Tuesday, February 27, 2024 Feb 27, 2024
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For Its Authors and Readers, Banthology Reclaims Imagination After Travel Ban

Syrian author Zaher Omareen talks about his contribution to the collection of short fiction, now out on Dallas imprint Deep Vellum.
By Amina Khan |
Deep Vellum

Effects of the president’s travel ban linger, long after it came down last January. Impressions of people from the seven Muslim-majority countries Trump stopped from entering the U.S. came through a lens of the president’s rejection of refugees— and their homes he called “shithole countries.” In a new collection of fiction published by Dallas non-profit imprint Deep Vellum, authors born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen tell their own stories.

Thursday the Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture hosted a book launch for Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations along with a panel discussion to discuss the impact of travel bans on the Dallas community. Literature and dialogue are powerful enough to remove Trump’s frame from refugees and asylum-seekers, participants said.

Syrian author Zaher Omareen contributed “A Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling,” translated by Perween Richards and Basma Ghalayini. The stylized dark comedy, with its overcrowded boats and asylum-seekers who sidestep conflict with authorities, is based on real experiences of family and friends.

Omareen spent time in prison for demonstrating against the Syrian government. He eventually moved to London for school in 2011, where he currently lives and writes. I spoke with Omareen to learn what Banthology means to him.

What was the inspiration for your story?
My story was based on true stories I knew about or witnessed. As I didn’t get smuggled into Europe as a refugee, this particular story is something related to what my family and friends have experienced. I also thought about many scenarios like being in exile, or being a refugee.

How is this story different than anything else you have written?
The geographical space of this story is in Europe, and I’m used to writing stories about Syria on characters struggling. This is the first story placed outside of Syria, and I enjoyed writing it.

Will you ever go back to your home country?
It’s not an easy decision, some have lived in London for seven to eight years and have family and kids, they can’t think about going back. Especially those who have lost family, homes, and businesses would be going back to a naked Syria. The most important thing is getting rid of [President Bashar] al-Assad. Once this happens, I will go back to Syria.

What message do you have for people who supported the ban?
I have no message for them. Just open your eyes— it’s not a message. I can’t imagine anyone who supports this act. We are all foreigners, do a DNA test to discover that you came from a country you have never been to or dream you could be from. We are all universal citizens.

As a refugee, what do you hope the world would realize?
Most Europeans think refugees will be another challenge to the community, but sooner or later they will discover refugees build culture and reputation in their daily life. Syrians believe hard work as a high value in life. We are all suffering as Syrians and want to prove we deserve this life. The only thing we dream of is a normal country where we can live and die peacefully. We never dream more than that.

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