I still remember 9/11. I was just 11 years old and woke up to phone calls from my extended family living abroad, all of whom were worried about our safety. We were safe in our apartment in suburban Los Angeles and as I sat with my eyes glued to the TV screen, my only thought was who would do such a thing to my beloved country?
The weeks that followed 9/11 were petrifying. My mom had just started wearing the hijab (headscarf) the year prior, and every single day there was news of attacks against Muslims, of police raids on Muslim households, and of hostility toward Muslims. I still remember my dad pleading with her to take off the headscarf, but to no avail. I went to school every day terrified – terrified that my mom would be the victim of someone’s bigotry, anger, and ignorance.
That is what it is like being Muslim in America.
Even before 9/11 happened, my parents liked to remind us, often, that we are Arab first, American second. We are Sudanese and Egyptian and we should not forget our culture, lest we be swept away by the “bad influence” of high school parties, American pop culture, and rap music. My parents were incredibly strict, but it was out of fear: fear that we’d “lose” our culture, but also fear that we’d be punished because of it.
I was the staunch defender of American culture. It is America that allowed me to become the stubborn and opinionated person I am today (much to my parents’ chagrin and pride).
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” -Madeleine Albright
While I never lied about my religion or culture, I grew up keeping it under wraps to the extent that I could. My dad had this pacifist philosophy that we should all keep our head down and move forward and I was on board (albeit, mostly out of fear).
It had been nearly 7 years since 9/11 by the time I entered university in 2008. I was no longer scared to tell people I am Muslim. There were those few hate crimes here and there, but anti-Muslim sentiment was over, for the most part. Or so I idealistically thought.
In 2015, anti-Muslim hate crime increased 78 percent compared to 2014. 78%. Hate crime directed at Arabs jumped by an even higher 219%. Trump officially announced his candidacy in June of 2015, but his anti-Muslim rhetoric started long before that. I can’t blame him entirely, though. The media fueled him. The media never stopped calling Muslims terrorists. They did so at every opportunity. The media tells us at that all Muslims are terrorists, all Mexicans are illegal immigrants, and all African Americans are gangsters. And you know what? People believe the media. People living in homogenous cities where they don’t interact with Muslims turn to the media for “education.” Or perhaps this was simply a case of confirmation bias – the media supporting ideologies people already believed in.
Today, I am 11 years old again, terrified for my mom’s safety – and the safety of the entire Muslim-American community.
People like to say we live in a post-racial society. That is the furthest from the truth. Donald Trump, a sexist and racist bigot, was just elected to be the president of the United States. When I look at the exit polls, it wasn’t just rural America that he appealed to. He also captured nearly 50% of the White, college-educated vote too. The “silent majority” stayed silent until Election Day, and that is how Donald Trump became president.
I am disappointed in rural America, sure. But this was always Trump’s target audience. What scares me the most is knowing that half of the college-educated White population – the ones who aren’t likely to be working in dying industries in the rural United States – also voted for him. I can say, with utmost certainty, that several close friends or loved ones voted for him. I don’t know who they are, but in my mind, I can no longer continue these friendships.
This is NOT about politics. It was never about politics. This wasn’t about who was going to raise or cut taxes. This wasn’t about Obamacare. This wasn’t even about abortion or foreign policy. Every single person who voted for Trump supported a platform of anti-immigration, sexism, racism, and hatred. They’ve just told me that my life and the lives of millions of Americans do NOT matter. By voting for Trump, they’ve declared that White Lives Matter. Not Black Lives Matter. Not All Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. Because to vote for someone who has been endorsed by the KKK, someone who has insulted every single ethnic and religious group, someone who has insulted women and veterans and the LGBTQ community – these voters have shown the world that making America great means cleansing it of nearly half its population.
Today, for the second time in my short 26 years of life, I do not feel safe or wanted in the country that I’ve called home for my entire life. My parents, my family, and my friends don’t feel safe. I’m sure that other minorities, the entire LGBTQ community, and many women don’t feel safe, either.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe then we will feel empowered to pick up the pieces and fight the good fight. Not today. Today, I mourn for my country.