On Inauguration Day, I breathed out a sigh of relief that I had been holding in for over four years. Every single day of the Trump presidency was a nightmare for American Muslims, and I was grateful to finally witness the end of his overtly racist and discriminatory administration and Biden’s immediate repeal of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. And while I was glad to support President Biden’s bid to elect Trump out of office, I am also cognizant of the fact that the work to overcome our community’s challenges will continue under his administration as well.
President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was blatant on the 2016 campaign trail. He promised to ban refugees and Muslims, stated that “Islam hates us,” and dismissed attacks on minorities by his supporters as “passionate.” Thanks to him and other Islamophobic candidates, anti-Muslim hate crimes reached their highest numbers since 9/11. I cried the day after the election, fearful of what was to come and uncertain of how I would endure until November 2020.
I worried for good reason. Just days after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order banning all refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. I was working at a refugee resettlement agency when the “Muslim ban” dropped and heard heartbreaking stories from numerous refugees cruelly separated from their families as a result of the ban. Over the next four years, Trump introduced new iterations of the ban and closed the United States, which was once known as a beacon of hope, to the world’s growing refugee population. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, nearly 85,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. By FY 2021, the Trump administration requested that number to drop to a mere 15,000, an 82 percent decrease.
Unfortunately, Trump didn’t stop there. He and his administration upheld discriminatory national security policies (no fly lists, racial profiling, surveillance, police brutality, etc.), delayed addressing Islamophobic violence, ignored bullying of Muslim children in schools by educators and classmates, put hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders at risk for deportation, and tweeted Islamophobic statements and memes, further emboldening Islamophobes and white supremacists. Ironically, he called the Black Lives Matter movement “a symbol of hate.” (Muslims supported the movement more than any other faith group, and nearly 30 percent of American Muslims are Black or African American.)
On the foreign policy front, Trump brought us to the brink of war with Iran; continued the U.S.’s endless “War on Terror” in the Middle East, which has displaced millions; vetoed Congress’s efforts to end U.S. support of the Saudi-led war on Yemen; and persisted with drone strikes that have killed thousands of innocent civilians in Muslim-majority countries, which he made more difficult to track. He also praised Indian Prime Minister Modi for religious tolerance even as anti-Muslim violence erupted in India’s streets, withdrew humanitarian aid to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, supported illegal Israeli settlements, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and presented a “peace plan” for Israel and Palestine without input from Palestinians.
Unfortunately, these problems won’t immediately dissipate just because the Biden-Harris administration is now in office. Take the Muslim travel ban. Biden’s promises to repeal it on day one of his presidency and increase the refugee resettlement cap to 125,000 were welcomed by the Muslim community. But undoing the long-term damage that resulted from the ban will require much more time and effort.
Currently, numerous refugees are still separated from loved ones and stuck in “administrative processing” limbo, immigrant visas are backlogged from formerly banned countries, and there will no doubt be an influx of new visas to process. The Biden administration will need to increase capacity to handle these challenges and improve the visa process that was already discriminatory toward applicants from Muslim majority countries (even before Trump’s ban). It will also need to work with Congress to pass the NO BAN Act in the Senate and then into law to prevent future discriminatory travel bans based on religion or ethnicity.
There is also the matter of how previous administrations viewed American Muslims and Islam through a national security lens, including the Obama-Biden administration. Since 9/11, counterterrorism and law enforcement programs disproportionately impact and violate the civil rights of minority communities, including Muslims, while almost ignoring the threat of white supremacists. (Biden previously claimed credit for writing the 2001 PATRIOT Act and voted for the Iraq War). The failure of law enforcement to protect the Capitol during the recent attack by white supremacist Trump supporters is a perfect example of this. President Biden himself stated that the response by police would have been extremely different had Black Lives Matter protestors been involved.
And while his acknowledgement of white supremacy in his inauguration speech was a positive step, Biden’s plan to pass a law against domestic terrorism won’t remedy the issue; it will only make matters worse. Muslim and civil rights activists believe that the U.S. already has more than enough anti-terrorism tools to prosecute white supremacists. Thus, they are pushing back against additional counterterrorism legislation, which they fear will be used to continue to prosecute Black and Brown communities. Case in point: Just hours after the attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol, Republicans in Florida re-energized a bill intended to crack down on Black Lives Matter protesters.
So while we celebrate the departure of the most blatantly Islamophobic and racist President of our time, Muslims and allies are bracing ourselves for the work ahead. We want politicians across the country to swiftly condemn and confront white supremacy. We want them to stand up for our community when we are attacked, protect our rights and actively work to reverse the Muslim travel ban, restore U.S. leadership in refugee resettlement, and end the endless wars in the Middle East that have killed countless innocent civilians.
In short, “business as usual” won’t cut it under the Biden administration. We are here to change the system up for the better.