For the Second Time in My Life, America Has Collectively Told Muslims to Leave

For the second time in my lifetime, America has told Muslim Americans that we are unwelcome by society. This is how it feels to be Muslim in America. | http://passportandplates.com

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.

For the second time in my lifetime, America has told Muslim Americans that we are unwelcome by society. This is how it feels to be Muslim in America. | http://passportandplates.com

My lovely parents. <3

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).

For the second time in my lifetime, America has told Muslim Americans that we are unwelcome by society. This is how it feels to be Muslim in America. | http://passportandplates.com

Proud Arab-American Muslims.

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.

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  • Brianna

    This is so important for everyone to read.

  • capamerica

    “Arab first and American second” is the problem. You need to be an American first. The same is true for Israeli-Americans. They can’t put the interests of Israel ahead of the interests of America. Mexican-Americans need to put USA interests ahead of Mexico. Same for all immigrants.

    We can’t have citizens who are making the interests of Israel, Sudan, Egypt, Mexico, Syria, Italy, Ireland, etc. the priorities for our country. That destroys the melting pot. Once you have the benefit of moving to or being born in the United States you need to put our country’s interests ahead of whatever country/region your ancestors came from. That is not racist. And that does not mean you abandon your heritage. We’re all immigrants. But everyone needs to put the interests and laws of the country ahead of any other interests. This is true worldwide and it is how you have a successful country.

    Imagine if our founding fathers put the interests of their heritage ahead of the interests of the new United States? We would never have had the American Revolution. United States should not only be your first priority, it should be every immigrant/native’s only priority. All the while you can cherish and promote your heritage, but not at the expense of the needs and interests of the USA.

    • I agree. If you read the paragraph after that, I wrote that I was a staunch defender of American culture. So are my siblings and the entire generation of people that grew up here. I can’t blame my parents for saying that – they were fearful that we’d forget our roots, just like so many first generation Americans have. They consider America home, despite the fact that nearly half of Americans think we shouldn’t. Our generation has not forgotten our culture but America is home.

      This is evidenced by the fact that nearly all Muslim-Americans are devastated by the Trump presidency. Most of us voted for Hillary despite her destructive policies towards the Middle East and other countries that so many Muslims come from, and / or still have relatives in. Myself included. Our interests clearly lie with the United States despite the fact that it has turned its back on us for the second time in less than 2 decades.

      • capamerica

        Sally, I like your bio–world travel, eat your way around the globe. I do as well–at least as much as possible. And I wish you well and really hope your fear abates.

        You probably saw the very humble meeting between Obama and Trump today. Campaign rhetoric is rhetoric. In my opinion, Trump’s election is not a repudiation of immigrants or American muslims. No one has said they are against immigrants. Just illegal immigrants. And about vetting those who enter to make sure they are willing to assimilate into the way of life in the USA. You see endless problems across Europe where those who immigrate into a new country and who do not adopt their laws and customs become disenfranchised and cause significant national/international problems.

        So I think Trump and his supporters are of the mindset that the US keeps a welcome mat–but make sure it is for those who come legally and who assimilate and appreciate the opportunity to become Americans–regardless of religion. As millions have done in the past. Again, many countries already do this and many more are now doing it across Europe with the Syrian migrant problem. (As an aside, my opinion is we need to help them take back their home versus relocate the entire population.) And I believe that Muslims who embrace America versus attempt to change it are the ones who will have the most profound influence and power to affect worldwide change (as Jewish Americans have done in the US since WWII).

        Anyway, just my two cents. I hope you and your family feels safe.

        • The issue is that the campaign rhetoric, no matter how true or untrue it is (in terms of what Trump can actually enact) has fueled an astoundingly high amount of hate crimes across the country – across all minority groups. I’m sure you’ve been seeing the news. The campaign rhetoric inspired that. At the end of the day, millions of Americans no longer feel safe and they certainly don’t feel that welcome mat you mentioned.

          Hopefully this subsides. However, I think we need to take a good hard look at some of the issues in society when you see the actions that have taken place in the last two days.

          Thanks for reading and commenting.

        • I just wanted to point out something you wrote: “as Jewish Americans have done in the US since WWII” in reference to immigrant groups assimilating. Do you mean the Jews who assimilated after they were systematically rounded up, sent to concentration camps, and killed? Do you think that didn’t have an affect on their assimilation? That is exactly what Muslim-Americans and other minority groups are terrified will happen to them. You can dismiss that if you like, but take a look at who President-Elect Trump has named his Chief Strategist – Steve Bannon. A man who is well known for his white nationalist and anti-semitic views. I urge you to do your research on this man, who will be influencing President-Elect Trump for at least the next year, and has been influencing the entire campaign. I believe that we have a lot more in common than the government would like us to think. Let’s stand up together against hatred and bigotry and TRULY make America great again.

