“Did she win?” My bleary-eyed nine-year-old had fallen asleep on our couch the previous night, as the polls closed in Florida. When she sat across the breakfast table from me, I had to break the news that, while her own state of Virginia might have (narrowly) opted for Hillary Clinton, most of the other swing states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan – went with Donald Trump. “So we won’t have a female president?” she asked, looking disconsolate.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that she, we, minority communities across the board, had bigger problems to worry about. The normalisation of racism, of antisemitism, of misogyny, but, above all else – in terms of the impact on her own life and future – Islamophobia.
How do I reveal to my Muslim daughter that women who look and dress like her mother have had their hijabs torn from their heads, as part of a wave of physical attacks on people of colour since election day? Or that her fellow schoolkids aren’t inoculated from this sort of violent hatred either? A Muslim high-school teacher in Georgia was left a note on her desk telling her to “hang” herself with her hijab, which “isn’t allowed any more”. The note was signed, “America”.
"How do I explain to my daughter, a proud US citizen who recites the pledge of allegiance in class every morning, that millions of her fellow Americans elected as her next president a man who claims her faith “hates” America, and who falsely accused Muslim Americans of celebrating on 9/11 and of not reporting terrorists to the authorities?"
How do I explain to my daughter, a proud US citizen who recites the pledge of allegiance in class every morning, that millions of her fellow Americans elected as her next president a man who claims her faith “hates” America, and who falsely accused Muslim Americans of celebrating on 9/11 and of not reporting terrorists to the authorities? On Monday, the FBI revealed that hate crimes against Muslims in the US increased by 67% in 2015, to reach a level of attacks not seen since the aftermath of 9/11.
How do I share with her that one of his signature policy plans was to prevent her grandparents, her cousins, her uncles and aunts – basically every single Muslim relative of hers living abroad – from entering the US purely on the basis of their religion? (The notorious “Muslim ban” proposal is still up on his website after having temporarily disappeared the day after the election.)
How do I break it to her that the “ban” isn’t the only Trump proposal to brazenly discriminate against peaceful, law-abiding Muslims? That the president-elect has also said that my daughter and other Muslim Americans have to be registered on a database and, when asked by a reporter how his proposal differed from the Nazi registry of German Jews, he replied: “You tell me.”
How do I talk to her about Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares, subject of an investigation by Mother Jones magazine. There is no suggestion that he has carried out acts of violence, but the magazine claimed that he was an official for “an umbrella group of Christian militias … accused of committing atrocities” against Muslims in 1980s Lebanon, and yet is now tipped for a senior White House role? Or former House speaker Newt Gingrich – who wants to “test” Muslim Americans and “deport” those who believe in sharia law, and has called for a new House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate “Islamic supremacists” – who is in line for a big Cabinet job under Trump? Or retired general Michael Flynn, who has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is rational”, and is now tipped to become either defence secretary or national security adviser?
Or former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has bragged about sending undercover police into New York and New Jersey mosques, and who is now a hot favourite for the job of secretary of state? Or former Reagan official Frank Gaffney, who has called Barack Obama “America’s first Muslim president” and has been labelled “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was said to have been appointed to the Trump transition team on Tuesday, though he subsequently denied it.
How do I explain to her that the best way to identify a Trump supporter in the US, according to a recent study by Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, is to ask: “Just one simple question: is Barack Obama a Muslim?” Because “if they are white and the answer is yes,” says Klinkner, “89 per cent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton”, and it is more accurate than asking people their views on the economy or even if they are Republican.
How do I tell her about the Ku Klux Klan, a domestic US hate group traditionally known for white nationalism and anti-black racism, but now recruiting new members “to fight the spread of Islam”? The KKK officially endorsed Trump’s presidential bid while former Klan leader David Duke bragged that “our people” played a “huge role” in getting him elected to the Oval Office. Next month, an emboldened KKK is planning a pro-Trump celebration parade in North Carolina. How do I show her pictures of that?
I can’t put it off much longer. At some stage soon I have to have the conversation with my daughter that all Muslim parents dread. The “Islamophobia conversation”. The discussion in which you have to ask your child to be restrained, to be careful when they talk about their faith and their beliefs in public because, unbeknown to them, there are people out there who see them as a threat; who fear Muslims and loathe Islam.
How do I tell her that one of those people now includes her own president?