Top 8 Syrian-Americans whom we’d miss If Trump had Kept them out

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his fiery speech demonizing immigrants to America on Wednesday night, Trump took a moment to deplore that the Obama administration has admitted 10,000 Syrian refugees in the past year (after admitting almost none after the crisis began in 2011). I talked here about why America has a moral responsibility to step up on admitting Syrian refugees. Turkey has taken 2.5 million, little Lebanon (population 4 million) has taken 1.2 million, and Germany and Sweden have been far more generous in recent years.

Here are 8 Americans with at least some Syrian ancestry who wouldn’t be here if Trumpism had kept their ancestors out:

1. Teri Hatcher, Bond Girl (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997) and television actress (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Desperate Housewives). Her mother, Esther (née Beshur), is of half Syrian ancestry, and worked as a computer programmer for Lockheed Martin.

2. Steve Jobs. His birth father, Abdulfattah Jandali, is from Homs in Syria. No Syrian immigrants, no Apple Computer (or maybe it would have gotten started in Homs instead).

3. Jerry Seinfeld. His mother, Betty (née Hosni; born 1914) is of Syrian descent. Her parents, Selim and Salha Hosni hailed from Aleppo.

4. Sam Yagan, CEO of, is the son of Al and Dr. Haifa Yagan of Syria. In 2013 he was listed by Time as one of the 100 most influential people.

5. Actress Shannon Elizabeth (Fadal) made a splash in films like American Pie. Her father is from Syria.

6. Director Moustapha Al Akkad (d. 2005) made the series of horror films, Halloween as well as Lion of the Desert. He hailed from Aleppo. He died at the hands of the predecessor of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in the Amman bombings of 2005.

7. Earnest A. Hamwi co-invented the ice cream cone. He produced his at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He was selling zalabis, a Syrian pastry that resembles a waffle. The next stall over, selling ice cream, ran out of plates, so Hamwi offered “his wafer-like waffles in the shape of a cone, or cornucopia.” The other person credited with this invention is Italo Marchiony, who later claimed it slightly earlier in New York, who got the patent. But that we are eating zalabis is too good a story to forego.

8. She’s not a celebrity, but Syrian-American Ola Hadaya was just graduated from Wayne State University Medical School at 21 years of age. Syrian physicians serve Americans in the thousands.

Related video:

CBS News: “U.S. takes in 10,000th Syrian refugee”

14 Responses

  1. professor cole

    why do you and so many other progressives waste time and energy talking about the clown show. the clown will never be president but hillary von clinton will be. lets worry about how to fight her as she continues disastrous foreign policies that create the refugee problems in the first place.

    maybe we should be talking about the unfolding disaster in mosul? maybe we should debate the necessity and purpose of destroying this rather large city. maybe we should debate the plan for the refugees already homeless in iraq before throwing another million into the abyss?

    reality is trump will not be president. reality is obama is president. reality is von clinton will be president.

    reality is trump has as of yet created no refugees in his lifetime and never will. reality is antiwar candidate obama morphed into neocon president obama. reality is that he and his former secretary of state and soon to be president von clinton have created refugee crisis all over the place.

    • Yes, I agree – she has voted for and supported, and still does, some horrible policies. But I also believe that the US will remain one of the most free country’s on Earth with her in charge – there will be potential for change, and hope will “cling to the rim of the jar” (to coin a Hesiodic phrase). The rights of minorities in this country, the right of women’s access to reproductive health services, and a host of other progressive issues, will at the least remain static if not move forward. We can hold her feet to the fire and be reasonably confident that she will relinquish power in four or eight years. Not so Trump. He is erratic, violent, and dangerous. He has run on sheer hatred and rage.

      I hate the neocons as much as anyone (and was no fan of Bill Clinton in the wake of many things in his administration – welfare reform, etc.), and Hillary’s support of their policies – they are indeed horrible (and that is an understatement). But Trump is actively running against the Constitution he theoretically will be sworn to protect (witness his intimidation of a free press), and far worse, running on the self-imposed creation of a humanitarian disaster (ethnic cleansing), and within our own country at our hands with our blessing (if he is indeed elected – we dare not count him out). I am astounded and horrified that so soon after the catastrophe of the 1930s and 40s we are flirting with a creature who is using a rhetoric we have heard before, and if that period taught us anything, it is to believe a racist hater is a racist hater when he tells you as much. And no, the industrialist cannot control him anymore than they could control the old guard fascists of that period. At this late date, not to cast even a negative vote for Hillary is frankly to actively support that.

