Muslims have been trying to build alliances with fellow Americans with halting success for four decades. We have Muslims (Americans) against Hunger, Muslims for Republicans, Muslims for Peace, Muslim online dating, Muslims for Progressive Values and a Muslim writer’s guild. Muslims perished along with others when the World Trade towers fell and Muslim students are among the highest scorers in US college assessment tests. We have Muslim policemen, Muslim intermarriages, Muslim-Jewish Alliances, Muslim members of Congress, Muslim-Christian dialogues, Muslims Health Professionals, Muslims at the White House, Muslim Advocates, LGBT Muslims and Green Muslims. We even had the “Hijabi Monologues”. All aim to educate others and, yes, to prove how American we are.
Progress has been slow. At times we seemed to be retreating in the face of never-ending attacks on individuals and mosques, scapegoated for things which we have absolutely nothing to do with, indeed, which we ourselves abhor. Our children are bullied in school; we’re removed from airplanes; our gifts to family and other fellow Muslims abroad are tracked and even used as evidence against us and our charities. The list of injustices increases every year.
Then came Trump with his anti-Muslim proposals and tirades, allowing rude people at his rallies to utter racist remarks and incite suspicion of Muslims. Month after month, physical as well as verbal attacks on our people increase as Trump’s campaign advances. When he proposed Muslims not be allowed into this country it seemed that candidate Trump had crossed the line. “Hey”, some rejoined: “What about the men and women in our armed forces? What about diplomats? What about United Nations employees, invited scholars, football teams?”
We know how any ban of this nature conjures up the terrible and shameful restrictions imposed on European Jews. Perhaps no people are as frightened and troubled by Trump’s declaration than Jews themselves; they remember too well how their community suffered when explicit bans were declared.
Trump later qualified his Muslim ban. But he couldn’t repair the damage. He’d gone too far. People who had previously tolerated Trump’s tirades began to consider the implications of his religious proscription. (Republican sympathizers had also heard the bizarre statement by Ben Carson:– he said no Muslim should be nominated for high office.) The US constitution which citizens invoke to assert state rights and to protect their freedom to bear arms is the same document that will not distinguish or prejudice Americans according to their religion.
Finally it was the sacrifice of Muslim-American soldier Humayun Khan that seemed to consummately demonstrate the reality of Muslim Americans’ patriotism. Khan’s father Khizr, in his attack on Donald Trump at the height of the Democratic National Convention last month, became a spokesman not for Muslims in particular or for his lost son, but for all “Gold Star families” (those who have lost loved ones in the course of military service). His challenge to Trump received thunderous applause, a show of support perhaps unprecedented in any forum addressing Muslim affairs.
Khizr Khan, with Humayun‘s mother at his side, challenged the very patriotism of the Republican candidate with a ferocity and clarity we hadn’t seen. His statement drove home the real experience and the investment which Muslim citizens have in the USA. As a Gold Star family, the Khans appearance forged a powerful link not only with other families of martyred children, but with the millions of veterans and military families nationwide, and through them, to the American street.
Trump’s discourtesy and vulgarity were further exposed by his remarks about Humayan’s Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan. Public backlash to his distasteful comments on Sunday’s ABC News was swift and unambiguous.
The world has witnessed unarguable evidence time and time again of Trump’s ignorance and boorishness during the months of this long, dramatic campaign. Some of his outrages were dismissed or eclipsed by worse examples. Even if this one is superseded and his insensitivity and arrogance barrel along unopposed, one outcome is certain, namely, the depth of the new roots planted between Muslims and our fellow Americans.