Building Bridges: A Muslim and Non-Muslim Dialogue about Islamophobia in America, Part 1

There is an environment of fear, hatred, and xenophobia building in America. It was never more evident that it was early in November, when voters cast their ballot, and Donald Trump became President-Elect of the United States. Trump’s policies and opinions about the Muslim community both in the United States and on the global stage are terrifying to a clear majority of Muslims and their interfaith counterparts that are anxious about the state of our world when fear and hate become the norm. I have become increasingly bothered by the current state of affairs in the United States, but I wasn’t sure how I could join the fray and fight for the side of reason and compassion. Then an idea struck me: Would it be possible to dialogue with my Muslim friends across the globe about their concerns for Trump’s administration and the growing Islamophobia in the US?

I contacted several my closest Muslim friends and asked them to help. What follows is a question and answer dialogue which was based on five current news articles from various news agencies including Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Post, Fortune, and Al Jazeera all of which address Trump’s proposed Muslim registry policies and anti-Muslim agendas from various political perspectives. Based on these five articles and their own unique personal experiences, I asked each respondent to reply to the following questions:

  1. How do you feel about Trump’s transition team, particularly Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s ongoing discussion of a rebooting Bush’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) as a Muslim Registration Act?
  2. Does it change any future plans you may have about visiting the US?
  3. How do you feel about Trump’s persistence in calling for a Deportation Task Force which will be used to designate and deport supposed ‘illegal immigrants’ but could be used to deport visiting Muslims?
  4. How do you feel about Trump’s call for Mosque surveillance?
  5. What do you think can be done to change perceptions about Islam in American?
  6. What can Muslim allies do to help with Islamophobia in America? Globally?
  7. Are there any countries, in your opinion, who are getting the dialogue right with their Muslim communities? Any country the US could learn from? (Can you cite examples or provide links for readers?)

The respondents are global. Sehrish is from the US; Munir, who has lived both in Scotland and the US, currently resides in Australia, and Noor is from The Netherlands. Each respondent brings a unique perspective to this dialogue, and I can’t thank them enough both for their collaboration with this project and their honesty in their replies. Because I don’t want to edit any of the responses, this dialogue will be a two-part series. This first half will focus on questions one through three. So, grab yourself a nice beverage and gather around our cyber-table to join in our discussion.

Q1: How do you feel about Trump’s transition team, particularly Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s ongoing discussion of a rebooting Bush’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) as a Muslim Registration Act?

A: Sehrish: I don’t feel comfortable both as a Muslim and a US citizen about rebooting of NSEERS as a Muslim Registration Act. Even though I was immigrated, married, and naturalized (all lawfully) in the United States during Obama’s tenure and didn’t experience any hatred or discrimination myself but my husband’s family who’s been here since 2000 has many discriminatory stories to tell, all of which they experienced during Bush presidency. So, I’m only concerned for my kids now because regardless of being born here, they’ll continue to travel with me to Pakistan frequently to visit my mother and the rest of my family.

A: Munir: Whilst I do think that people need to be vigilant and be aware of any attempts at rebooting this program, I also have doubts as to how serious Trump is about implementing it. Many papers were speculating that Kris Kobach would be selected for Attorney General, but this has been given to Jeff Sessions. He has also missed out on the pick to head the Department of Homeland Security. Various other things have also lead me to believe that he may have softened his stance on this issue.
I think that Trump was likely using this to signal that he is strong on this issue, but may keep the card in deck in case there are any other events that will call on him to make a strong response.

A: Noor: I honestly feel it’s more a campaign strategy to win the election, and it unfortunately worked. Furthermore ‘extreme vetting’ and populism tends to be a global issue, and Trump gratefully uses a discourse among a large population who are blind to ‘white supremacy’. They don’t want any change and always look for a scapegoat when the economy doesn’t bless them accordingly. It seems that fear is being used as a tool to revolt against ‘the establishment’ and religion is to blame, again.

A: Trisha: Between the time of conceiving of this project, sending out the questions and their return, a few things have changed in this regard—hopefully for the better. In a recent New York Times article by J. David Goodman and Ron Nixon, President Obama intends to dismantle the dormant registry program before Trump can implement it. Moreover, 200 tech companies have gathered together in agreement to refuse to take part in a religious registry and tracking program according to a recent article in the Huffington Post. However, in lieu of a registry program President-Elect Trump plans to ‘bar people from countries with a history of Islamist extremism’ which, could, potentially, include any country outside the US that has had a terrorist attack, such as France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Canada, and Denmark, and predominantly Muslim countries of Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. In a Trump presidency, it is possible that the borders of America could be closed to individuals from all of those countries simply because of terrorist attacks claimed by the extremist Muslim regime of DAESH (more commonly and inaccurately known as ISIL or ISIS). Time will tell what legislation the Trump administration will ultimately debate and pass; in the meantime, we need to keep it in the public, American, and global dialogue.

Q2: Does it (Trump’s proposed registry and/or travel bans) change any future plans you may have about visiting the US?

A: Sehrish: I am a US citizen and live in the United States, however, I had plans on having my family to visit me which I don’t think is going to happen any time soon now.

A: Munir: Not in terms of wanting to avoid this program, but there are some marked changes. The international dialogue has completely changed ever since Trump called for these policies. There is no doubt that there is now a general hostility towards Muslims. During the run-up to the election, my family would sit together every week at dinner and discuss current events. Even in my family, small changes were happening: children being called refugees at school, general bullying, one girl in the family removing the hijab because of bullying. The President is supposed to be a charismatic figure who unites people, but I have never seen such division amongst people who were otherwise living very peacefully for years. Trump has a lot to do with this new environment, and I can’t say that I would feel comfortable visiting the US other than for family reasons.

A: Noor: Absolutely! If in the odd case it becomes an American policy then I will definitely not visit the United States, nor will I buy any [US] products as long as the Act is active.

Q3: How do you feel about Trump’s persistence in calling for a Deportation Task Force which will be used to designate and deport supposed ‘illegal immigrants’ but could be used to deport visiting Muslims?

A: Sehrish: This is extremely alarming because visiting the United States had already been really difficult since 16 years or so, and I think the people visiting the US for medical care would have to pay the price of this redundant law the most.

A: Munir: In general I do not mind increasing efforts to deal with illegal immigration and it should not be tolerated. The Obama administration has already deported millions and has deported more than any other administration in history. My problem with Trumps’ plan is that there is no way he will find 3 million illegal immigrants with criminal records. This might just be another exaggeration from Trump. We will either see a small ramping up from Bush and Obama, or he will have to include many people who are not criminals.

A: Noor: To use it for deport illegal immigrants who overstayed their visa, yes, it is the right of any sovereign country to deport illegal immigrants. But that doesn’t apply on visitors! I would feel that my rights are violated and very much discriminated by the U.S. government.

A: Trisha: As someone who feels strongly about the positive benefits of both religious education and interfaith dialogue, I worry about visiting Islamic scholars who may now be either deported or denied entry to the US.

Continue this dialogue in Part 2.

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