Well before Trump's statements on banning Muslims--1.7 billion members of an entire, beautiful religion--Muslims were not supporting Trump for the same reasons all of us thought his candidacy was a joke at the time. We were concerned he would cheat the country the same way he cheated his business (and marriage) partners. We were afraid he would provoke war and chaos. Within a few months there was a more personal, and unbelievable, parade of horribles--not being able to come back to the country if they travel, deportation, and even internment camps.
While there is a significant community of indigenous Muslims, many come from immigrant backgrounds or, like me, are first generation. Everyone who immigrated here gave up something special-- the complacency of living at home, being close to his or her family, high status in the communities, speaking a native language and retaining familiar cultural practices-- to become an American. For Muslim immigrants this sacrifice was worth it because America better embodied values they believe in--freedom, lack of corruption, and peace.
To that end, this community had great value for what we could lose. Economic and political stability, equal opportunity, rights. And that is why the rise of Donald Trump is heartbreaking to this community, because they feel as if the sacrifices they made have vanished, and that their country is deteriorating into something worse than they left behind. Intelligence agencies interfering in the election? Foreign dictators hacking accounts of presidential candidates, encouraged by the other? Vulgar behavior at rallies? This is the stuff of “third world” politics.
Particularly that of India, where my family is from. A vast, diverse, intelligent land that, like Mesopotamia, was once a cradle of civilization. In recent years, India has mirrored the type of politics we have seen during this presidential race. In the early 2000s, many Indians became tired of the long-reigning Congress party, which had become synonymous with “the establishment.” This paved the way for the BJP party to grow in power, a right-wing party that traces its roots to the RSS, a group associated with the assassination of Gandhi. In 2014, Narendra Modi shockingly rose to power, the politician in power during the notorious 2002 ethnic cleansing (a nice word for genocide) of Muslims. Modi was even banned from the United States for those human rights violations, until he became Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy.
This posed a quandary to the U.S., but everything was forgiven and forgotten. Since then, communal violence has flared in India, against Muslims and Dalits, Christians and Sikhs. In one case, a Muslim was lynched for allegedly eating beef and the police conducted an inquiry not into the one who committed the crime, but into whether the meat in the dead man's home was indeed beef. It is this world that even my family members who were born in India would never, ever want to go back to. Modi promised India economic prosperity and greatness, a “shining India,” and instead the economic and social stability of the world's largest democracy's economic is at an edge.
The parallel became especially striking last month, when a BJP-aligned organization called Hindus for Trump held a huge fundraiser in Edison, New Jersey, featuring Donald Trump himself. Even during the third presidential debate, Donald Trump referred to meeting Indian officials. This is why several Indian-Americans believed--unlike what every political pundit was telling us--that Donald Trump could still become president despite alienating everyone from Latinos to women. If a "rising tiger" like India can fall from its economic grace and social stability, imagine the United States of America. The higher the pedestal the greater the fall.
That is the concern—not just that Muslims would become a "target" but that our country would shoot itself in the foot. It is the realistic understanding of what we can lose.
The good news is, Donald Trump is not Modi. He is a New Yorker at heart and he famously chastised Ted Cruz for belittling New York values. New York values at their essence include diversity and tolerance--a key factor behind New York's economic prosperity and cultural reverence around the globe. While his choice of chief strategist is very concerning, there is a glimmer of hope that in preparing to become president, Mr. Trump gravitates towards those American values that my family immigrated here for, and not the divisive values they thought they had left behind.