    • Obama was actually much less neocon-ish and way less ‘invasive’ than Bush-Cheney or any GOP candidate since (except white supremacist Ron Paul), Obama having successfully fought and resisted a high percentage of the neocon agenda during his two terms. And yes, Hillary’s a neocon, but you can’t seriously say that anyone but Bush-Cheney is the progenitor of and responsible for blowing up the Middle East starting with Iraq, and then negotiating and signing the treaty with the new Iraq government to withdraw all of the American forces after he left office. Obama and no president could have renegotiated that deal with Bush’s Shia Iraqi government. So if you don’t want Hillary, and seem to not want Trump (you didn’t say for sure, so you may be a soulless Trump shill after all), but sure go ahead and vote for Gary Johnson. That’ll help the world, right?

  2. Add Ralph Nader to the list ?? Is of Arabic decent and I believe his parents hailed from Syria.

  3. …not right. According to wikipedia Naders’ parent are from Lebanon. If we included that country the list would get long with lots of folks!

  4. You missed former governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels whose paternal grandparents were Syrian. Pence, the current governor of Indiana, has tried to exclude Syrian immigrants.

  5. This is true Juan, and let me add to your list Governor Victor Atiyeh, the first US governor of Arab descent born to Syrian immigrant parents – he was governor of our state of Oregon from 79-87. Your post, too, is a good reminder of how important diversity is and what a marvelous contributor it is to our lives and culture. Thus has it ever been among humans – Romans recognized that their success was in the inclusionary nature of their society. While not perfect, the fact that they accepted conquered peoples ultimately as citizens they knew to be a strength, not a weakness. They contrasted themselves on this score with the Athenians and Spartans, both of whom were very jealous of citizenship and even, in the case of Sparta, practiced the occasional expulsion of perceived “foreign elements” (known as xenelasia). Romans looking at their Greek forebears viewed this as debilitating and one of the reasons, ultimately, for the failure of Athens or Sparta to become anything more than small local and regional powers that were relatively short-lived.

    We should all be deeply concerned at this point, as polls tighten and as the media gives his hateful rhetoric vast amounts of air time. Fine, plenty of people don’t like her, but when was the last time we heard a thing about Clinton outside of emails? A ridiculous situation for all when she is all that stands between us and a fascist who has run on a platform of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and who thinks himself fit to occupy the same seat as Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and the two Roosevelts.

    After Wednesday’s speech I want to know, where is the Southern Poverty Law Center? When is the GOP going to be put on a watch list as a hate group? When?

  6. Abdul Aziz Said who was born in Syria founded American University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program. It is one of the earliest and most successful program of its kind. Dr. Said, who recently retired, also consulted for numerous US Administrations in the sadly unsuccessful pursuit for regional peace.

  7. Queen Noor of Jordan / born Lisa Halabi of Syrian origin and her father was a top exicutive in PanAm and part of the Kenidy administration

  8. Not directly related, but important. Since his immigration speech in Phoenix I have watched pundits, even of the liberal persuasion, arguing over whether Trump softened or hardened, the importance of his not calling for deportation of all immigrants, and other issues I consider peripheral. They overlook the most important aspect which transcends those things and the issue raised here. With his previous comments about Mexico sending us their criminals and rapists, it is clear that Trump means Mexicans when he talks about illegal immigrants. All his dodgy language is comprised of code words. In his Phoenix speech he attributed almost all of the nation’s ills to illegal immigrants (Mexicans). He has scapegoated and demonized an entire national group. If you had substituted Jews for illegal immigrants, that speech would not have sounded out of place coming from Hitler. “Those people” are responsible for all our problems and only I can solve them, is what he is saying. This man is a serious danger, the worst kind of demagogue. Whatever Clinton’s faults, she will not endanger our democracy. Trump would.

  9. Shadia Refai has been head of NASA weather, based in Hawaii for many years (not sure if she retired). Originally from Homs / Syria. She earned her bachelors in physics from Damascus, masters from AUB (Beirut) and PHD from the USA.

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