Photo: President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
I was in good spirits when I left a friend’s election watch party Tuesday evening. Donald Trump was leading, but there was still room for Hillary to catch up. I jokingly posted a photo on social media holding a sign that said “I’m moving to Canada”, a phrase that I, like many minorities, used whenever his rhetoric became particularly nasty. But as I listened to analysts just an hour or two later, that sentiment quickly changed to confusion, shock, disbelief, and dread.
My worst nightmare had come true: Donald Trump, a man who openly proposed banning, monitoring, and ostracizing my community, was going to be President of the United States.
For Muslim Americans, who largely supported Hillary Clinton in the election, this was a devastating blow.
“How could this happen?” my friends texted late into the night. “I can’t sleep.” Friends on social media worried about wearing hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public. Muslim parents expressed concern for their children’s safety. And it was easy to understand why. Trump and his fellow Republican candidates’ anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail had contributed to a backlash against Muslim Americans that reached the highest levels since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
There were nearly 200 anti-Muslim attacks in the U.S. last year alone. These included murders, physical assaults, threats against persons or institutions, acts of vandalism and destruction of property, arson, shootings, and bombings. This year, there have been almost 300 incidents. Just last month, three men calling themselves “The Crusaders” were charged with plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants resided. A Saudi student was beaten to death in Wisconsin last week. A mosque was set on fire on one of the holiest days of the year. Muslim students are regularly bullied for their faith in the classroom, sometimes even by their own teachers.
Some of the affected Muslim Americans have already left the country, including “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed, whose family moved to Qatar, and seven year old Abdul Aziz, who moved to Pakistan after being bullied on a school bus.
And while it may be tempting to join them, I believe it is better for the U.S.’s 3.3 million Muslims to stay, fight, and build instead.
This is our country. This is our home. It is true the cards are stacked against us, but that does not mean we cannot overcome. It will require outreach, education, and coalition work, but the potential is there. Muslim Americans have allies among the interfaith community, social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, and even in Congress. We are increasing our political engagement, voter registration efforts, and monetary contributions toward civic engagement organizations and candidates. In addition to Trump, Tuesday evening’s winners included two incumbent Muslim American members of Congress, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, as well as newcomers Abdullah Hammoud as state legislator in Dearborn, Michigan and Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American woman to become a state legislator in Minnesota.
So while Trump’s victory was disappointing, to say the least, it does not mark the end of the movement. Rather, it defines the work we have cut out for us. Americans are divided more than ever along racial, religious, and economic lines. And as history has shown with other minority communities such as the Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Latino, LGBTQ, and African Americans, changes in policy and public perception do not happen overnight or even over one Presidential term. Rather, they may take decades or even centuries.
Now is the time Muslim Americans must decide whether we will allow Tuesday evening’s loss to derail our future in this country or whether we will stand up to ensure that such an ugly election does not transpire again. I, for one, am up to the challenge.
Wardah Khalid is a writer, speaker, and analyst on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Muslim American issues. All opinions expressed in this article are her own. Follow her on Twitter @wardahkhalid_.
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