Every American Muslim I know is many kinds of frustrated up right now. We are anxious, uncertain, even terrified. We wake up every morning with a sense of disbelief—can this really be happening? We go to bed every night filled with dread—how bad is this going to get? If there’s any upside to this moment, it’s that the unpredictability and vagueness of the campaign is falling away, replaced with a clearer picture of where he stands. A small consolation indeed.
Trump is exactly who he said he was.
In the last few days, Trump has begun unveiling his plans for (among other things): potentially bringing back torture, restoring or expanding CIA black sites, and labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. This last one is especially important because, in the minds of those who conceived it, every expression of institutional or collective Muslim life is possibly terrorism. Islam itself might be terrorism. From this perspective, I’m neither unreasonable nor unseemly in pointing out that Trump’s persecution of Muslims is just beginning. Because the world knows how Americans treat terrorists, actual or assumed.
Trump is also talking about starting construction on that border wall, and sending “the Feds” to stop the “carnage” in Chicago. And he’s making moves to realize his Muslim ban. According to reports, his strategy likely begins with a suspension of refugee resettlement, a suspension of travel visas issued from a selection of seven overwhelmingly Muslim countries (and non-Americans who have visited those countries since 2011), coupled with the beginning of an “extreme vetting” process, the specifics of which have yet to be revealed in detail.
The fundamental injustice of this initial policy is brutally obvious.
Many of the countries Trump reportedly is trying to insulate America from would’ve been happy to be insulated from America. We’re going to ban Yemenis, even as we fund a catastrophic war against their country? A war, by the way, that is almost nonexistent in the American press and that is being perpetuated by our best friends in Saudi Arabia.
Or take Syria, another country that has been floated as a potential nation non grata. For right and wrong, better and worse, America remains a proxy participant in that country’s bloody civil war, which means we have, at the very least, a moral obligation to aid those displaced or otherwise harmed by our actions, our policies, our weapons.
The message is clear: If you come from a country the US has bombed, occupied, invaded, attempted to overthrow, or funneled weapons to, stay out. We don’t want you. We owe you nothing. But don’t worry, we’ll probably continue our remarkably indiscriminate and generally stunningly counterproductive wars on terror against you.
As an aside, if you come from a country that actually has a history of terrorism against the United States, you might still be okay. Because this isn’t really about keeping Americans safe, this is about racism and Islamophobia at its most basic level. This is about Trump throwing his most radical supporters a bone.
Remember, these policies begin with tourists, refugees, the undocumented, and the otherwise easily demonized. But it won’t end there. It’s possible mass deportations, a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country, and still worse, are first-term possibilities—if Muslims are too dangerous to let in, it follows that eventually we should start showing them out.
Like probably any other minority in America right now, my phone is full of messages and emails, questions and concerns. One of these stood out: “I am just a brown colored human being who happens to be a Muslim,” she wrote. “I am terrified about my present and future and that of my family. I don’t know what to do and I need your help.”
I have seen many people over the past few months claim that they will register as Muslims alongside their neighbors. This solidarity is well-intentioned. Except, of course, there probably won’t literally be a (public) Muslim registry. There won’t be a sign-up sheet, a website, a simple mechanism, a black-and-white criteria. This is an administration that is smarter than many gave it credit for.
Every authoritarian regime starts on the margins, until the margins are gone. Then those who were reasonably close to the center suddenly find themselves on the edges, with no one between them and a furiously xenophobic base.
Notice the way Trump has so far only talked about banning Muslims from certain countries and only for certain time periods; he won’t pick every Muslim country at first (but he can add and drop at will), so he can be insulated from the charge of violating the letter and spirit of the US Constitution. By working gradually, and always under the guise of national security—in whose name we gladly suspend all our moral values—it will be harder to see the big picture. Until, of course, it’s too late.