My name is Intisar. Many of you know me because you’ve already read something I’ve written, but for those of you who happen across this letter, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I write young adult fantasy. My stories are about mighty girls living in worlds that look a lot like ours–which is to say, they’re complex, and diverse, and little bit gritty, even if there is a fair bit of magic floating around. These are the kinds of stories I thirsted for as a kid, and I love even the most miserable moments of the writing process. (That’s usually the editing, which is also usually the longest part of the process. There’s a bit of irony in there somewhere.)
But I’m more than just a writer: I’m a homeschooling mama to two young girls who are an absolute delight (except when they’re not, which happens). Before I left work to focus on my family and writing, I worked with our local health department to address infant mortality in Cincinnati (where our African American families were losing their babies at three times the national average) and community health generally. I received my masters in public health from Johns Hopkins University. I can go on about all the things I am: sister, wife, daughter, volunteer, rescuer of stray cats, Girl Scout leader… it’s a long list whenever we try to define ourselves. But there’s one part of my identity that has come to the fore in the current election:
It’s strange, really, to live in the times we do. Our technology is so advanced, and yet history repeats itself over and over again. We’re all still human, no matter what our gadgets do, and so we keep on doing the same things we always have: slipping into patterns that create an us vs. them mentality; dehumanizing each other; making war on others so we don’t look at our own internal problems; heck, scapegoating huge groups of people based on some aspect of their identity–that they’re women, or people of color, or of a just not “from here,” or anything really. It’s amazing the ways we’ve found to discriminate.
As a Muslim American, I have some interesting memories. I remember a neighbor sitting down to a steak dinner at our house when I was six or seven years old and telling my parents they were going to hell. I remember buying pepper spray and being careful–so careful–about walking home alone because two other people in my university town had already been assaulted, one of them hospitalized, in the wake of 9/11. My first year after graduating, I remember waking up the day after Christmas to find that a neighbor had somehow heaved their old Christmas tree over the six foot fence between us into my back yard.
There are, of course, counter-stories. There were the neighbors who made me feel like I was part of their family; the women who called our Muslim Students Association and offered to walk anyone anywhere in order to assure our safety; the neighbors who rushed out of their homes and hauled the Christmas tree away while I was still pondering where Christmas trees go when they’re no longer wanted. I’m grateful for these counter-stories, so very very grateful for the love and care and respect inherent in them. When I think of my country, this is what makes me proud to be American.
But through all these years, all these incidents (far more than I’ve described above), there was at least one other thing I had: my elected political leaders were absolutely clear that I was not an enemy, that Islam was not “the problem.” The media might paint overly simplistic narratives of Islam, there might be extremists specifically trying to change the face of Islam and further that “us vs. them” mentality, but at the end of the day, my leaders didn’t think I was dangerous just for believing in one god and striving to live by the golden rule.
This presidential campaign marks a turning point in political rhetoric. And it’s a rhetoric that has been negative in so many ways that it boggles the mind. A single candidate has normalized the voicing of sexist, racist, able-ist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic statements, among others. This has had a very real and documented impact on life as we know it. Trump’s campaign has been linked to the steep rise of anti-Muslim violence over the last year or more. According to another report on the impact of the presidential campaign on schools, Trump’s campaign is producing “an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.” Let that sink in. Just sit with it for a moment.
This probably isn’t your life. Maybe it is–I don’t know. But tonight I want to give you a window into my life. My little girls are six and four years old. For Halloween, they dressed up as a blue unicorn and a “monkey-bee.” They are sweet, and innocent, and so very alive with love and hope. And I worry. I worry about what will happen to them when there are politicians who can talk about the national registration of all Muslims, and point to our history of registering and then interning Japanese Americans as a precedent worth repeating. I worry about white supremacist groups like the KKK openly endorsing a major political candidate who is happy to have them. This is not the America I know. This is not the America I have loved and learned from and worked to care for. This is an America that is giving up civic discourse, deep and thoughtful assessment and reflection on the challenges our country faces, for simplistic, angry stances based on ignorance and bias.
Trump has normalized rhetorics of hate and mockery. He uses bullying tactics to stop those who speak up–and they often work. And he is changing our culture. He is making it acceptable, laudable even, to speak one’s biases and prejudices with pride. Under such a presidency, anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence will continue to skyrocket. My children would become (in fact, already are) easy targets for hate crimes, just from their names, but especially so if they’re seen with me–a hijab-wearing woman. I can envision a future in which national registration leads to “relocation” to internment camps. And that’s just the impact I see on myself as a Muslim American. I have no doubt that there will be an increase of hate crimes against Latinos, a bolstering of rape culture with a linked increase in sexual assault, a reduction in empathy–and then services–for individuals with disabilities. It is not that far fetched, because it’s already beginning.
This is an America that terrifies me. This is an America that is losing its heart, losing that core of love and care and respect that always came through to me before. As a nation, we have done some terrible things–history speaks to that very well. But we have struggled over decades and centuries to find our way to better ways, to a rule of law that respects us all. It is chilling to watch us slide back so easily, losing hard-won ground in a matter of months.
Next week the world will be watching who we elect as our next president. So will my family and I. The impact of this election for us is very, very real. Never has voting for a political candidate been aligned with our physical safety, with a reduction or increase in crimes against people of my faith, with the possible stripping away of our civil rights as Americans–which is to say, with the stripping away of our identity as Americans.
I know that both of the major candidates running for election this year are flawed. Last week, when I voted early for Hillary Clinton, I did so knowing that she approves of the use of drone strikes that regularly involve “collateral damage” that look a lot like children and families to me. I voted for her knowing that I disagreed on a number of major policy issues that don’t need to be gone into here–but I did so also knowing that a vote for Hillary was a vote against a rhetoric of hate and violence that could very well destroy my family and I. It was a vote for Hillary’s own discourse of building our strength on our diversity as a nation. It was a vote for continuing to care for and love and respect those around us, however different we may all be. Because, as a nation, that has always been where our true strength, and beauty, and–dare I say it?–greatness lies.