I cannot but admit the last few days have been painful. I could fill this column with quotes from Donald Trump and his supporters and denounce their lies as racist, un-American and dangerous, which they are, but that’d be too easy. As a Muslim I know Trump is a liar, is racist, divisive, demagogic and dangerous.
As a mentor to several students I sympathize with their anxiety but find myself unable to comfort them. Snide comments and micro-aggressions, ignored by peers and teachers, often darken their days.
As an American, I’m disappointed Trump’s words are finding such resonance in a nation that considers itself exceptional; indeed, for preachers such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., who believe America’s a Judeo-Christian nation, to support Trump’s lies and demagoguery is sheer hypocrisy.
My disappointment doesn’t rest just with Trump and his Trump-stamped nation whose lemmings follow him into our darkest corners. My disappointment and anger – yes, anger – extends to all who for years stood by as bigotry rose on our shores. My disappointment is for those of us who believed the election of President Barack Obama was the opening of a post-racial America. My disappointment is for a world that witnessed Obama’s election as the fulfillment of the American promise but who’ve instead witnessed the fracturing of America’s body politic.
For eight years it’s been open season on the Other in America. For years it’s been open season on Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants and any other cohort that challenged American white privilege. Even as Obama was sworn into office opponents were gathering to obstruct his presidency. And for eight years purveyors of mainstream, cable and social media, driven by and responsive to white privilege, have enabled fear mongering and divisiveness by being deaf to call of the dog whistles that echo through America’s Public Square. Today we’re paying the price.
“No one,” my friend Edward Said wrote, “today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental.”
“Yet just as human beings make their own history,” he continued, “they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness…”
Today, American purveyors of fear and prejudice are profiting. It comes as no surprise to me that overwhelming numbers of Americans believe Islam is incompatible with American values or that we’re in the greatest danger imaginable since 9/11 – a danger they’re wrongly being told comes from “radical Islamic terrorism” because that is what today’s intellectually unwashed purveyors of fear and paranoia choose to tell them.
So why should they think otherwise? The Trump-stamped nation is being so culturally bullied that those looking for affirmation of their cultural and religious biases find support and solace. They are finding that solace in a wrongly-constructed narrative the press has allowed America’s right-wing to build without challenge. They just aren’t finding truth.
Central to that narrative is a delusion that Obama is so dangerous – the foreign-born Muslim agent of the Other and is antithetical to all that’s American – that he and those who support him must be opposed at every point, regardless of truth or of any consequences on American security.
Indeed, when U.S. senators, including New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, wrote a letter to Iran’s supreme leader opposing an Iran deal even before a deal was negotiated it was a near-act of treason that would not have been tolerated had it been directed at any other president in our history.
I understand Trump is exploiting his audience’s deepest fears – that they are persecuted underdogs, vulnerable and underappreciated, victimized by “illegals” taking their jobs and killing and raping their women, by Muslims who want to create a Caliphate, by gays who want to reopen Sodom and Gomorrah.
Trump is a gifted, political alchemist who knows how to turn discontent to profit. Trump, who celebrates himself as a genius, was an ordinary two-year transfer student into the University of Pennsylvania who graduated without honor or distinction, today leads a pack of Republican candidates all of whom are profiting from a corrupt narrative of a white nation being disadvantaged by the Other, the most recent manifestation of which is the Muslim.
Today, I say to friends and colleagues, to all who’re committed to the promise of America – if we don’t challenge the forces of discrimination and hatred that enable Trump’s call for disenfranchisement of certain Americans then we’re part of the problem.
Trump’s message, that an America that is no longer “great” can only be returned to greatness, however that may be defined, by a new savior, has found resonance with some fearful Americans too lazy to do the hard work to confront issues of inequity, prejudice and ignorance, too lazy to recognize that by disenfranchising America’s Muslims they’re acting as Daesh’s (ISIS) agents. Who, rather than do the hard work, search for a savior who will do it for them.
This month Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom they believe to be the Son of God and Savior of Mankind, and whom Muslims venerate as the most revered prophet after the Prophet Muhammad. Born of an unwed mother, a virgin, in Palestine, Jesus challenged privilege and hypocrisy and led through love a life of humility, inclusiveness and goodness that contradicts all Trump and his followers, and those cowards who enable his path, embrace.
It’s time, America, to choose which savior we’ll follow. I pray we choose well: My life may depend on it.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.