Close friends didn’t wait for the election to be called to text me warnings.
“I am sorry for this.”
“Don’t stand too close to subway platforms.”
I still hadn’t processed what we had just done, and already I was being given practical advice on how to be a Muslim in Donald Trump’s America.
Tuesday was a slow-dawning personalization of the election for me. First came a wave of anxiety at the thought of Trump in the Oval Office. Then came the nausea, realizing what it means for our nation’s moral compass. Then, at least, was an overwhelming need to head to Trump HQ at the New York Hilton to see it for myself.
The train ride into Manhattan gave me that same feeling every Muslim got in post-9/11 New York. Looking out for anyone who didn’t share my complexion. Not putting on headphones, lest I make myself vulnerable. Keeping my eyes on the ground, wanting to be invisible.
I’ve been around Trump supporters before. I was at the Republican National Convention, defending my religion to misinformed Republicans. The vibe outside Trump HQ at the Hilton was different. The discussion was over. This was settled doctrine. Trump is the president-elect, and his bigotry in every form had been ratified. “Does this mean grabbing pussies is legal?” one white twentysomething joked to his friends. (I wasn’t the only person who heard some version of this joke.) They laughed. One guy frighteningly told a black card-carrying veteran that he should consider finding another country to live in. All he and his friends sought was to “peacefully separate from you,” he told the man. A few miles from where I was born, I felt like a man standing on foreign soil.
I spoke to a few of Trump’s supporters outside the Hilton. I identified myself as Muslim to 30-year-old Vjekoslav Grgas, decked out head to toe and from consonant to consonant in Make America Great Again gear, and tried explaining to him what a President Trump could mean to American Muslims. “You need three things to have a country,” Grgas explained. “Borders, language, and culture. Why is it so wrong that Americans want a border, a culture, a language?” He went on to assure me that Trump couldn’t possibly hold bigoted views because of his success in international business. I shook his hand and begged him not to forget me. What else can you do as a Muslim desperately trying to convince someone you aren’t out for global domination.
Like many Muslims right now, I’m very worried about Trump’s newly galvanized white nationalist supporters. George W. Bush at least paid lip service to the notion that we were not at war with Islam. This time, we have someone who has made it abundantly clear that he believes Islam is at war with the United States and that regarding your neighbor with suspicion (and perhaps even hostility) is not just a protected right but a moral imperative. Why wouldn’t his supporters lash out at us? Who is protecting us?
Young Muslims in overwhelmingly red states are going to school Wednesday alongside their vindicated Islamophobic bullies. Muslim women are looking at themselves in the mirror, figuring out if it’s safe or not to continue wearing a hijab. Men are shaving their beards.
Well, I’m keeping mine. Many of the people Trump insulted in his campaign are much stronger than he and his supporters believe. We’ve inherited something from our parents and grandparents. Immigrants live in a suspended state between opposition and assimilation, and this requires a kind of toughness and adaptability. I called my mother to ask for some of her reliable Egyptian guidance. What she told me, I want to share with everyone who is anxious about the prospect of losing our rights as Americans. She said to me in Arabic: “Aymann. We never know where goodness can come from, and we never know what will be good for us right away. Goodness can come from anywhere, but it will always be found within.” For the next four years, during what promises to be a time of intense social reaction, we will not be able to depend on our government to guide us. Our strength will have to come from within.