What do I tell my kids about a Trump presidency

Trump’s win has devastated pretty much everyone I know on both sides of the political spectrum. From my children who wanted their ‘teammate’ Hillary to win, to friends, colleagues, and neighbours. This ‘victory’ doesn’t sit right with us. And it’s not because our person didn’t win. We’ve all dealt with being on the losing team before. This defeat is different. We’re talking about someone who built his campaign on threats, insults, lies, and fear. His campaign was grounded in hatred, bigotry, misogyny, ignorance, and intolerance. All the things we tell ourselves and our children they cannot and should not espouse… and yet he is now set to become leader of the free world. It’s just too much to take in (To anyone who’s trying to understand what that feeling of unease, degradation, and hurt is it’s how the rest of us feel when we’re attacked because of our race or religion. You know it’s completely wrong and false but it still feels shameful and painful.).

So what do we do now? What comes next? What do we tell our kids? First, hug your loved ones. I held my children a little closer this morning and checked in with my friends and family. I looked around at how my community was reeling from this latest setback and I grieved, and continue to grieve, with them. But soon we need to come out of this fog because, like it or not, we must learn to live in a world where Trump is going to be president.

I am tired of trying to explain to anyone why this is a terrifying moment. I am tired of explaining why this is not business as usual where we just press on. I am tired of trying to make others understand how unsettling this is. If you don’t understand now, in this moment, you won’t understand anytime soon.

So in my mind the absolute best thing to do today, tomorrow, and in anticipation of 2020 is to recommit to love and kindness. Practice it each and every day. Ingrain love and kindness in all you do, at home, with friends, with strangers, at work. Each and every day. If you have kids, teach them love and kindness in word and deed. Muslim, black, Latina, female, LGBTQ, immigrant, poor, middle class, birth control user, none of the aforementioned, whatever. Love and kindness.

Love is not an easy concept to embrace. Love requires us to set aside our prejudices (many of which have been held over lifetimes and generations) and face our fears of others without a tangible safety net. And it can be exhausting. For the most part, we are conditioned to mistrust and judge those we see as different to ourselves. But engaging in that behaviour has led us to this moment now. It has led us to a moment where Trump has been voted in as president on a platform of hatred. Love and kindness are not partisan issues; they are human ones.

So today, along with your children, friends, family members, and communities, let’s make a bold political statement: kindness and love. I am saddened that I live in a world where kindness is a political statement, but fine. I’ll take this as an opportunity to rededicate myself to this mission. I will teach it to my children through my actions, my words, and how I live my life. I will prove to them, and Trump, that his hatefulness will not darken the light of love. His assaults will not make me lash out at others, even if they’re different to me. His ignorance will not stop me from teaching my own children and learning new things with them. Kindness and love.

I will remember this bold political statement as I cry and think about how my boys may be treated as second class citizens simply because they’re Muslim.

I will remember love and kindness as I think about the immigrant families that are afraid they will be deported, separated, or worse.

I will remember this as I think of same-sex couples just wanting to live their lives like everyone else.

I will remember this as I think of the millions and millions of women who just want to be able to access life-saving health services and make decisions for their own bodies.

I will remember this as I think about how Black Lives Matter was labeled ‘trouble’.

I will remember this as I think of every single woman who is essentially being told that a man can treat her as an object to be grabbed, touched, and degraded at a man’s will.

It’s bewildering to think of what a Trump presidency may look like and depressing and downright terrifying to relive the hateful rhetoric that led to his successful election as president. But I believe love and kindness are our first defense against this ever happening again. I believe love and kindness can carry us through these first few overwhelming and crushing days, weeks, and months as we begin to process what happens next.

At this point, I feel it’s impossible to prepare against his policies because no one really knows what those are (Trump included…). So while we wait for this to shake out, I will continue to tell my children that bullying, intimidation, hatred, ignorance, and fear will not win. Trump and his supporters may attack my religion, my ethnic background, my gender, and many of the people I love, but they will not win.

Love and kindness 2020.

p.s. watch us come back stronger.

