Last week, the morning after Donald Trump won the presidency, I woke up to a text message from a friend, asking, “How are you doing?” My friend wondered how I was coping with the prospect of being Muslim in Trump’s America, and guessed (correctly) at the uncertainty consuming me.
Similar messages poured in by phone, email and social media throughout the day. It was as if someone in my family had died and people felt compelled to offer me condolences.
The reality of living in a country in which the most blatant expressions of Islamophobia and other forms of hate are normalized does worry me. Even as Trump flip-flops on his promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Stephen Bannon’s appointment to the post of Chief Strategist and rumors of Frank Gaffney‘s appointment as National Security Advisor certainly do not herald a brighter day. And even though the president-elect now demands that his racist and homophobic supporters “Stop it!”, the most dangerous among them have not wavered in their commitment to intimidate minorities. If anything, they are more emboldened and menacing. The anxiety we feel is therefore as much about losing faith in our fellow citizens as it is about having a hatemonger in the nation’s highest office.
Among American Muslims, the reaction is not necessarily what might be expected after the election of a doomsayer who used anti-Muslim rhetoric to stoke American insecurities. Not everyone is gripped by intense dread. Rather, some* Muslims on social media describe a Trump presidency as a mere inconvenience that pales in comparison to the plight of those living under occupation and drone strikes in Muslim countries. They wonder aloud where the liberals, who are now eager to contend with and subvert the system, have been as our drones alter lives and terrorize children in rural Pakistan.
While they cannot be generalized as pro-Trump, they are excited by Clinton’s loss and explain their position by pointing to her resume of war hawk policies that have left many Muslim-majority countries devastated. The destabilization of Iraq and Syria (which has resulted in over one million refugees), the Saudi invasion of Yemen using weapons acquired from the U.S., and her uncritical view of the Israeli occupation of Palestine (especially when compared to Bernie Sanders’) are a few examples. Some point to the moment in which she reacted to Libyan leader Qaddafi’s extremely gruesome death by giddily exclaiming, “We came, we saw, he died!” as exhibiting her troubling indifference to human suffering.
Opponents of Clinton’s foreign policies are deeply critical of the Democratic party as a whole, and not without good reason. It is well established among activists and scholars, such as Deepa Kumar for example, that Islamophobia in the United States is bipartisan. It is, as professor Stephen Sheehi notes, an “an ideological phenomenon which exists to promote political and economic goals.” Many Muslim Americans are keenly aware of how anti-Muslim tropes are institutionalized and deployed equally by Democrats and Republicans, from left to right, albeit in different discursive tones. Whereas prominent figures and ordinary citizens on the right might openly attack Muslims as “rag heads” who subscribe to a “wicked” faith, those leaning left tend to reproduce the same demeaning tropes through a liberal veneer of concern about Muslim women, preserving secular values, national security and so on.
Therefore, as some Muslims see it, Donald Trump fomented and mainstreamed blatant forms of anti-Muslim hate domestically, but Clinton, Obama and other Democrats had been doing no better in employing Islamophobic stereotypes to justify War on Terror occupations and assassinate Muslim citizens abroad (while also exceptionalizing US Muslims through procedures such as secret surveillance and detention without due process.)
For these reasons, some Muslims have remained steadfast in their refusal to accept Clinton as a “lesser of two evils.” They advise their despairing coreligionists to stand tall now, organize, and never show fear.
Many American Muslims, however, are mourning Clinton’s loss and responding in the same way as others who exist as the subjects of Trump’s demagoguery and the objects of his supporters’ disdain: Latinos, LGBT communities and women, to name a few. On November 9th, two such friends of mine took a day off from their jobs so that they could cry all day. They were literally worried sick. One described the previous night as “the longest panic attack I’ve ever had.”
These feelings are not unwarranted, and the masses of concerned citizens acting upon them and protesting Trump should not met with cynicism or ridicule for their “late” arrival to activism. As writer Shaun King and others have documented, the week since the election has been characterized by an rising number of attacks on women and minorities.
Whether cavalier attitudes or crippling dread, the varied responses of American Muslims to Trump’s election reflect our political diversity, once again driving home the point that we are anything but homogeneous. As we move into a second week of digesting the reality of President Trump, it is too early to know exactly what American Muslims’ lives will look like after his inauguration. Some hope that Trump will prove more sensible and less bombastic as a president than he was as a candidate. Others live with a sense of impending doom. The anti-Clinton activists welcome this outcome as a much-needed awakening that will finally mobilize Muslims to forcefully resist the bipartisan establishment.
How Muslims and other US minorities will handle the coming damage remains to be seen. What is abundantly clear is that Islamophobia is now validated like never before. While it has long had a place in bipartisan politics and policy, its unprecedented mainstreaming by the Trump campaign now regularizes it as a feeling upon which xenophobes can act without apprehension.
* To conceal the identities of even the most unworried Muslims during this volatile time, I avoid specifics like names or direct quotes from their social media pages, and am limited to speaking in general terms such as “some Muslims.”