Reposted from the Shoulder To Shoulder Campaign
Among the many gifts with which humanity has been imbued, none are as worthy of our awe and gratitude as the seemingly boundless capacity with which man, woman and child can adapt to the horrors imposed on them by their fellows and by earth itself. Our creator — whomever or whatever that may be — saw fit to bless us with an endurance and a solidity of spirit that has enabled mankind to endure an unimaginable constellation of atrocities while somehow preserving some semblance of hope that the future might be brighter and that our wounds might heal. Whether in the gulag or the ghetto, the internment camp or the war zone, the elasticity of the human spirit will be evident in abundance as testament to reservoirs of internal strength we are capable of calling on in times of need.
However, while the adaptability and resiliency of our character can be a life raft in a sea of suffering, it can also serve as an instrument through which we impose suffering on others. In the memoir of her husband’s imprisonment and death during the purges of Stalinist Russia, the writer and educator Nadezhsa Mandelstam spoke to the tendency of her contemporaries to rationalize away the encroaching police state and to so distort the world around them into two poorly-defined groups: those who are with us and those who are against us. Who belonged to which group changed on a daily basis, but to those who still styled themselves as being with rather than against, there was no end to the convoluted logic they could conjure up to maintain their status. The question on everybody’s lips whenever someone was taken away by the Soviet secret police was “what was he arrested for?” to which Mandelstam’s friend, the poet Anna Akhmatova, would cry out, “What do you mean, what for? It’s time you understood that people are arrested for nothing!”
Today, as we stand upon the precipice of swearing in of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, the duality of mankind’s spiritual malleability to the world around it takes on a new importance. As both a candidate and a President elect, Trump has displayed a troubling predilection for framing issues in terms of those who are with him and those who are against him. Whether it’s his tirades against the media as “fake news” when they run stories he doesn’t like or his fixation on kicking undocumented citizens out of the country en masse and creating a literal barrier between the us (real America) and them (immigrants) Trump has based much of his political philosophy on the purposeful othering of certain populations, with perhaps no group being as targeted as Muslims living in America.
From his calls for a ban on all Muslims entering the country and his desire to create a Muslim registry along the lines of the NSEERS program formed by the George W. Bush administration to his incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric and his appointment of noted Islamophobes like Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn to his cabinet, this election season cultivated an environment in this country where vitriol and hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed.
Not long after the election, I spoke with Hassan Ahmed, a 20-year old Muslim American who was attending the University of Michigan. Like most, if not all, Muslims living in America, Ahmed was no stranger to being discriminated against because of his faith, his name, and the color of his skin. Raised for most of his life in the township of Canton, Michigan, Ahmed and his family felt it necessary to leave the country and live in Dubai for 2 years after the 9/11 terror attacks and the wave of hatred and discrimination that descended in its wake. Hassan moved back to the States in 2005 with his mother and brother, but says that now, in the wake of Trump’s campaign and election, things are as bad if not worse with regards to overt discrimination and rancor he and his family experience on a regular basis.
“Apart from his policies, the worst part for me about what has happened is that we’ve normalized a lot of the things that Trump has said over the course of the campaign.” Ahmed told me. “My mom is a preschool teacher and after the election, one of her kids came up and asked her ‘why did the bad man win?’ Trump has said a number of things that scare people very, very deeply…especially children. It worries me that we’ve said ‘yes’ to someone like this.”
We cannot and we must not gloss over or rationalize away the fears that Muslim Americans have about the rhetoric and intentions of the incoming Trump administration in the same way that we cannot discount the fears of undocumented immigrants or the LGBT community. Normalizing this sort of blind hatred and division only further entrenches the divide between faith communities in the country and can serve no purpose but to isolate and demonize our fellows. This is not a matter of us against them, but of us against ourselves. People of all faiths and beliefs — whether they be Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Agnostics or Atheists — must band together under the banner of humanity and stand up to whoever might try to use religion or ethnicity to promote enmity and violence among us.
Today, the definition of who our government decides is with us and who is against us may be in your favor, but it is not guaranteed to be that way forever. Lines in the sand based on race or faith or loyalty are always subject to being wiped away and redrawn, and looking for ways to blame and oppress those who are already discriminated against is tantamount to little more than bargaining away bits of your soul for the promise of a safety and security that could be yanked away at any moment. You can take this moment as an opportunity to close yourself off from the persecution of your Muslim brothers and sisters, or you can open yourself up to their embrace and shoulder some of their burden with them. The choice is up to you.