To be Muslim in Trump’s America

Published: June 17, 2016
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The writer is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He tweets @zfebrahim

The writer is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He tweets @zfebrahim

In 1944, the US Supreme Court upheld the decision to detain Fred Korematsu under Executive Order No 9,066 issued by President Franklin D Roosevelt. Korematsu, 19 years of age, was among 120,000 US citizens of Japanese ancestry who were removed from their homes and detained at internment centres in California and Arizona. Most Japanese-Americans detained were Christians. Three-fourths were born in the US. Many thousands could not even speak Japanese. But they all looked like the enemy who had bombed Pearl Harbour.

There are no points for guessing who looks like the enemy today for many Americans. If you are Muslim, born in America or have emigrated from Pakistan, Afghanistan or the Middle East, then you fit the description. No amount of Facebook posts condemning the savage attack in Orlando or highlighting the fact that Omar Mateen’s faith had nothing to with the teachings of Islam, a religion of peace, will make much difference.

Omar Mateen mercilessly killed 49 innocent people in a gay nightclub, which he used to frequent himself. The killings are cited as the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. According to his Afghan immigrant father, it was homophobia that led his son to violence. His former wife cites mental illness. Gun control activists bemoan the ease with which he was able to access deadly automatic weapons. But according to the next president of America, whether Democrat or Republican, the cause is “radical Islamic terrorism”. Under pressure from her rival, even the reluctant Hillary Clinton is now pointing fingers at ‘radical Islamic terrorism’.

According to the presumptive Republican nominee for US president, Donald Trump, “what has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough!” The ban Trump wants is on the entry of all Muslims into America. He also wants to be tough on those who have already gotten in.

How do you get tough? Well, one idea peddled on the fringes of US politics till now, is to repeat what the US did to its Japanese-American citizens after the Pearl Harbour attack. In the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting last December, where a young immigrant couple from Pakistan shot and killed 14 fellow Americans, Trump was “asked whether he would have supported Japanese internment camps”. He said that he “could not say for certain”.

Despite being investigated and interviewed three times, Omar Mateen was not deemed to be terrorist material by the FBI. It is the failure to understand what drove the New York-born Mateen to commit mass murder in a gay club and the unfortunate inevitability that others may follow in his path that makes the unthinkable thinkable — forced relocation of a stigmatised community.

Trump has not called for interning American Muslims. At least not yet. But, there were other voices, even before Orlando, who supported such proposals for individuals if not the entire community. According to the Oxford-educated, US General Wesley Clark, “It is our right and obligation to segregate [radical Muslims] from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”

In the months since the terrorist attacks in Paris last November and the mass shooting in San Bernardino last December, “reports of attacks and threats against Muslims in the United States have surged” according to The New York Times. The level of ignorance involved in such attacks is such that vandals spray-painted abusive graffiti that referred to the Islamic State on a Sikh temple.

The American people face a great challenge. In the battle against terror, they must fight the flames of ignorance and fear lest it engulfs their most cherished ideals of freedom. There is much to be learned from the lessons of 1942 when an entire community was stigmatised with collective guilt for the actions of a criminal few.

The voice of Fred Korematsu, the 19-year-old Japanese-American who refused to be detained under Executive Order No 9,066, bears repeating. Many years later, Korematsu told reporters, “I didn’t feel guilty because I didn’t do anything wrong… Every day in school, we said the pledge to the flag, ‘with liberty and justice for all’ and I believed all that. I was an American citizen and I had as many rights as anyone else.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • gebde
    Jun 18, 2016 - 12:18AM

    Before writing about a hypothetical situation about what would be the conditions of Muslims if Trump wins, wouldn’t it be more prudent for the author to write about the conditions of
    the minorities in PakistanRecommend

  • Rahul
    Jun 18, 2016 - 12:23AM

    Most Americans don’t care what your religion is. They don’t ask you and you don’t have to tell them. It is Muslims sitting in Pakistan who worry about American Muslims, Indian Muslims, Palestinian Muslims, European Muslims and Burmese Muslims. Pakistani Muslims don’t care about their fellow Pakistanis but are up to date on any slight suffered by any Muslim anywhere in a non-Muslim majority country.Recommend

  • Paul
    Jun 18, 2016 - 12:32AM

    Now just think about what you wrote, and how Indians think about those Muslims who brand their religion on their soul and feel they must bleed others with a thousand cuts just for being Indian.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 18, 2016 - 1:53AM

    Perhaps the author might next write an opinion about “Being Ahmadi in Pakistan” to see how the shoe feels on the other foot!
    Are they not PAKISTANI CITIZENS, and as such have rights just like every other citizen???
    BTW, the author somehow missed that Omar Mateen was STILL on the terrorist watch list!
    BTW, “Automatic Weapons” (machine guns) in America are almost impossible to acquire, requiring about six months worth of FBI/BATF paperwork along with hefty fees!
    Legal clip fed guns in America that avoid the above hassle are all Semi-Automatic!Recommend

  • F Khan
    Jun 18, 2016 - 2:59AM

    Whatever written and said let’s brace the fact that Omar Mateen has made sure that Trump reaches the white house.So lets fasten our seat belts for a Bush-v2x10.Recommend

  • Kolsat
    Jun 18, 2016 - 5:21AM

    Muslims should try to fully integrate with the mainstream Americans and making frinds. They should dress like them and live like them while still practicing their religion. The problem is practicing religion in the face of Americans like building austentacious mosques with Saudi money and doing namaz on the streets as they do in Sydney and London. Stop such behaviour and experience the difference. Recommend

  • Adil Haque New Zealand Proudly Bharatiya
    Jun 18, 2016 - 7:07AM

    When you are taught every moment after you are born that your religion is more important than even a friend, a colleague, a citizen of your own country if their religious faith is different to yours, then you cannot breed diversity only bigotry…And unless this mind set is changed world is not safe.

    I rest my case.Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Jun 18, 2016 - 8:10AM

    “…… There is much to be learned from the lessons of 1942 when an entire community was stigmatised with collective guilt for the actions of a criminal few….”

    Such things are a part of the history of South Asia too .

    ” Collective guilt ” should never present in an ideal world, but generally the entire community is stigmatized for centuries in the public perception .

    Why this business of collective communal punishment ????? Man’s mind is irrational .Recommend

  • bridegeller
    Jun 18, 2016 - 8:35AM

    Aww, is the sky fallin’ Henny Penny?Recommend

  • wiserneighbour
    Jun 18, 2016 - 9:40AM

    Author is more worried about what will happen to American Muslims!!! When minorities in Pakistan is wiped out either by forceful conversion or targeted killing.This is pure hypocrisy.Keep your house in order before harping about others.Recommend

  • Adnan
    Jun 18, 2016 - 11:04AM

    Trump wouldn’t be nearly as bad as being a non-Muslim in an Islamic nation.Recommend

  • Reader
    Jun 18, 2016 - 9:59PM

    Does the writer know how many non-Muslims have lost their lives in Pakistan since August 1947 thru violent means, does he know how many have received any sort of trial? does he know how many violent cases against minorities go unreported. Does he know what the percentage of of Minorities were at the time of independence and what it is now? Doctor heal thy self. Recommend

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