As a young Muslim woman who was a child when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, I’ve grown up during the rise of Islamophobia in America. I’ve been physically and emotionally harassed and endured suspicious stares from my fellow American citizens. Like many other Muslim-Americans, I’ve developed a thick skin. But none of this prepared me, or my community, for the hate and fear mongering that was unleashed when Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign last summer.
The GOP candidate has made his disdain for Muslims clear. If elected, he’s promised to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S. and suggested that Muslim-Americans should be viewed as threats. He has also made incorrect and offensive assumptions about Muslim individuals, such as attributing the silence of Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan at the Democratic National Convention to her faith rather than to her overwhelming grief.
This rhetoric affects the American Muslim community as a whole, but in particular it affects Muslim women. Because we are a visible religious minority, we are very vulnerable. Our headscarves have become the lightning rods of anti-Muslim sentiment in our society. The bigoted comments made about Khan, immigrants, and Muslim refugees make all Muslim women and anyone who looks like us “other.”
Days after Trump first proclaimed our country should ban Muslim immigration, a man on my train in Manhattan put his hands on my headscarf and asked if I would let him take it off of me later. Recently, while at my neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts, a group of older white men walked in and sat at the table next to me. One of them was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. They said things like, “We were taught that if they shoot at us, then we f-cking shoot back,” and referred to someone they didn’t like as a “f-cking Muslim.” Scrolling through the news on his phone, one of the men exclaimed, “Another terroristic killer!” then looked at me and said, “A country united is a GREAT thing.”
Donald Trump and his supporters are fanning the flames of a misguided fear of Muslims, a fear that has had violent consequences. A new report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino shows that anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 78% from 2014 to 2015 across 20 states in the study. The report suggested that political rhetoric — like what we hear from at Trump rallies — can play a role in fueling these hate crimes.
Some of these hate crimes are happening in my own city. After the Paris terror attacks in November of last year, a group of boys assaulted a sixth-grade schoolgirl on a playground in the Bronx, ripping the scarf off her head while calling her “ISIS.” This September, a Muslim grandmother was stabbed to death in the streets of Queens and two Muslim women were attacked while pushing their babies in strollers in Brooklyn. Our editorial staff at MuslimGirl.com felt compelled to publish a “Crisis Safety Manual for Muslim Women.”
This election isn’t just about the next four years, or even eight — it’s about protecting an entire generation of little girls from having to spend the rest of their lives repairing the damages and undoing the stereotypes of Trump’s campaign. Trump has exploited the most un-American and undemocratic parts of our society for his gain.
The fact that I am once again afraid to walk the streets of my American hometown leaves me deeply concerned for the future of our country. What makes America great again for Trump and some of his supporters is what makes it dangerous for Muslims and other marginalized groups — and there’s nothing great about that.