FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, Donald Trump’s three primary election victories last night represented new momentum for the party’s likely presidential nominee. For Muslims living in the United States today, particularly young people born and raised here, the wins reveal disturbing truths about the views of millions of their fellow citizens.
“Trump has managed to tap into and legitimize xenophobic sentiments towards Muslims that were already there for a lot of people,” says Maytha Alhassen, a PhD researcher in American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. “We’re all scared of what could happen to Muslim Americans if he’s elected, but we should keep in mind that laws reflective of his beliefs are already being drafted and proposed today.”
In Michigan, which has a large Muslim population, exit polls last night showed that over 60 percent of GOP voters favored Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from the country. Figures like this show Trump’s views are by no means on the fringes of society. “Even if he doesn’t win the election,” Alhassen says, “the country is still going to have to deal with the unbridled xenophobia that his campaign has awoken.”
In recent months, Trump has proposed shutting down mosques and banning non-citizen Muslims from the country, and he endorsed creating a national database of Muslims (even if he later claimed, dubiously, that he was merely open to the idea). Exit polls conducted in the aftermath of his primary victories show that huge numbers of voters actually support these discriminatory and likely unconstitutional proposals.
Asad Dandia is an NYU student who took part in a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD over its spying on Muslim student groups on campus. In 2012, a charity that Dandia started along with several other students from his school was infiltrated by an NYPD informant, who recorded their conversations and personal details. Earlier this year, the city settled with him and other plaintiffs in the case, promising new policies that are supposed guard against the sort of discrimination that led to mass surveillance of Muslim communities in the city.
For Dandia, the broad public support for Trump is alarming.
“It’s scary when you read the statistics and the polls and you see the large number of people who support the kinds of fascist views that Trump is putting out,” Dandia said. “It has now become acceptable to verbalize such things at the national level, and these perspectives inevitably trickle down to the rest of society as well.”
Although Trump’s ideas might be more outlandish than those of his rivals, anti-Muslim policies have long been a feature of American political life.
In recent years, a number lawsuits and investigative reports have uncovered the existence of widespread, blanket surveillance of Muslim Americans and their communities. Muslims in the U.S. have been subjected to racial profiling, pressured to become informants, and subjected to routine humiliation and discrimination while traveling.
Such discrimination is increasingly legislated into policy as well. In December, Congress passed a bill that discriminated against dual citizens from several Muslim-majority countries, a move cited by advocacy groups as reflecting rising xenophobia in the country.
Many of the “establishment” candidates for the GOP nomination have also espoused views that are deeply prejudicial toward Muslims. If anything, Trump’s biggest sin may be failing to speak in code about his beliefs.
“Having been involved in the surveillance case and involved in Muslim student groups that were targeted by authorities, I would say that a lot of the policies that Trump is proposing are reflective of an Islamophobic consensus that preceded him,” Dandia says. “He is essentially the Frankenstein of the Republican Party. After all these years of incitement, warmongering, and racism, the widespread support for Trump’s candidacy we’re now seeing is the inevitable result.”
While Trump currently trails his likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in presidential polls, it’s by no means impossible to envision a Trump presidency. Trump has managed to create a significant political constituency over the past year that has proven it is willing to actually go to the polls and cast votes for him.
So what happens to Muslim Americans and others if he wins?
“Trump’s popularity should be seen in context: as a reaction to the movements for social and political justice that have grown in strength over the past few years,” says Mohammad Khan, secretary of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York. “Its not an abstraction to me, its very real that he could win.”
But despite the popularity of Trump’s candidacy and the significant popular support for his ideas, Khan says he is optimistic about the prospects for Muslim Americans in the long term. “I see the way that Muslims in America are organizing, developing political power, and finding common ground with other marginalized communities,” he says.
“Whatever happens, we’re going to keep fighting for social justice and civil rights in this country.”