Syrian-American Punk Singer on President Trump's Immigration Ban: 'This Is Definitely Very Scary'
Punk rock thrives on chaos. But the last few days of the Trump administration's actions have been too anarchic even for Miriam Hakim, lead singer of Houston, Texas, punk band Giant Kitty. The 25-year-old frontwoman for the clamorous second-wave riot grrrl group says she's legitimately concerned now about talk of a "Muslim registry," even as she's fretting over the fate of some family members who recently arrived in the United States from Syria. "This is definitely very scary and it makes me worry about their visas and safety," she tells Billboard.
Hakim is anxious because of the confusion sown by President Trump's controversial executive order on immigration, which blocks any refugees from entering the country for 120 days (including those from war-torn Syria, who are indefinitely barred) and imposes a 90-day ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Hakim's band helped organize the "We Belong" concert at Houston's Walters rock club on Trump's inauguration day, which featured a number of other local bands (Turnaways, Ruiners, Revels) that have Muslim members. The show raised $2,000 for the ACLU's efforts to fight some of Trump's actions and was important for Hakim, who was raised Muslim, because half of her family is from Syria and like her fellow musicians, she wanted to put on a "big. angry concert" to express her feelings about the new administration.
"I wasn't surprised that this happened," she says of the murky immigration action, which caused a rift in the administration resulting in Trump's surprise firing of acting attorney general Sally Yates on Monday night after she declined to defend the order. "It's literally exactly what he said he would do. I'm just surprised a politician actually followed up on their promises. This kind of action is exactly why we had the concert." Though she was born in America, Hakim says Trump's actions affect her because of her empathy for the dozens of people who were detained or turned back at U.S. airports over the weekend and her fear that the Muslim registry alluded to by Trump during his campaign could become a reality.
The bands on the We Belong bill decided to hire extra security for the show because Hakim says some local members of the Muslim community, including family members of the bands, had never been to a rock concert before and were scared. In part their fear was stoked by a barrage of hateful messages on the Facebook page for the Houston Press alt weekly in reaction to a story in advance of the show. She says those menacing comments included "I heard it was going to be explosive" and "if they tried this back in their country they would be beheaded."
"It was terrifying stuff," says Hakim, adding that the campus of the university where she is a graduate student was papered with white supremacist fliers over the weekend. "All this negative stuff sucks, but we can't stop... I'm not going to stop being Arab. If there's some Muslim registry, it doesn't matter how American I seem." Because of that, Hakim and some other local musicians have tried to keep the momentum from the show going by starting a Facebook page to organize a benefit show every month and coordinate a phone-banking night to help concerned citizens call their representatives to discuss the issues they're worried about.
She's not alone in her concern and confusion. Mahyar Dean, guitarist for Iranian power metal group Angband, told Billboard via Facebook message on Monday night that he hasn't heard yet from any of his fellow Iranian musician friends about the effect of Trump's ban on their touring schedules. But with plans to record a new album this year with an American singer, it's possible things could get tricky for his band. "If everything goes well we know that we can't play any live show in [the] States," he wrote, before making an allusion to the long-held ban on Western music in his country. "That's funny 'cause we can't play any live show[s] or sell CDs in Iran too for a different reason!"
One thing is for sure sure: Giant Kitty is not going to go quiet, or be silenced, during these tense times. The band's 44-year-old guitarist, Cassandra Chiles, a transgender woman, said there is "obviously a lot in the political climate now that seeps into things that are near and dear to me as well." She believes that it is the artist's job to push the boundaries of society and challenge norms, which is why she's excited that the group is about to hit the studio to work on their second album, Rampage.
"The title should give you an idea of where we are emotionally," she says. "There are a lot of songs that deal with xenophobia and transphobia and the current climate of hate." Giant Kitty is mapping out a tour in June with the Kominas, a band with Pakistani-American and Indian-American members who've shared stories with her about encountering xenophobia lately. "When so many artists are being affected this way... that's when you know things aren't good."