On September 6, I welcomed my first child into the world. I was filled with joy and hope. And on November 9, I awoke afraid for her future. As an American Muslim, the prospect of having Donald Trump in charge of the country is absolutely terrifying.
The America of my dreams has always been a place that aspires to provide equal opportunity for all its citizens. It holds firm to the principles that all are created equal; justice is blind to race, religion, or creed; and individuals can only be judged for their own actions. Yet it’s becoming clearer by the day that as Muslims, my wife, our daughter, and I might become exceptions to these cherished principles.
Members of President-elect Trump’s transition team and cabinet selections have said horrifying things about Islam and Muslims, grounded in pure racism and xenophobia. There is a profound sense of betrayal when the leaders who are supposed to be tasked with protecting our security, rights, and communities are precisely the ones advocating for policies that will directly harm us. How can someone purport to be a leader when they hate and mistrust those over whom they’ve been given authority?
For example, Trump’s new national security advisor, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, has publicly called Islam a “political ideology, not a religion,” that is “like cancer,” and written that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” Equally troubling, the incoming CIA director, Rep. Michael Pompeo, has stated that American Muslims are complicit in acts of terrorism because they do not condemn them strongly enough—a deeply offensive and counterfactual suggestion.
Such appointments indicate the paucity of Mr. Trump’s claims to represent all Americans. Instead, it’s clear that some groups are simply preferable to others. In order to curry favor with those already predisposed to hate and fear Islam, the president-elect is willing to subject an already-stigmatized group to even greater marginalization, this time at the hands of those government agencies which are supposed to be their last line of defense. Such actions inherently label Muslims as second-class citizens in our own country, and send a clear message that equality is only for some.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Mr. Trump’s transition team has reportedly already begun conversations about forming a registry of American Muslims. It’s challenging to pinpoint exactly which element of this policy is most abhorrent: that it assumes that being a Muslim is enough to make an individual inherently suspect, thus promoting greater public suspicion that will almost certainly lead to an even greater rise in hate crimes; that it selectively ignores the FBI’s own findings that the majority of terrorist acts in the U.S. are committed by non-Muslims; that it would represent a massive expenditure of law enforcement resources and energy that would more effectively be spent following credible leads; or that it recalls the registration of other groups throughout history, such as German Jews in the early 20th century. Ultimately, perhaps it’s that such a policy is the ultimate disavowal of some of our country’s core principles: that an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that citizens can only be judged for the actions that they commit, not for the sins of another.
Opposing such initiatives will require Americans from all backgrounds to stand up and loudly declare that they will not be slotted into categories, that either everyone in our country has the same rights and freedoms, or else ultimately no one does. It will demand a call to action on a massive scale from people on both sides of the political spectrum who recognize that the privileged group of today can easily become the oppressed minority of tomorrow. And it will require people of conscience to staunchly oppose any encroachment on the rights of their fellow citizens, whatever form that might ultimately take. The path forward must be walked together, or it cannot be walked at all.
John Robbins is the executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.