On Tuesday night, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly brought Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson on The Kelly File to defend the candidate’s suggestion that he’d shut down American mosques to fight terrorism. On the flipside, Kelly invited Republican Muslim Coalition founder Saba Ahmed to try and convince them both that a government war on mosques is neither a Constitutional nor a smart tactical response to terrorist attacks.
Ahmed showed up literally wrapped in an American flag, an outfit so patriotic it might have blended right in at any Tea Party rally—if it didn’t represent a religion that many Republicans see as fundamentally dangerous.
Ahmed tells me she made the decision to wear her flag scarf as a hijab just a few minutes before she went on the air; originally, she had planned to wear a purple scarf on her head and keep the American flag over her shoulder. “I was in the makeup room watching Fox, and lots of people were talking against Islam,” Ahmed says. “So I asked the makeup lady if I could just wear [the flag scarf].”
Wearing an American flag isn’t a revolutionary act for everyone. For people who fit the dominant narrative of what a patriotic American citizen should be—a white Army veteran, say, or a presidential candidate—it just reinforces the norm.
But in mainstream U.S. culture, the hijab is a marker of the other. Since Sept. 11, American Muslims have been targeted by violent threats and hate crimes. In the days since the Paris attacks, politicians and private citizens alike have upped their vocal suspicions of Muslims as trespassers on U.S. soil. By making one of the most visible Islamic traditions garishly American, Ahmed is subverting two reductive stereotypes: that of an all-American patriot and that of a devout Muslim. To the many political leaders who’ve been popping off about the danger of allowing Muslim refugees from Syria into the U.S., Ahmed’s statement does not compute with the logic they trust.
“A lot of people think that Muslims should not be part of America, and they somehow associate Islam with just terrorists,” Ahmed says. “I just don’t think terrorists should be the ones to define our religion. … My whole point was that I just wanted to share that we are patriotic American Muslims.”
Around the world and throughout history, Muslim women have used the hijab as an instrument of resistance in the face of anti-Muslim prejudice and cultural imperialism. Ahmed used her hijab as a testament to her American identity and her right to claim this country as much as any other resident.
Ahmed has appeared on Fox a few times over the past week, and while she’s gotten a lot of feedback, she’s dealt with “haters,” too. “That will always be the case. That’s part of the territory of going on Fox,” she says. She’s also met with several Republican presidential candidates, who’ve fallen all over themselves to be the one to take the hardest line against Islam. “[The candidates] are closed-minded, but that’s our job. That’s why I founded the Republican Muslim Coalition: to educate them and change their perspective,” Ahmed says. “I’m an American Muslim and I’m going to live here for the rest of my life. I’d like to live in peace.”