No Turning Back for Muslims
It’s been a long four years for many in America and around the globe, especially Black and Brown people. Even as a U.S. citizen, the Trump presidency has been deeply painful for me as a Muslim. The discriminatory policies, attacks, and hate crimes reached into communities, homes, and hearts. But my heart has also swelled in awe of the unity, resilience, and bravery of our communities and our allies. I have no intention of returning to the loneliness of before—from here, I will only move forward.
When Trump won the 2016 election, I was still working for President Obama at the White House Domestic Policy Council. Walking the halls that Wednesday, I heard repeated apologies from my colleagues, looks of pity and despair, and open acknowledgment of the devastating future for Muslims under the Trump administration. I told my parents to visit our family abroad before the inauguration because I didn’t want them traveling once Trump was president — even their citizenship did not feel like adequate protection, no one was safe. Americans’ promises to support Muslims — whether through adorning safety pins on their jackets or pledges to register alongside Muslims in a federal registry — were meaningless to me. We had been attacked by the government before and almost no one showed up. After 9/11, thousands of people from Muslim-majority countries had to register with the government, many of whom were then disappeared and deported. I steeled myself for the silence that would follow attacks on Muslims. I have never been so glad to be wrong.
Trump’s first Muslim ban was met with resistance beyond my imagination. People were charged from the Women’s March, ready to show up and fight for our communities. I was unprepared for the floods of people at airports – holding signs welcoming Muslims, demanding we open our doors, and forming protective circles so that Muslims could pray. Without the unity and show of force from lawyers, members of Congress, and thousands of people nationwide, I have no doubt that many people would have been shut out of the United States that weekend. We were unmatched in our strength, and for the first time, I felt like Muslims might actually have power.
Four years later, the Muslim ban is still in effect, now overwhelmingly targeting Africans. The courts may have ultimately failed us, but the courts were never the goal. They were simply an attempt to blunt the impact for as long as we could — a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. The cure was in the people, their conviction and drive to do what was right, and the power it gave Muslim communities to see their own strength.
For many, President-elect Biden’s commitment to rescind the Muslim ban on his first day in office may seem like a given. But the ban faded from the news and was not at the forefront of the election. It was one of many in Trump’s onslaught of attacks on Black and Brown people. It was the drive and fight of Muslim, Arab, Iranian, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities that ensured it became a day one pledge. Indeed, it is not Biden’s only promise to our communities.
Biden has a policy platform for Muslim communities and Arab communities in America, for immigrants and refugees, for the criminal legal system, and for policing. His platforms may not reflect all the issues or solutions, but they are an acknowledgment that these communities and issues must be at the forefront of the conversation. He has promised to eliminate numerous discriminatory policies targeting our communities, including the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program (formerly Countering Violent Extremism program) and review watchlist and No-Fly List.
The hard truth is, these are the bare minimum — our communities need and deserve much more. Trump was not the beginning of attacks or discrimination, they were already etched in our policies, leadership, and communities. Trump was the naked emboldening and reckless empowerment of these ugly policies and systems. Biden must not only restore the government and country but also bring us into the future by advancing the goal of justice for all. Muslim communities and Black and Brown communities have waited and hurt for too long. We need equality, equity, and safety. We need to be able to live free from discrimination and hatred, especially when it comes from our government.
It’s not an easy task, but it is also not an impossible one. I do not expect systems to be undone overnight nor discrimination to end — equality has been written into our laws for hundreds of years, yet we still have not achieved it. But Biden can swiftly end discriminatory policies, including social media vetting that impacts over 15 million people and programs like CARRP that have discriminated against Muslims seeking immigration benefits, including citizenship, for over a decade. By pledging to rescind the Muslim ban, Biden has in fact committed to ending policies that discriminate against Muslims. That is what it truly means to stop banning Muslims.
It is our job to hold the Biden administration to this promise of justice and progress. When I worked in the White House, we often respected most the groups who challenged us — and were often angry with us — because they made us better. Muslim communities are ready to push to make the Biden administration better, and this time, we are not alone.
We have tasted the flavor of unity and solidarity — the power it brings. We now know what it feels like to be a day one priority and to win for our communities. And we’re not going back.
Manar Waheed is Senior Legislative and Advocacy Council at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.