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Hope, Fear, and Rage: Muslim Americans React to the Election

By Shahirah Majumdar, For Vice, On 28 November 2016, Read Original
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One week ago today, American Muslims were fired up and ready to vote. One million Muslims voters registered to vote this year, more than doubling their ranks from 2012, and they voted earlyknocked on doors, and tweeted voting selfies.

Stung by Trump's call "for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," they hoped to seriously dent his presidential aspirations. Seventy-two percent of American Muslims said they planned to vote for Clinton, 4 percent for Trump, 3 percent for Jill Stein, and 2 percent for Gary Johnson, according to an October 13 survey by the civil rights group Council for Islamic American Relations (CAIR).

By late Tuesday night, that hope had curdled.

"I expected people to vote for him, but I didn't expect him to win," said Ali Abbas, writer and creator of the Muslim superhero webseries The Ridge. For Abbas's Lebanese American family, a Trump presidency raises fears of harassment, surveillance, and racial profiling.

During the Obama administration, he'd begun to hope that the worst was already behind American Muslims. "Now we put all our hopes, aspirations and dreams on hold to deal with everyday protection and safety," he said.

And so anxiety ratcheted up throughout last week: As Muslims awoke to a brand new country on Wednesday, NYU students encountered Trump grafitti on their prayer room; a female Muslim student at San Diego State University told police she was robbed by male assailants, who invoked Trump's name as they did so; similar racist messages and incidents plagued various other minorities across the country. In the US and worldwide, Muslims reached out to each other to ask how, why, what's next, and should we move to Canada?

"As the American Muslim community, we got beat," said Nezar Hamze, operations director of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "It's hard to stand up and brush your shoulders off, but that's what we have to do."

"Do I think [Trump] knows about Islam? Absolutely not," said Hamze. "Does he have a circle of business partners from the Muslim community? Yes.The latter allows hope that the president-elect may soften his anti-Muslim views, he said. And he questions the notion that "bigotry" or white supremacist ideals motivated the 58 percent of white voters who cast their ballot for Trump more than economic grievances. As deputy sheriff in Fort Lauderdale, Hamze knows and works with many Trump voters. He describes them as "staunch conservatives" who "100 percent support American Muslims. They love our country but are sick of the establishment."

Hamze's take resembled other soul-searching post-mortem conversations that have circulated in the media since last week's election. Yes, a demographic that refused to be denied, disparaged, or ignored had roared to life—but instead of Muslims (or Latinos, women, people of color or LGBTQ voters), that demographic turned out to be a much larger group of white Americans who felt left behind throughout the Obama administration.

"We've been in our civil rights bubble, fighting for everyone to be treated equally. But that's not what everybody is concerned about," Hamze says. "They don't have the problems that we do. They're more concerned about jobs and their income. We need to expand out of our bubble and try to come to a working partnership with everybody."

And while Hamze acknowledges that many in his community fear a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes—in Florida, CAIR estimates they rose 500 percent during the 16-month election cycle, he told me—he's confident that the rule of law will remain. "If people want to be vigilantes and go on a crusade, they will be held accountable. They will go to jail for a long time," he said.

After a campaign filled with minority-targeting policy prescriptions, insults and innuendo, others remarked that Trump's self-conception as a "president for all Americans"—the mantle he claimed in his acceptance speech—is insulting.

"He is the one that has fomented all this racism," said Ghazala Irshad, a 31-year old Muslim American in New York City. "It's up to Donald Trump to take the first step and tell his supporters that he was wrong. We can't work with them unless they have empathy and compassion for us. We're already so marginalized. As people of color, we're challenging racism every day just to survive."

Irshad spoke about the "disconnect" she experienced when well-meaning friends and colleagues told her not to worry. She said she cried at work on Wednesday. "They have the privilege of not having to worry about it. It doesn't affect them as deeply," she said. "Because I'm Muslim, brown and a woman, it affects me." Adding to that disconnect is that fact that one of her aunts voted for Trump out of concern for ISIS: "The fear-mongering worked on her," Irshad explains.

While several people I talked to spoke of non-Muslims friends who reached out to express solidarity following the election, their worry is that their allies are fewer than they'd once believed and that, according to Abbas, "a lot of the allies we thought we had are willing to sell us out."

And for Abbas, Trump's personal beliefs about Muslims are beside the point—in legitimizing public hatred of the Muslim community, Trump has caused real damage to the community. "It's no longer a prejudiced thing" to disparage Muslims, he said; now, "it's just an opinion."

The election may be over, but American Muslims expressed an overwhelming feeling that major battles to protect their rights and community loom in the years ahead. Irshad talked about the seven stages of grief, and the necessity of moving past "shock" to "acceptance and hope."

"I think people are fired up now," said Irshad. "Most people followed the same pattern of depression, crying, mourning—and then the next day being resolved. I'm not going to resign myself to defeat. We're going to do something to change this."

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