'This is our country'

Muslim Americans are scared, but they’re going to fight back against Donald Trump

Getty/Spencer Platt

When Somia Elrowmeim’s 11- and 8-year-old daughters woke up this morning, she didn’t know how to break the news to them: Donald Trump was the next president of their country.

The little girls were heartbroken. At school they had proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in a mock election. As Arab and Muslim Americans, they were also terrified.

“Now, mommy, I’m going be scared in the streets,” Elrowmeim recalled her eldest crying and saying. “How am I going to go to school? If any of us are attacked, are the police going to protect us or not?”

Elrowmeim, who’s family is originally from Yemen but now lives in Bay Ridge, an Arab enclave of Brooklyn, tried to stay calm. “I told them, ‘Nothing is going to happen. We are going to get out of this.'”

It’s Day One of Trump’s America, and America’s minority but highly stigmatized Muslim and Arab American communities are trying to figure out what this means for them—and how to cope and respond to the racism and anti-Muslim bigotry that in part fueled Trump’s ascension.

“All people here felt really sad and they can’t believe what happened yesterday,” Elrowmeim said with heavy emotion. “It was really surprising,” she added, “But we need to stand together, support each other, be united, and fight for each other.”

The landscape is nonetheless frightening. Around the same time that Elrowmeim was breaking the bad news to her kids, her sister in North Carolina was walking her son to school when they happened upon a man with a dog, which the little boy tried to pet. “Stay away from them—they’re Muslim,” the man yelled to his dog, according to the account Elrowmeim got from her sister.

By not only feeding off this bigotry, but also feeding it by mainstreaming racist policies like his ban on Muslim immigration, Trump has created a hostile environment for many American Muslims and Muslim immigrants.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported and “unprecedented spike” in anti-Muslim crimes “attributed at least in part to statements and policy proposals made by public figures like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.” Echoing CAIR’s report, and the everyday stories of Arab and Muslim Americans, a Georgetown University reported attacks against Muslim in 2015 were higher than 2014.

At the Arab American Association of New York in Bay Ridge, where Elrowmeim works, the talk this morning was how to prepare community members for an expected rise in hate crimes and discrimination. In recent months, the Association had already held workshops to teach people how to respond to hate crimes, job discrimination and other incidents. They are planning to hold more soon.

“When I talked with my students this morning they said they were very afraid from the new situation,” said Waem alrubaye, 56, who fled from her hometown of Baghdad, Iraq, three years ago and is now an adult education instructor at the association.

Rami Allan, 21, a Palestinian-Lebanese American, said his American citizenship didn’t make him necessarily feel safer. “Many white Americans they still look at you as if you’re an immigrant and an enemy,” he said.

Allan, who is studying political science and human rights at Hunter College in New York, said he worried about what pressures social justice activists like him may face under a Trump administration. He also saw a silver lining: more solidarity for social justice movements.

“Even though it’s very bad for us and it’s repercussions, on the bright side it’s going to make people more aware of the problems and take action against it,” Allan said. He was also realistic about the barriers: “I can imagine the police being more racist with the racially profiling here now that we have a president who endorses these practices.”

Allan worried about his place in America, but was also frustrated with the discourse behind some jokes about leaving.

“Many of us aren’t as privileged to be able to leave like white people,” Allan said. “They joke about moving to Canada, but people of color don’t have that same privilege. We are the most vulnerable now.”

Elrowmeim also felt a similar stigma. “This is our country,” she said. “My daughters were born in the United States of America. Where are we going to go?”

Ayman, 40, an Egyptian who requested his last name only be used for privacy reasons, was less worried this morning about becoming a target of rising racism. “The country has laws and I hope Trump will follow them,” he said at his print shop in Bay Ridge, which offers translation and immigration form assistance. He had no plans to return to Egypt. “The situation is not good there,” he said.

Ali Al Awaad, 33, a Yemeni American who owns a corner shop in Bay Ridge was actually “very happy.” He voted for Trump, he said, because he would be good for business and opposed Saudi Arabia, who is currently waging a war in Yemen.

In America’s Muslim and Arab American communities, Al Awaad is an outlier.

“We also want to make America great,” Elrowmeim said. “But not like Trump is.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that a North Carolina man told his son not to approach a Muslim family’s dog. It has been updated to reflect that the man yelled at his dog to stay away from the Muslim family.