  • DWJTravel

    I’m from Europe, so I don’t really understand, why this race thing in the US is so important.
    But just try to understand the feelings of the other side as well. I have the impression, that the USA is divided into two sides, both furiously feeling right and totally ignoring the other side.
    And you say, you are disappointed in rural America. Would you have expected them to vote for someone, of which they know, she and the whole political elite doesn’t care about them at all, as it seems. I have informed myself occassionally on feelings of people before election and those, that were saying something in Trumps favour, always said something like this: “I don’t like Donald Trump and I don’t like Hillary Clinton, but when I vote for Trump I at least have some hope, that he will do something for us.” I mean, the Democrats had 8 years and did not much to improve lives of people in “rural America”. At least so it seems. Of course I don’t know all the details, as I’ve never been to the US again since 1998.
    That’s an outside view of someone interested in politics globally. Maybe it helps you, maybe it makes you furious.

    • Racial history and tension in the United States is incredibly long and complicated and it is the main reason people are so angry about the results of this election. This isn’t a political issue so much as a racial one. I have plenty of friends who are Republicans and in past elections, I’ve respectfully accepted their decision to vote for the Republican candidate.

      I understand the woes of the rural United States, but you have to realize that Trump largely ran his platform on hatred towards minorities and immigration, largely blaming us for taking away American jobs and ruining the country. He wants all Muslims to register as Muslims with the government. In the last two days, there have been countless hate crimes – not just against Muslims, but also against the LGBTQ community, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

      If this were simply a matter of politics, I could come to peace with this election. But the fact that millions of Americans no longer feel safe in the country they call home – to me, that’s much more worrisome than how taxes or jobs are affecting part of the American population.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Sally, I am so sorry. I am sorry for you, and I’m sorry for every single person who our new president-elect called for hatred against, myself included. I will never tell you that your experience is wrong. I will always fight for your rights and those of your family and friends. Please tell me if there is anything more that I can do, and I will do it! I am starting by sharing this post with the people in my circle, in the hopes that it will spread to the people who need it.

    • Thanks for your support, Eva! I really appreciate it. I think it’s time for all of us to collectively call out bigotry, racism and hatred. It means having those hard discussions with family members and friends, recognizing privilege, and standing up (sometimes literally) for every person who who is facing discrimination. I’m a firm believer that many people aren’t downright racist, but have stood by complicity and have let people get away with “just someone’s opinion” or “campaign rhetoric.” But, we have to work to stop it at the source because words really do become actions (as evidenced by all of the violence happening in the US as of late).

  • Laurie Emerson

    My heart goes and thoughts go out to you and your family. As a military dependent and a military wife, I have traveled throughout the world and the one thing I have always seen, which remains consistent, is that people everywhere just want to be treated with dignity and kindness. I am by no means oblivious to all of the prejudices and preconceived ideas that are held by so many. I do believe though that if we concentrated on what we have in common instead of what our differences are we could come together as one nation in heart and soul. My mother, who has passed away, always told me that I must hold my heritage close to my heart and be proud of who I am and that I should always respect the same value of others.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Laurie. It means a lot, especially considering the hateful rhetoric and actions that have been sweeping the country in the last week.
      I wholeheartedly agree with you. Everyone wants peace and kindness and the right to be able to pursue that without persecution. Your mother, may she rest in peace, sounds like she was an amazing and smart woman, as do you :). Thanks again for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

  • My heart goes out to you. Well, actually to all citizen of the world, because I do think we live in tough times though I will admit that you standing proudly behind your faith will have it even harder. It is not just a national issue, it is a global issue as the American president will have an affect on a lot of countries and I do believe that he is one of many right winged issues creeping up these days.
    All I can do is wish you strength and remind myself daily – to be kind, to try to walk in someone else’s shoes and to realize that at the end of the day we are all of the same kind, the human kind.

    • Thanks for your kind words! Unfortunately it seems like a lot of the western countries are creeping into the right wing political side. I wouldn’t mind so much if it were only about politics, but it’s concerning to see the sort of additions that are being made to the presidential cabinet at the moment as well as the rise in hate crimes. At the end we are all human and we want what’s good for us and our families. I hope people understand that.

  • That’s exactly my feeling towards anyone who voted for Trump. I want to start the conversation but it’s very hard for me to understand how someone could vote for hate and bigotry and call it “rhetoric to get the votes”.

    Please stay safe my dear and send my regards to the family.

    • Agreed 100%. It’s such a shame to see how divided the U.S. is. I only hope that at this point that all this division will bring to light some of the deep-rooted societal and governmental issues and people will unite in favor of real change. I hope.

      Thanks so much, Hala! Regards to your family as well.

      • I hope so too my dear!

        Thanks, regards sent =)