About the #ChapelHillShooting and the #CopenhagenShooting?

While my son and husband were at football this morning, I was happily cleaning the house and suddenly my phone blew up with notifications. ‘One person shot dead at free speech gathering in Copenhagen,’ ‘Suspected terror attack in Copenhagen’, ‘One dead at debate where Mohammed cartoonist is present’.  Naturally I was horrified.  But not necessarily for the reasons you think.

My son is Danish.  He’s also an American and Brit.  His father is (very) Scandinavian, having grown up in rural Denmark and I’m a British-Asian, who grew up in South Asia.  And, believe it or not, we’re a proud Muslim family.  Granted we’re not practicing Muslims, but we’re cultural Muslims.  I’m proud of my son’s mixed heritage and I believe it’s something to be celebrated.

But as I think back on this last week, I am filled with such sadness.  First, the three Muslim students who were mercilessly killed in North Carolina.  What an absolute tragedy for their families and their communities.  They had so much to offer the world and all that was taken from them in a truly horrific manner.  And now these shootings in Copenhagen.  What do I tell my son about the violence that’s happening in the places that he’s from?

Yusor and Deah at their wedding on December 27th, 2014.

Well, this: the media, world leaders, and people in our community only care about half of you and that is the white, Scandinavian half.  The Muslim/Arab-looking half of you will be shunned and shamed (for Islamist attacks that have nothing to do with us) until people like me, you, your father, and others speak up and speak out.  It took mere minutes for news outlets and social media to be all over the Copenhagen shooting and I would argue, rightly so.  A life taken too soon in a violent manner is newsworthy.  But days after Deah Barakat (23), Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha (21), and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) were shot, we still know very little about what happened.  How are we, as a world, ok with that? And how can you turn around and say that there isn’t a double standard in the way Muslim lives and deaths are reported versus non-Muslim (white) ones when you look at how the Chapel Hill shooting story unfolded vs the Copenhagen shootings? When I show my son the news coverage on both events how else will he interpret this?

Deah Barakat ( age 23), Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha (age 21), and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (age 19)

The honest truth is that I am terrified for my children.  I am angry beyond belief that the world has given such little time and attention to the murders of these students.  But more than anything I am scared for my children because they are Muslim and they look Muslim and the murders of their own people are being ignored, erased, or otherwise made invisible by the world and almost everyone is ok with that.  That is an absolutely terrifying thought to me because if my kids ever need it, will they be helped by their peers or ignored like Deah, Yusor, and Razan because they’re Muslim or Arab looking?  Or because they parked in the wrong place?  As a Muslim, a parent, and a human I am unnerved by how easily everyone has accepted the ‘parking space dispute’ theory as a motive for murder because on February 10th, 2015 Deah, Yusor, and Razan were the victims, but ten years ago that could have been my sister and I, and in 20 years that could my children and my nieces and nephews.  Yet the theory news outlets are espousing for the attack in Copenhagen is ‘terror’ and everyone has accepted that blindly.  Well according to the FBI, a terror attack is the unlawful use of force with the aim of intimidating a government or civilian population and let me tell you, the relative radio silence surrounding the murders of the three students has me and millions of other Muslims terrified so is one attack really more terror-related than the other?

It has already been said but it bears repeating, for many Muslims our issue is not that the murders were over a parking dispute.  If that is genuinely what these murders were about then that’s what they were about.  But in asking us to accept that, think about what you would do if you were told a Muslim barged into someone’s home and shot 3 young adults over a parking spot.  Would you simply accept that and move on or would you demand more answers from the people investigating and your news sources?  If you answer that question truthfully, it may shed some light on why so many Muslims are both outraged and terrified by the lack of media coverage on these murders.  With all the anti-Islamic sentiment in the world and the stigma attached to identifying as Muslim (especially if you wear a hijab), it is hard for many of us to simply accept this parking spot theory without more information.  If a Muslim had been the attacker, news coverage on these murders would still be rampant but less than five days on from the attack, one has to dig deep to find information on it.

