The only Trump sympathizers I’ve met are Muslims. There have been three. Unsurprisingly, in the last few months, I’ve met no more.
The first was a woman who told me, over afternoon tea, that somebody needed to “take care” of all the people who sucked up our tax money and bled the government dry. Far be it from me of all people to assume that all Muslims are motivated by Islam, but it’s interesting that the Qur’an contains a direct rebuttal to Ayn Rand (in a chapter commonly described as “the heart of the Qur’an,” Ya Sin 47):
When it is said to them, ‘Spend from that which God has provided for you, those who have no faith say to those who have no faith, “Should we feed the person God could have fed, had He willed?” You are in clear error
The second was a middle-aged Pakistani man who supported Trump because “he speaks his mind.” To be fair and balanced, this particular man expressed this sentiment before his odious remarks about Muslims, but after his vile comments about Mexicans. It brings to mind a comment I heard from a FOX News contributor, to the effect of “Trump says out loud what we only think to ourselves.”
I desperately wanted to ask, “You think most Mexican-Americans are drug dealers and rapists and murderers?”
The third was a fellow with whom I had a discussion about anti-Muslim bigotry, which he insisted was not real or at least exaggerated; I countered that, given his BMW sedan and posh home in a verdant northeastern suburb, perhaps he was not as likely to experience anti-Muslim bigotry. Moreover, he was overlooking the effects of anti-Muslim bigotry on people who are far more vulnerable than he. His reply?
“There are always people who are vulnerable.”
Islamophobia took years to build, the consequence of a patient, deliberate and intentional campaign to create anti-Muslim animus, which has its eventual and inevitable effects. If you were to pump out, day after day, anti-Russian sentiment on the news networks, and only ever focus on the bad things Russians do, and never the good, then I imagine eventually you would create an outcome that included violence against Russians and thundering political rhetoric warning us of the threat within.
What I mean to say is, even after the September 11th attacks no politician dared discuss the kinds of proposals that are now commonplace on the far right. Those who were vulnerable were the first to be hit; these same sleepwalkers, living in their privilege and assuming they had earned it all and deserved it all, only woke up to Trump’s terribleness once it went beyond the people on the margins all the way to themselves. How dare he!
As an academic exchange at a New York university years ago once explained to me, the reason many Jews did not leave Nazi Germany until they could no longer leave was principally because they thought anti-Semitism would never reach them.
Buzzfeed has published two very important articles this week.
In “Welcome to America – Now Spy on Your Friends,” Talal Ansari and Siraj Datoo report on a disturbing trend that was, additionally, expressly prohibited by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez nine years ago. But, of course, who cares if government breaks the law if the victims are just brown foreigners who, anyway, probably are guilty of something?
For years now, many otherwise hardworking and model immigrants to America have found their legal paperwork inexplicably delayed. For no stated reason, their green card applications have been held up months, if not years. And then, just when they think nothing can change, FBI agents show up with offers that are as alarming as they are taboo.
The FBI agents knock on the door—a scenario that would be alarming to anyone, never mind a Muslim immigrant whose legal status is unclear—and begin a discussion on terrorism. Cue heart palpitations. Soon enough, they come to the real reason they’re there. In exchange for that person’s spying on his local Muslim communities, his friends, even his family members, the FBI will give immigration a kick in the pants.
That green card will be on its way! All you have to do is tell us what your loved ones are up to (and hopefully have something helpful to report):
A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government and court documents, official complaints, and interviews with immigrants, immigration and civil rights lawyers, and former special agents — shows that the FBI violates [its own rules]. Mandated to enforce the law, the bureau has assumed a powerful but unacknowledged role in a very different realm: decisions about the legal status of immigrants — in particular, Muslim immigrants. First the immigration agency ties up their green card applications for years, even a decade, without explanation, then FBI agents approach the applicants with a loaded offer: Want to get your papers? Start reporting to us about people you know.
This is not the only valuable and upsetting investigation BuzzFeed has published this week.
Another minority group, one that has often bore the brunt of anti-Muslim animus—see Dean Obeidallah’s column, “The Brave Sikh Man Who Stood Up To Trump’s Muslim Bashing”—is also finding itself in a similarly upsetting predicament. One that probably most mainstream media won’t report on, or give the time and attention it deserves. (Thank God for new media.)
In the 1980s and 1990s, many Sikhs in India found themselves at odds with the state. But New Delhi not only began cracking down on militant separatists—the Indian government would call them terrorists and, in some instances, have legitimate reason to—but peaceful Sikhs too. Tarred by association, a fate many minority communities know too well. Increasing numbers of Sikhs have made the arduous trip to America, crossing from Mexico, turning themselves in and asking for asylum.
But instead of receiving help, they are stonewalled—or worse; as David Noriega and John Templeton report in “America’s Quiet Crackdown on Indian Immigrants,” our government seems to be working with India’s to turn victims of police overreach and repression, many of whom have reasonable and legitimate expectations of asylum, to deny asylum and return them to the very conditions they fled. It is an article that should be read, not least for the fact that this story goes nearly entirely unknown.
But I found this moment struck especially close to home:
Now he was in America seeking asylum from the Indian state, and here, facilitated by the U.S. government, was an emissary of that very state. (The Indian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.) “None of you are doctors,” the diplomat said. “None of you are engineers. Why would America want you?”
Those three Muslim Trump supporters? Citizens, naturally, who’d forgotten that at one point they or their families were not; who had forgotten the good fortune that came to them as a result. White-collar professionals, too. Who didn’t feel the discrimination until it became so blatant as to be unavoidable.
Many American Muslims are from South and West Asia; many of our parents came as credentialed white collar professionals at a time when salaries were outstanding, job prospects were excellent, and the government opened the door wide.
Many of these folks stayed long enough to watch America turn into an ever more ossified society, such that those with money—including significant numbers of America’s small Muslim community—were liable to hold onto their wealth even as many around them found it harder and harder to get by. They arrived and became part of the top several percent.
I am afraid that many of these folks have confused the circumstances that have enabled their prosperity with their efforts. It undoubtedly takes courage to get up and come halfway ‘round the world, to work hard and dedicate oneself to the betterment of one’s family circumstances, but one cannot discount the other factors that make their journeys possible.
It is hard to know where we are going as a country, and whether things will get much better or much worse, but the best way is to look at the people on the margins, the ones who don’t earn sympathy, who don’t have news networks looking out for them, candidates doubling down and amplifying their grievances, the right to parade around the country brandishing weapons while simultaneously insisting they are oppressed.
As DJ Khaled might say, they don’t want you to look at the people in the shadows, on the margins, in the corners.