The Trump ascendance is like the post-9/11 era for U.S. Muslims—except it’s different, because this time we’re ready for the backlash.
In the months after the 9/11 attacks, countless Muslim Americans went into “hiding.” They Americanized their names, stopped talking publicly about being Muslim and even avoided attending Muslim community events. On some level it was understandable. There had been a surge in hate crimes against Muslim Americans in the aftermath of 9/11 and there was a great deal of uncertainty and fear.
And now the Muslim-American community finds itself facing another 9/11 come Jan. 20 when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president. But this time Muslims will not be retreating into the shadows. Rather, we are prepared to fight, not just for our own community but other marginalized ones as well.
The Muslim-American community today is not the same one it was on 9/11. Then, Muslims were not only smaller in number, we were not as organized. We were barley involved in politics or the media, and interfaith work was sporadic. But today there are far more Muslim Americans involved in both news and entertainment media, in politics from local officials to two members of Congress, and active in grassroots groups that span the gambit of issues from Black Lives Matter to immigrant rights.
That doesn’t mean we are not greatly concerned—and even fearful—about the coming Trump presidency. After all this is a man who trafficked in hate to win the highest office in the land, and one of his favorite targets was the Muslim community. For example, he made irresponsible comments such as “Islam hates us” and called for a complete ban on Muslims coming to America. And he stoked hate against the Muslim community with his lie that “thousands” of Muslims cheered in New Jersey on 9/11.
And Trump’s hateful words have inspired hate crimes against our community by self-professed Trump supporters. For example, there’s William Celli, who was sentenced in March to 90 days in jail for threating to kill Muslims in California. In September, another Trump fan was arrested and charged with a hate crime after burning down a mosque in Orlando, Florida. And the list goes on and on.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not been a rose garden for us with President Obama in the White House despite his support for our community over the past few years. As the FBI noted, in 2015 anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 67 percent. And we have seen a spike in anti-Muslim bullying in schools—with some of the bullying even carried out by the teachers.
But it’s expected it will become even worse under Trump. Some wrongly believed that Trump’s victory would satiate his bigoted supporters. But as the spike in hate crimes by Trump supporters after the election—and the lessons of the civil rights movement have shown us—it does the opposite. The bigots are emboldened because they now have a person in power on their side to back them up.
The concerns are so acute that on Tuesday the United Nations held a conference sponsored by the United States government, the European Union, and Canada to examine the “growing challenges of anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred in various contexts, and focus on substantive tools for addressing them.” (In September a similar forum was held at the UN to counter anti-Semitism.)
The speakers included a wide range of activists—some Muslim, many not—who were there to offer practical advice on how to best combat anti-Muslim hate. (I was on the panel on how to create positive narrative via the arts and media.) I learned that the timing of the conference only days before Trump is to be sworn in was not a coincidence. Rather the date was moved forward because some U.S. officials didn’t believe a Trump administration would agree to sponsor a forum to counter anti-Muslim hate.
Apart from this governmental sponsored efforts, on the grassroots level, Muslim-American mobilization has been astounding since Trump won. Muslim events I have attended since Election Day have all been sold out. As Alia Salem, the executive director of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented, “This is all in a response to Trump winning, because if Hillary Clinton had won we wouldn’t be seeing this type of engagement.”
Omar Suleiman, an Imam and president of Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, explained that during the time of Trump he expects to see Muslims doing even more than just standing up for our own community. He noted, “We will stand with other like-minded Americans who don’t feel represented by Trump, and seek an America that is tolerant and protects the most vulnerable of society.”
And thankfully we are already seeing other communities stand with us. For example, as Farhana Khera, the president of Muslim Advocates, explained, their organizations work with “a coalition of more than 20 organizations [that] pushed tech companies like Facebook and Google to say they wouldn’t help Trump build a Muslim registry if asked to do so.”
Muslim American are also putting their money where their concerns are. Hassan Shibly the executive director of CAIR’s Florida chapter, noted, “In 2014 we only raised $800,000 for our operating expenses by way of donations.” In contrast, Shibly explained, “In 2016 because of concerns over Trump we raised $1.4 million dollars that will be used to fight for the civil rights of all Americans regardless of faith.”
In sum, we Muslims Americans are ready for Trump. And not just to fight against hate he may direct at our community, but to battle him if he attempts to turn his hate-filled rhetoric into policy against any community in need. And Inshallah (God Willing), the resistance to Trump will prevail.