Betrayed, surveilled, but not giving up: Arab and Muslim Americans after Trump
It's been days since the results of the 2016 US presidential elections were announced, and the ramifications of a Trump presidency are still sinking in, finding their tortuous way into multiple nooks of the anxious consciousness of a majority of Americans.
'In 2001, we had 9/11, and now, we have 11/9,' a friend told me, in what seemed to summarise the pained disbelief of millions
Millions worried about the very real possibility of losing their healthcare. The LGBTQ and allies community wonder if gay marriages will be annulled. And will the new government set the clock back to the days when abortion was an illegal life-threatening back-alley procedure?
The families and friends of immigrants feared mass deportations, as if forgetting for a while that the current president has deported more people than all the previous presidents together.
People of colour immediately feared an escalation of hate crimes, and indeed, multiple racist assaults, vandalism, and death threats were reported across the nation, documenting an increasingly unsafe environment.
Even middle-class white liberals said the shock of a Trump presidency felt “like 9/11,” the terrorist attack on US symbols of empire that shook this nation to its core, setting into motion a rapid degradation of civil rights domestically, and a series of ill-fated, devastating wars in the Muslim world.
“In 2001, we had 9/11, and now, we have 11/9,” a friend told me, in what seemed to summarise the pained disbelief of millions of Americans about the outcome of the 8 November elections.
Trump's Arab American and Muslim supporters
Yet even as the news was still sinking in, and pollsters and people alike still wondered how they could have been so wrong in their predictions of a victory for Hillary Clinton, another phenomenon began to emerge across the nation: “closeted Trump voters” explaining why they have voted for a man who rode into the presidency on a campaign of unmitigated misogyny, Islamophobia, and racial prejudice.
'The Democrats almost arrogantly expect me to hand my vote to them because of who I am, which insults me'
- A gay Muslim student
And among the “closeted Trump voters” were many Arab Americans and Muslims. Their reasons were varied, ranging from a desire to deal with Islamic fundamentalism, to a deeply-seated distrust of Hillary Clinton’s policies in the Arab world, her established record of devastating wars, military interventions, and support for Israel.
One such voter, a gay Muslim student who remained anonymous, explained: “As a gay Muslim, the Republican Party has not been kind to me, to say the least. However, the Democrats almost arrogantly expect me to hand my vote to them because of who I am, which insults me.”
The Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) community voted overwhelmingly for Trump, because of his strong stance on Islamic fundamentalism, which has targeted Christians in Iraq. As one Chaldean community member put it: “Voting for Mr Trump carries hope for a better future for our suffering people who have been abandoned by the current US government.”
'When they bomb our people back home, I know where I stand here'
- Young Arab-American activist
Another Arab-American, a young activist who asked not to be identified, stated that she had never felt safe or protected under any president. “When they bomb our people back home, I know where I stand here,” she wrote in a private post.
'Special place in hell'
And whichever way they voted, Arab Americans expressed betrayal, a sense that their concerns were not sufficiently addressed, and that Democrats had taken their votes for granted, even as they viewed their lives, or the lives of their families in the Arab world, as totally expendable.
For Clinton, Israel can do no wrong, and the Palestinians have no rights . . . And most Arab-Americans know that
Indeed, we have not gotten over the fact that Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, answered a reporter’s question about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi babies as a result of the sanctions as “the price is worth it.”
And while Albright has since repeatedly stated that her answer was a “stupid statement,” she still stands by the sanctions, imposed by President Bill Clinton, which absolutely wrecked Iraqi society.
Only weeks ago, Albright campaigned for Hillary Clinton, promising us a “special place in hell” if we did not vote for the Democratic candidate.
And Arab Americans cannot possibly ignore the fact that Clinton, both as First Lady and later as secretary of state, repeatedly asserted her unflinching support for Israel, even as that violently racist ethno-supremacist country was engaging in war crimes against the Palestinian civilian society, impoverished, besieged, with no safe place to hide, no shelter, no refuge for this refugee population.
For Clinton, Israel can do no wrong, and the Palestinians have no rights. Clinton’s Zionism, and its correlative, her utter disregard for Arab lives, are genuine, sincere, not contrived, not something that comes with the office. And most Arab-Americans know that.
Years of betrayal
But more: most Muslims and Arab-Americans know that a Muslim registry is not a “threat” that Trump may implement, but that it already exists, that it was set up after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which remained in effect for a full 10 years, until 2011, and that the registry was popular with a majority of Americans.
Most Muslims and Arab-Americans know that a Muslim registry is not a “threat” that Trump may implement, but that it already exists
And most Muslims and Arab-Americans are aware that government surveillance is not a threat of Trump’s “fascist” administration, but that the New York Police Department and Central Intelligence Agency collaborated for years in an aggressive surveillance programme of Muslims in New York that included eavesdropping, mosque crawling, listing “ancestries of interest” and more.
Inevitably, Arab Americans feel betrayed by their country’s dismissal of the vilification, demonisation, massive surveillance, and profiling that they were subjected to for many long years. And they know painfully well that most Americans would not have protested a Clinton victory, even though such a victory would still have been a triumph for evil.
For these Arab-Americans, the dismissal of Clinton’s anti-Arab racism and foreign policy feels like a reminder of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s provocative speech, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist…” They are quick to point out that what “most Americans” now fear has been their lived reality for many long years.
And yes, we have been betrayed. We have paid a very high price for America’s arrogance and addiction to war, to petroleum, and its servility to Zionism.
'We were never alone'
But while we may decry this lack of concern for our circumstances, we must not engage in the same forgetfulness and disregard for the oppression of other disenfranchised, criminalised communities.
We must not engage in the same forgetfulness and disregard for the oppression of other disenfranchised, criminalised communities
We must not ignore the fact that, long before “they came for us”, they had already been coming for the Indigenous Nations, and the African-Americans, and, in cyclical episodes of bigotry targeted at specific communities, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Jews.
President-elect Donald Trump, just like Clinton would have done if elected (indeed just as she has done in her long years as a politician) is continuing a legacy of racism as long as the history of this nation, which was founded on genocide and slavery.
And it is only now, when a significant majority of the people will be impacted (LGBTQAI, recent immigrants, people of colour, poor people, and more) at the same time, rather than in isolation, that there is an outcry. Let us seize this opportunity.
Now, then, is the time for even greater solidarity, for intersectional analysis, coalition work, joint organising, and watching out for each other, because now, we must understand that we were never alone, and that we cannot win this alone.
We, who must remain indigestible in the belly of the beast, refusing it nourishment, until it expires, bloated but starved. Then we can start building the different world we aspire to live in, which Clinton would not have given us.
Then we would have finally set ourselves free.
- Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin' "Demographic Threat?" Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of Gender and Global Studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: US Venture Scout Hidayah Martinez Jaka listens to remarks by Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley following a noon service at the ADAMS Center Mosque on 11 December 2015 in Sterling, Virginia (AFP)