When a bomb tore through a restaurant or business in Baghdad, Karim Wasfi and his cello would often appear with the urgency of a medic to promote his message of healing through music. The former conductor of the Baghdad Symphony often drew a crowd of curious onlookers as he played — others desperate for peace and unity.
On Wednesday, Wasfi brought that message to the White House, and drew a similar crowd of onlookers facing their own challenges. The half-Iraqi, half-Egyptian cellist and founder of the organization Peace Through Arts played serene classical tunes in Lafayette Park in Washington, across the street from the new home of President Donald Trump.
Alongside him, protests swelled, condemning an effort by Trump to suspend the issuance of U.S. visas in countries where adequate screening cannot occur. The president is expected to suspend immigrant and non-immigrant entry for citizens of countries of particular concern for 30 days. That could include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Federal law gives Trump broad authority to suspend immigration for groups of people whose entry is deemed "detrimental to U.S. interests." He is expected to specifically suspend any immigration, including for refugees, from Syria.
Wasfi said that he came to the White House in part to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the start of the Egyptian Revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak — the "Arab Spring" that sparked a wave of self-determination across the region. "It created lots of change, not only in Egypt but in the Middle East," he recalled, acknowledging that the struggle continues today.
"The experience I also have from Iraq is creating calmness, creating tranquility and creating better ways to prevent tension or radicalization, to help people to find better ways to convey and to interact," he said Wasfi himself immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and as a dual citizen divides his time between the U.S. and Iraq.
He acknowledged the importance of addressing the global refugee crisis and radicalism that has afflicted Iraq and neighboring Syria, but he urged everyone to "calm down and approach the facts" instead of dealing with tensions through rash policies or violence. "There is lots of tension everyplace," he said.
"If we disagree on political views and ideologies, we can utilize our energy toward building and improving. So I hope to help create calmness and better ways to interact through music."
By VIVIAN SALAMA