I am raising a son who will naturally be curious about both the Chapel Hill shooting and the Copenhagen shootings because he is both Muslim and Danish.  But he will be caught between these worlds because I am raising him to proud of his Muslim identity, as well as his Danish, British, and American roots.  The world, though, cannot seem to wrap its head around a Muslim victim.  We must be the perpetrators of violence and terrorism and not at the receiving end of it.  The media and the world can both understand and accept a Muslim villain, but they are unwilling to accept a Muslim victim, unless that victim is stranded on a mountain or in a desert in some far-off land waiting for Western assistance.  That is the extent of our identity to Western media and this Chapel Hill attack and the lack of journalistic coverage on it has shown what a narrow and racist view of Muslims the world has.  I am saddened that my children and nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where they are either viewed as villains or not noticed at all.  For all my attempts to raise socially active, well educated, and enterprising children, the world will simply not see them because they do not fit into the popular understanding (supported, extended, and encouraged by mainstream media) of what a Muslim should be.  That is what the #ChapelHillShooting has taught me and what it will teach my son.

A life taken too soon is always something to be mourned and investigated fully.  A Muslim life (and death), it seems though, is either invisible, ignorable, or both.  But my children will not be ignored.  They will be Muslim.  And they will be Danish and British and American.  And they will have empathy for both the Chapel Hill and the Copenhagen victims because every act of violence and terror in the world is deplorable.  I will not let them compromise who they are because the world refuses to embrace and accept every part of their cultural heritage.  I will say it now and I will keep saying it until somebody actually listens: as a family we are Danish, American, and British, AND we are Muslim and the lives and deaths of our people matter.  Extremism will not break our tolerance.

Mourners at the funeral for the Chapel Hill victims.

#ChapelHillShootings #OurThreeWinners #CopenhagenShooting

About #JuSuisCharlie, #JuSuisAhmed, and the Attacks on Charlie Hebdo?

The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in France and the ensuing terror caused by the manhunt for the perpetrators has made for a scary and unsettling week for millions of people around the world.  For most of us this death and violence just seems so senseless and so frightening.  Whatever your politics or beliefs, there is no justification for killing and wounding people in this manner (please read here for more information on the victims).  In my mind, these tragic events highlight the huge disconnect between immigrant populations and the places they relocate to.  We have, thus far, responded to this gap by either doing nothing, proclaiming that our borders should be shut, or responding with violence in the places we think this extremism is coming from.  Very little is being done to actually engage with those who immigrate and those who oppose immigration, but time and again these voices have erupted with a bang in the form of 9/11 in the US, the7/7 bombings in the UK, the far-right gaining more supporters across Europe, and now the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  What I will tell my kids about this latest attack and its implications?

The first thing I will tell them is that the gunmen shot indiscriminately.  They killed people born and raised in France, immigrants, men, women, atheists, Muslims, etc.  They were intent on killing, not on defending their faith.  This was an entirely un-Islamic thing to do and can, in no way, be a reflection of Muslims in France or anywhere else in the world.  It takes more than a few phrases shouted in Arabic to make you a Muslim, just as it takes more than buying presents at Christmas to make you Christian.

Second, this debate is not about free speech.  It’s not about free speech because this magazine pokes fun at everyone from everywhere so who exactly was being defended by these killings and who should be the most offended by what the magazine is publishing?  Our response, however, is also not about the freedom to draw or write without fear of being killed (by a Muslim.  That is what people are both thinking and saying).  Freedom of speech/press could be an entire blog post on its own but just as a summary point, France is one of the numerous countries in which it is a crime to deny that the Holocaust happened.  If that is not a violation of free speech, then what is?  This is an absolutely crucial point that cannot and should not be overlooked.  It’s not about whether or not denying the Holocaust is something that you want to ever do, it’s about defending your right to do so.  Or at least that’s what the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag would proclaim.

