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Muslims

American Muslims Worry the Worst Is Yet to Come

Trump's travel ban has many fretting that it could fuel more Islamophobia.

by Beenish Ahmed
Jan 31 2017, 7:30pm

Photo by the author

The only memories Alaa Amora has of his childhood in southern Iraq are of roaring airplanes and deafening bombs. He came to the United States in 1995 as a refugee along with his family, but says he always felt welcome—until Donald Trump came on the political scene.

"I love this country," Amora, now 32, told me before pausing to help a customer pick out new cellphone in his Dearborn, Michigan, electronics store. "I wouldn't want to go to any other country besides this, but it's starting to get scary." 

"This is my business," he said, gesturing toward displays of jeweled phone cases and shelves of flatscreen TVs. "Without coming here, without America welcoming me to this beautiful place, where would I be right now? I would probably either be dead, locked up somewhere for no reason, or just worrying about when the next bomb is going to fall on my head."

It was Trump's campaign-trail call to ban Muslims from entering the country made him begin to feel that he didn't belong.

For years, Amora told me, he and his extended family have taken a summer trip to Upper Michigan. Although that part of the state is far less diverse than his hometown of Dearborn (which has a large Muslim population and is sometimes the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories), they were always treated with the warmth typical of the American Midwest.

When Amora and his relatives boarded a ferry to take them to the old-timey resort town of Mackinac Island last summer, however, he said, "Everyone on that boat stared us down as if we were about to sink the ship on them."

Amora blames what he sees as rising anti-Muslim sentiment on how Trump's executive order singled out people from Muslim-majority countries "to protect the American people from terrorist attacks," to quote the order.

"When you have the president of the greatest country in the world saying that Muslims are terrorists, a lot of people are going to believe him," Amora said.

Jeanon Jawech has the same fears. "This is just going to fuse more [bias]," the 19-year-old college student said of Trump's executive order after a demonstration against it at the Detroit Metro Airport.

Her mother, Nala Jawech, an immigrant from Syria, agreed. "To target Muslims directly, it's something dangerous. They judge all the majority for a small number, and that's what's scary," she told me.  Both women wear hijab and are worried about becoming the targets of Islamophobic attacks.

In the aftermath of Trump's election, Muslims across the country have come under attack. The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a list of 867 hate incidents in the ten days after Trump's victory. There was a 67 percent year-over-year increase in hate crimes against Muslims reported to the FBI in 2015, the year when Trump—then just a Republican presidential candidate—first called for "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."  

Many experts have attributed a rise in hate crimes against Muslims to Trump's vitriolic comments, among other examples of Islamophobic rhetoric. "We're seeing these stereotypes and derogative statements become part of the political discourse," Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism told the New York Times in September. "The bottom line is we're talking about a significant increase in these types of hate crimes."

Trump has never explicitly endorsed anti-Muslim violence, and when asked about the harassment immediately after his victory, he said he wanted the perpetrators to "stop it."

But, during the campaign, he supported a variety of extreme, seemingly Constitution-defying policies, including the surveillance of mosques and the creation of a database of Muslims. Friday's order, while maybe not as outlandish as those ideas, was certainly of a piece with them.

According to Kevin R. Johnson, author of The Huddled Masses Myth, exclusionary policies barring certain groups of would-be immigrants have led to further discriminatory policies and actions against members of those groups within the US.  

"When the government is saying we gotta get rid of these—whatever group you want to say—it is an important signal to people in those groups [in the US] what their worth is and how much they're desired," Johnson told me. When certain types of people are singled out by immigration policy, members of that group who are in the US often suffer as well. Johnson said the phenomenon is "one of the ripple effects that isn't often paid attention to" but a consequence has been borne out by history.

Passed in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant immigration policy to ban a specific group of people. Its ban on Chinese workers led to a series of laws barring people of Chinese origin in the US from working in certain industries or owning land.

"There was rampant discrimination in employment and discrimination against Chinese businesses and none of it went checked by government," Johnson said. Similarly, he added, policies singling out Muslim immigrants could lead to discrimination against Muslims in America. "Minority groups… understand that the immigration debate, even if they're citizens, even if they're born and raised here, at some level it's about them and people like them," he said.

Amora now fears discrimination and violence in his adopted country so acutely that he's considering buying guns for his wife and sisters so that they can defend themselves if they're attacked because their headscarves mark them as Muslims.

"I'm really starting to think about it because they go out shopping by themselves," he told me. "I'm really scared for them now."

Beenish Ahmed is a reporter, writer, and the founder of the ALIGNIST. Follow her on Twitter.