GET USED TO IT: Muslims are grappling with the shocking rise of Donald Trump, saying it’s “TERRIFYING”
The resounding electoral success of Trump’s Islamophobia has astonished and frightened the Muslim community.
HOUSTON—Sadia Jalali, a family therapist in Houston, was driving her four children to school a few days ago. Maroon 5 was on the radio. Her eldest, sitting in the back seat of the minivan, asked her to turn it down. Zayd is 10. He had a question.
“Mama,” he asked, “if Donald Trump becomes the president, what are we going to do?”
Jalali, a 36-year-old who was born in Florida, asked what her son meant. He wanted to know if they were going to have to move.
“I was like, ‘Where would we move to?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, people just keep talking about are we going to move somewhere. I don’t want to live in Pakistan.’ ”
The anti-Muslim bigotry of the favourite for the Republican presidential nomination has been normalized. At Thursday’s CNN debate in Texas, an entire segment on “religious liberty” started and ended without anyone challenging Trump on his proposal to ban 1.6 billion adherents of Islam from entering the United States, his intention to shut down mosques, or his musings about a mandatory Muslim registry.
Muslims have not forgotten.
Trump’s Islamophobia has deeply alarmed a faith community that has long been optimistic about its place in America. And his resounding electoral success has created a kind of crisis of citizenship for Muslim Americans, little children and prosperous professionals alike, who now wonder whether they belong like they thought they did.
“What we thought was inconceivable,” said Ali Zakaria, a Houston litigator, “is in fact taking place.”
Zakaria, a 51-year-old father of three whose office decor includes a bouquet of miniature American flags, came from Pakistan at 15. He felt so accepted, even by good-ol’-boy Texans who loathed northern “Yankees,” that he enrolled at Houston Baptist University. Trump’s popularity has him anxious about things he had never before sweat.
His sisters wear the hijab. If their car breaks down, will they be safe from the person who stops to help? His 14-year-old son plays basketball and attends classes at a mosque. What if it is attacked by a fanatic inspired by Trump’s praise for the idea of massacring Muslim prisoners to deter terrorism?
“When I hear these things, as an attorney I interpret them for what they are,” he said. “But I’m not so sure that somebody who is following Trump and is taking each and every word he says seriously, as the gospel, will say that it’s not OK to kill innocent people.”
Late last year, after a trial where Zakaria’s client was a Muslim, the judge asked him why he hadn’t asked prospective jurors if they were Islamophobic.
He had never thought he needed to: the Houston he knows is diverse and accepting. Then again, he also hadn’t thought an Islamophobic presidential candidate could achieve national success. Trump’s triumphs in the primary have challenged his fundamental assumptions about America.
“A lot of times, I question whether the U.S. is still going to accept me as an American who happens to be a Muslim. I didn’t have that question after September 11. I have this question now,” he said. “From a psychological point of view, that’s a big change.”
Muslims in Houston and Dallas said they were at once concerned about their safety and not nearly frightened enough to change their behaviour. And they expressed confidence Americans would reject Trump in a general election.
But they worried, anyway, about what the billionaire’s mainstreaming of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy might mean for their future. Trump, said medical researcher Nashwa Khalil, has created a bigotry template that will be adopted by candidates for lower offices.
“I’m not worried about him making policies. I’m worried about everybody else making policies at the local level,” Khalil, 42, said before a midday prayer at a Houston mosque. “I think certain people are going to start really pushing that agenda.”
“What sort of political climate will my children be raised in? What type of environment will I have to walk through 10 years or 15 years down the line?” said Sameera Omar, a 22-year-old psychology graduate in Dallas. “At first it was just entertainment. It’s terrifying that as time keeps going and we’re getting closer and closer to the election, this is starting to settle in.”
Omar, who wears the hijab, said she is newly nervous walking to her car. She said she is more concerned, though, that Trump is fostering in Muslims a paralyzing apprehension about their own identities — the kind of fear, she said, that “limits where you see yourself in this country, limits the possibility of your achievements as a citizen, makes you doubt who you are as a person of faith.”
“It would be horrifying,” she said, “if this period of time was the catalyst for generations and generations of people who are not confident in their own skin.”
The Muslim community is highly diverse, and so are Muslim opinions on the nature of the Trump threat. Shuja Rab, a 37-year-old software engineer praying at the Houston mosque, said “it almost feels like it’s like Nazi Germany
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