Third, I’ll talk to my kids about how we report on this issue being a major part of the problem.  For the first 36 hours of this ordeal, there was much talk of how the gunmen were immigrants (they were in fact born in France to Algerian parents and raised in orphanages and foster homes).  Once their ids had been established they were still referred to as ‘French citizens’ and not just ‘French’ or even ‘French nationals’, hinting at their not-quite-Frenchness.  For those first 36 hours virtually nothing, however, was said about how some of the Charlie Hebdo staff were also immigrants or about the fact that the police officer who was shot was Muslim.  At the end of the day a life is a life regardless of nationality, creed, religion, sexual orientation, etc. BUT you cannot on the one hand treat these extremists as immigrants (read other, different, foreign) and the victims of their crimes as French (or in other words normal and one of us).  This approach is part of the problem of alienation and isolation that immigrant populations feel that then make radical fringe groups more appealing to them.  Please understand that I am no in no way explaining the actions of these men.  I am merely highlighting the very real ‘us vs them’ mentality we have towards immigrants both in the Western media and in our everyday lives.  We want them to be just like us in our society but we look at them differently, we treat them differently, we never truly accept them as part of our social fabric.  As a first generation Brit with immigrant parents, I am speaking from experience.  My children will grow up in the US as first generation Americans with immigrant parents.  They too may feel that sting of rejection when they tell people their Arab-sounding names (wait, you’re not called Steve?) or explain their background.  They will never be quite American or British or Danish enough.

Fourth I will speak to my children about how it’s possible that two men who were French (I cannot find any news reports that state that they ever held any other nationality) grew up to slaughter their own countrymen.  This is terrifying to me.  I lived in Manchester when the 7/7 bombings happened in London and I remember back then thinking to myself ‘these boys grew up like my family, as Asians born and brought up in the UK who were British.  They could be my cousins or my brother.  How did they slip through the cracks?’  Unfortunately we have been so busy fighting violence with more violence (the War on Terror) that we have forgotten to address the social implications of immigration.  How does someone who is born in the UK or the US or France, who grows up there, who goes to school there, and has friends who are the same nationality and part of that culture, how do they feel so isolated and so alone and so detached from their own society that they feel closer to jihadists halfway around the world than their neighbors, teachers, and friends? How does that happen?  France can respond to this latest attack by killing those responsible and possibly breaking up some camps in Syria or Iraq, but that is merely dealing with the manifestation of this social disconnect and not the root cause.  As long as we continue to ignore those root causes, this disconnect will be a problem.  That is a terrifying thought to me but if my generation is not able to look for these answers, it will fall to my children’s generation to do so if they ever hope to live in any kind of peace.

And this is a two-way street.  I absolutely do not agree with right-wing policies regarding immigration across Europe and the US.  But there have to be reasons why these parties are gaining support.  In order to combat this radicalization we need to understand why this problem exists and the extent of the problem.  Merely dismissing far-right policies as (insert choice phrase here) because they don’t agree with yours is not helpful, it’s not smart, and it’s not going to fix the problem.  We need to start talking about immigration seriously.  I’m British, of Pakistani descent, my husband is from rural Denmark, and my son is a Muslim, mixed race boy who is American, Danish, and British.  Clearly I believe in the benefits of immigration and the mixing of cultures and races but I also believe that both migrants and the communities receiving them need support in ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible.

So no, like so many others I am not #JuSuisCharlie.  I will tell my kids that this attack goes way beyond that debate.  Be respectful of those who were killed and acknowledge what a senseless and awful loss their deaths were.  Then look to how two boys who grew up as French nationals in France felt so isolated and so far removed from their own country that they turned to radicalism and slaughter instead.  The chances are if this is their story, it’s about to be someone else’s too.  Maybe instead of fighting guns with more guns, it’s time to start addressing the poverty and isolation many migrants feel.  We have tried being aggressive and it hasn’t worked yet.  Maybe the time has come to start a dialogue with both immigrants and those who oppose them to understand their issues and start to construct homegrown solutions to tackle this extremism on both ends of the spectrum.  Maybe it’s time for us to kill (homegrown extremism) with kindness.  I will tell my kids that engagement, tolerance, and dialogue across the board will go a long way to tackling radicalism around the world and at home.

