do.”
Trump’s controversial executive order — which touches upon religion, foreign policy and human rights — seemed ripe for a community discussion, Nagy-Benson and Joselson reasoned.
The Feb. 12 forum follows the organizers’ initial offering: A viewing of the documentary “13th” on the evening of Martin Luther King Jr. Day last month. Centered on race in the United States criminal justice system, the film is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery (unless as punishment for a crime), and explores how that exception led eventually to the problem of mass incarceration.
“At the time, we were thinking this might be a year-long conversation on race, and that’s where we started,” Nagy-Benson said. “But as the political landscape shifts by the hour, and in light of the immigration ban in recent weeks, we felt strongly we should bring people together to listen to Muslim-American community members, to hear their stories and gain from their insights. We also want to show them we care.”
Trump on Jan. 27 issued his executive order preventing citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days; stopping all refugees for entering for 120 days; and banning Syrian refugees from entering indefinitely.
A U.S. District Court judge on Feb. 3 suspended portions of the executive order. As the Addison Independent went to press, three federal judges were reviewing Trump’s bid to proceed with his immigration ban, which has drawn opposition from throughout the country — including here in Addison County.
A story in last Thursday’s Independent explained how Anzali, who is a native of Iran, and his family were recently caught in the crosshairs of the immigration ban. The family late last week was able to return to their Weybridge home from Iran, following some tense moments.
Joselson and Nagy-Benson are hoping for a great turnout this Sunday. Future discussions in the series will also be planned for the second Sunday of each month.
“This Sunday, it’s a chance for the community to be a real community and share our perspectives,” Nagy-Benson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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