Special to The Washington Post.
In the seismic aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, there is a silver lining for millions of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities and 7 million American Muslims like me. These groups must feel a sense of collective urgency to mobilize for the future of our multicultural society based on what we witnessed during this presidential election.
In addition to blatant misogyny and anti-immigrant xenophobia, we have also seen Donald Trump’s political campaign normalize Islamophobia as part of the current national Republican Party platform.
It is important to keep in mind that Islamophobia in America did not begin with Trump, and it will not end with Trump. Former presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson once noted in a Washington Post column that Islamophobia is becoming an entrenched platform within the Republican Party. During the last two presidential nomination cycles, Gerson observed, Republican candidates have proposed requiring a loyalty oath for Muslims to serve in government and ruled out Muslims serving in their administration; called sharia law “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States”; described Muslim immigration as “colonization” warning that Muslim immigrants “want to come and conquer us”; said there were only a handful of “reasonable, moderate followers of Islam,” and described Islam as “a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet.”
Trump took these Islamophobic tendencies to new levels when he famously proclaimed that we needed to implement “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. After the emotional speech from Khizr Khan at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, instead of praising the Muslim Gold Star family, Trump publicly suggested that Ghazala Khan — Khizr’s wife — was not “allowed to speak” at the convention because of her Muslim culture.
He also said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with the government or to carry special identification cards with us at all times.
After Trump confirmed to reporters that he would set up a database for Muslim Americans, an NBC News reporter asked him point-blank: “Is there a difference between requiring Muslims to register and Jews in Nazi Germany?”
“You tell me,” Trump replied, walking away.
Aside from his blatant Islamophobia, we have also seen Trump make abhorrent statements about many other groups in America. From referring to Mexicans as “rapists” to suggesting that we implement a national policy of “stop and frisk,” which disparately impacts the African American community, Trump’s campaign revealed a critical mass of white nationalists who don’t care if their presidential candidate shows a blatant disdain for women, Hispanics, people with disabilities or Muslims.
In the air words of CNN contributor Van Jones on election night, Trump’s presidential campaign was a successful “white-lash” against immigrants, African-Americans and Muslims.
But we will not be afraid of demagogues like Trump. Muslims have mobilized at the local grassroots level in ways that have never been seen before. We saw major voter registration drives at mosques and Islamic community centers across the country as American Muslims realized the potential stakes of a Trump presidency.
Some rays of hope at the political level included Ilhan Omar, a 34-year-old Muslim woman, who became the first Somali-American woman elected to a state legislature in Minnesota. In Michigan, professional WWE wrestler Terrance “Rhyno” Guido Gerin was handily defeated by Muslim-American Abdullah Hammoud in the race for Michigan’s 15th House District seat. And Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison retained his congressional seat in Minnesota’s 5th district.
There are millions of Americans, including myself, who are stunned that we have just elected a misogynistic and xenophobic polemicist as our commander in chief for the next four years. But we shouldn’t let our shock or despair paralyze us. Now more than ever it is a civic duty and moral imperative for Hispanics, women, Muslims and others to band together to neutralize the effect of Trump’s rise on our great nation.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies & Threatens Our Freedoms.”
Islamophobia is not simply interpersonal hatred or fear. It is a system of bigotry that identifies and targets those who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim, no matter what their race or country of national origin.
If all Muslims are potential terrorists, then, the argument goes, we must be allowed to spy on “them” to keep “us” safe. The US government has tapped phone lines and other forms of communication and sent informants into Muslim student groups and mosques, and added “suspicious” Muslim infants (and others) to no-fly lists. They created the Countering Violent Extremism programs that ask teachers and medical professionals to report to the government any American Muslim teenagers they encountered who were sullen, withdrawn, and/or exploring their identity with regards to faith.
Many Muslim Americans, whether from the five banned countries or elsewhere, are hesitant to leave the US for fear of not being able to return. Others wonder when or if they’ll ever be able to see their relatives from these countries again. This ban has split parents from children, wives from husbands, and extended family from each other and interrupted the lives of students, medical patients, and working professionals who cannot enter. There is fear that the ruling could create loopholes that our ruthless administration could use to re-define citizenship for all who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.
The narratives we use matter greatly. The national security apparatus that relies on the story that brown and foreign Muslims are the greatest threat to American ideals operates so smoothly because we as a nation choose to believe in it. Its natural culmination is the idea that a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States is necessary to keep us safe. With the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval, our political leadership has bought into this scam.
I am dismayed thinking about the increased impact this will have on Muslim women, who are already the most visible targets of Islamophobia, on Muslim children, who face bullying from even their schoolteachers, and on the Muslim men who are so often painted as savage and monstrous.
Islamophobia will not stop when Trump leaves office. The rhetoric that justified the enslavement of Africans, the first Muslims on these shores, will continue to back the bigotry entrenched in the system for decades to come. For now, what we can do is continue to work to change the narratives that dehumanize and to fight the policies that indiscriminately harm.
We have been down this road before. So while this is America, this is not the country we have to be. This is not fulfilling the promise of America.
Namira Islam is a lawyer, graphic designer, and the co-founder and executive director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, a faith-based organization that educates and trains people on promoting racial justice. Her legal background includes work in poverty law, international criminal law on war crimes, and prisoners’ rights litigation.
She is on Twitter @namirari.