A worried British politician's take on Trump's travel ban

The World
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she disagrees with President Trump's executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she disagrees with President Trump's executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US.

Toby Melville

US President Donald Trump's immigration ban has affected people across the world, including politicians from some of the United States' closest allies. 

Nadhim Zahawi is not an obvious security threat to the US or the United Kingdom. As the elected member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace), he is a prominent member of Britain's governing Conservative Party, and sits on Parliament's Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee.

But 49-year-old Zahawi, a naturalized British citizen, was also born in Iraq. Like many other Kurdish people, his family members were forced to become refugees when Zahawi was a child to escape persecution by Saddam Hussein. Britain became the family's new home. 

This week, that personal history became significant in a new way. "When the order [from President Trump] came through, an immigration lawyer friend in New York told me that you will be banned, because your country of origin is one of the seven countries," he says. "It was a pretty difficult, harrowing, sad and demeaning situation to be honest."

For the Zahawi family, travel to the US is not a luxury. Zahawi's twin sons are both studying at a US university, and one of them recently had severe health difficulties, which required frequent visits from his parents in the UK. The ban could have blocked those visits. "It would mean that it would be impossible to visit the country that we have always loved and revered for its values," says Zahawi.

After a fraught weekend and urgent calls to Washington from the British foreign office, a clarification emerged. Naturalized British citizens like the Zahawis will be exempt from the ban.

But Zahawi says he fears that the long-term strategic damage could be great. "The real concern is that this is counterproductive to our fight against Daesh [ISIS]," he says. "We not only have to defeat Daesh on the battlefield but we also have to defeat them ideologically. And today they are already describing this as the 'blessed ban.' It plays into the narrative that the United States is against the whole of Islam, and administers collective punishment to Muslims."

Zahawi says it is important that allies like Britain now send President Trump a clear message: "You are a big man. A powerful man. A compassionate man. A Christian. And I hope he is a big enough man to reconsider this order and repeal it."