john waters and zadie smith sign letter against trump's muslim ban

65 artists and writers are calling BS on the ban, saying it will 'silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict.'

by Hannah Ongley
21 February 2017, 10:14pm

Word on the street is that Donald Trump doesn't like to read much, though that hasn't stopped Americans from writing him a large amount of letters. The latest takes aim at the president's disruption of cultural life by signing an Executive Order banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries last month. While the original order remains stalled in the courts, the administration will reportedly issue a new one this week targeting the same seven countries. Advocacy group PEN America has now written an open letter asking that they refrain from doing so in the name of "freedom of movement and the global exchange of arts and ideas." The letter has been signed by 65 writers and artists including John Waters, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dave Eggers, Margaret Atwood, and Anish Kapoor.

The executive order "hindered the free flow of artists and thinkers — and did so at a time when vibrant, open intercultural dialogue is indispensable in the fight against terror and oppression," the letter reads. "Its restriction is inconsistent with the values of the United States and the freedoms for which it stands." It criticizes the ban for causing "stress and disrupting U.S. cultural events. Oscar-nominated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, Syrian singer Omar Souleyman, and French-Syrian poet Adonis have all had their U.S. travel plans put in doubt post-order. Meanwhile, reciprocal measures taken by the governments of Iran and Iraq will prevent American artists from traveling abroad.

"Arts and culture have the power to enable people to see beyond their differences," the letter implores. "Creativity is an antidote to isolationism, paranoia, misunderstanding, and violent intolerance. In the countries most affected by the immigration ban, it is writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who are often at the vanguard in the fights against oppression and terror. Should it interrupt the ability of artists to travel, perform, and collaborate, such an Executive Order will aid those who would silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict."

The signees aren't banking on the letter having an immediate effect at policy level. The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex novelist Jeffrey Eugenides told the New York Times that sending it felt like "shouting into a void." But, he added, "I've also been surprised, in the past, at how often the void shouts back." And as writer Susan Orlean urged, "I think this is the time to be noisy."


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Alasdair McLellan

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Zadie Smith
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