Like many in the U.S. and abroad, for me the day after the election was the most difficult, and most surreal, with Kafkaesque qualities. The elections results have left me with the overwhelming feeling that humanity and decency are at peril in the U.S. I had hoped against all hope that Trump would be defeated, not because I supported Clinton as a candidate, but because of the politics of vitriol and hatred that Trump espoused for most of his campaign. My predicament was the more poignant knowing that morning I would have to face my undergraduate class of American government. This is a general education class full of exuberant and idealistic millennials, who mostly abhorred the politics of bigotry in the campaign and were optimistic that their system of government and the electorate would not dash their hopes.
In class, my students were aghast, disjointed, and visibly shaken. This provided tremendous pedagogical challenges for their Muslim professor. I had to divorce the educational from the personal. For most of the semester, I could feel their sentiments of empathy and was encouraged by their expressions of support for what I represent and stand for as a Muslim. The class could have gone as usual, but this was a special class, I had to stay true to my learning objectives and explain to them what the early voting data showed, pointing where Clinton failed with the base, the minorities, and the working class. I addressed why so many polls were wrong, singling out what social scientists call “social desirability effect” that made a large number of voters shy about declaring their support for Trump, while silently voting for him in the election booths.
We discussed how the Democratic Party has probably ceased to be the party of FDR, becoming the party of neo-liberal elites, and how the election of Trump is a threat to the democratic foundations of the Republic. A Republic that we must uphold as one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, cautioned us at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Then, as many anxious citizens massed outside Independence Hall to learn about the form of government the framers would opt for after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the sage Benjamin Franklin was asked: “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
But how could I reconcile the principles of Franklin’s Republic with the results of the elections and what it validates? How could I explain to a class of appalled students that a presidential candidate, who harbored a racist, bigoted, misogynistic discourse, became the president of their country? That chauvinism can carry one to the highest office in the land? That on election day, the US showed an ugly face that minorities have long been accustomed to? Most poignantly, how could I ever explicate that eight years ago, the US elected its first African-American president, but last Tuesday night they elected a president who is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan?
The election results have left so many of us contemplating these questions and a new socio-political order that devaluates all that have made the U.S. the country that it is today. The political institutions are in turmoil, and there is a tremendous divide among Americans. A plurality of Americans chose a candidate with no governmental experience, becoming the only president-elect never to have in his whole life, either held elected office or served in the military. A president-elect with no clear vision for the country, and with highly venomous speech about minorities. As a Muslim in red-state America, I abhorred the acrimony of Trump’s campaign, which rendered us Muslims targets of ideological purity and objects of political pandering. After all, it was Trump who demonized the family of a fallen Muslim soldier in order to stay true to his particularly pernicious brand of bigotry.
Even before Trump, Muslim Americans have been a “doormat minority” for politicians catering to the lowest common denominator of bigoted voters. Islamophobia has been the norm in US political and media discourse. Facile stereotypes of the faith and its practitioners are replete in US shows, and Hollywood portrayals. Muslims have become used to defining their faith in terms of what it is not, instead of what it is. And many of us Muslims have at times felt anxious dressing a certain way, or even going to local mosques for fear of acts of hate, especially as hate crimes against Muslims increased 67% in 2015 according to FBI reports.
Trump has now further normalized the racism and Islamophobia, and has legitimized far right ideologies at the highest echelons of U.S. political institutions. Islamophobia and anti-minority sentiments are no longer the purview of fringe politicians in rural America. It has reached the hallowed halls of the White House. In the days after the election, Trump has surrounded himself with right wing controversial figures like top advisor Steve Bannon, a proponent of the alt-right movement that peddles anti-semitic and racist discourses, and Islamophobia kingpin, Frank Gaffney. With the GOP control of Congress and Trump’s potential appointments to the Supreme Court, it is open season for possibly devastating laws to personal and group freedoms.
Faced with the coming onslaught, Muslim Americans must mobilize and build diverse and large scale alliances with other minorities to resist the looming extremist tsunami. Muslim Americans’ fight against Islamophobia will not be successful without strategic practical pathways to socio-political activism within both the political system and civil society. Muslim participation in various modes, networks, and organizations at the local, state, and national levels is crucial in rejecting all inequality, for only in unity with the other disenfranchised and downtrodden, can we succeed in our peaceful resistance against xenophobia and bigotry. America’s small percentage of Muslims can become an “agency” to help the entire, heterogeneous U.S. population reconnect with its moral compass’ tolerance and empathy, and regain claim to the nation’s motto of e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.”
Muslim Americans can no longer hide in the shadow of their socio-economic achievements. Collective action and political activism are crucial in this highly critical juncture of American history. The fight for equality and acceptance is a shared struggle, and discourses of homophobia, racism, misogyny are as dangerous and destructive as those of Islamophobia. The struggle of the LGBTQ community, African Americans, Latinos, Jews and other minorities is our common struggle, and our liberation will not be complete without theirs.
The cancer of radical nationalism and xenophobia is gnawing at the fabric of the American society. Muslim Americans have been on the receiving end of it since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But with Trump’s election, bigotry has gained momentum and legitimacy as countless incidents of hatred around the US amply make clear. Trump’s populist hyper nationalism is Manichean in nature and seeks to destroy cross-cultural and interfaith dialogues. Its ultimate goal is to render the U.S. into an isolationist, parochial island of intolerance. Let’s not facilitate that aim; but as I told my students, let’s also place our faith in the political system that is still governed by the sacrosanct principles of the U.S. Constitution as we struggle to preserve Benjamin Franklin’s Republic.