About Being an American Muslim in 2014 and Beyond?

I am a cultural Muslim.  That is, I grew up with Muslim parents, in a Muslim country, observing Muslim holidays and practices.  I have never eaten pork in my life (and despite the delicious and tempting smell of bacon, I don’t think I will), I have had the great fortune of completing a pilgrimage to Mecca with my family, and yet, as an adult, I don’t practice the religion myself.  I don’t pray, I (somewhat regrettably) don’t fast, I’ve never read the Koran in its entirety, and I don’t give nearly enough of my money to charity.  Although my husband converted to Islam (to appease my family), he practices no religion and believes in no god or higher power.  And yet our son has a Muslim name, doesn’t eat pork, celebrates Eid, and greets his family with the traditional Salaam and Khuda Hafiz.

The best way I can explain this is to restate: I am a cultural Muslim.  Islam is so entrenched in my being that much like an American would find it hard to divorce Thanksgiving from their American identity, I find it impossible to separate Islam from who I am.  It’s of little consequence that I don’t believe in god or the rituals of any religion.  Islam is part of my identity and I’m proud to say that it always will be.

I imagine (and hope) that this is how my children will feel when they’re older.  But I also know that my children will be American first and cultural Muslims second (or maybe third or fourth).  They’ll go to American schools, live in American cities, have many American (read non-Muslim) friends, and be American.  What do I tell them about being an American Muslim when their nation is at the forefront of the ignorance surrounding Islam? How do I ensure they remain proud of every facet of their cultural heritage despite what is said about it?

I’ve decided to approach this first by instilling confidence in my children.  I want them to know they are smart, beautiful, and perfect exactly the way they are.  Even the Muslim part of them.  Even the Arab-looking part of them.  They. Are. Perfect.  Will they believe this when they’re teenagers or young adults? I don’t know but nothing will stop me from telling them this.

Second, I want them to be tolerant of everyone as long as they don’t preach hatred or spread hurt and destruction.  So my kids can be whatever they want and embrace whatever practices they want so long as they don’t try and cause others harm.  This means if they meet people that are religious but they themselves choose not to be, they will be utterly respectful of those people’s choices and their right to choose whatever religion or belief system they want.  My mum, for example, prays 5 times a day, observes Ramadan, and is a practicing Muslim.  She never, however, forces me to follow these same practices.  Would she prefer that I practiced Islam in the same way as her? Of course, but to her the two most important things are her own personal and private relationship with god and that I am kind to those around me.  Giving me the freedom to be the kind of Muslim that was right for me was one of the best gifts my mother ever gave me.

Third, I expect them to take it upon themselves to be well educated when it comes to religion.  We know that IS in no way reflects the views of most Muslims or the principles of the religion so I want my kids to be aware of the same misrepresentations of other religions before they form those opinions.

Fourth I will tell them that they never have to apologize for or justify who they are.  They are Muslims (in whatever capacity) and just because some extremists have hijacked Islam for their own selfish and perverse needs doesn’t mean this is in any way a reflection of Islam, Muslims, or my children.  In my 29 years I have never tried to explain away my Muslim heritage and I never will.  Just like I don’t ask my Jewish friends to justify or explain Zionist ideals or my Christian friends to explain how blowing up an abortion clinic could be right, I expect to be able to practice (or not) my Muslim ideals without fear or judgment or reproach.  We are a prime of example of how millions of Muslims around the world feel; we should embrace that.

It’s my hope that by talking about Islam and Muslim identity with my kids, it will help break down the stigma of identifying as a Muslim (and believe me, there is stigma attached to this identification).  I hope my kids will then take this one step further and think ‘well if people judge me so harshly for identifying as a Muslim, who am I judging prematurely and is that judgment really justified?’

I have a lot to tell my kids about being an American Muslim.  Pride, acceptance, tolerance, knowledge – that is what being an American, a Muslim, and an American Muslim is about.