Election anxiety runs deep for Muslim parents

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Some have opted to tune out campaign talk altogether, abstaining from TV and radio to shield their children from attacks on their religion.

BY HANNAH ALLAM
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Election Day is coming soon, and Rashida Tlaib is making sure her two sons understand what a watershed event this could be for American Muslims like them. The political climate is ugly, she warns, and the rhetoric is getting nastier by the day.

A group of young Muslims stage a small protest as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for a campaign rally during the Kansas GOP caucus at Century II in Wichita, Kan., on March 5.(BO RADER/WICHITA EAGLE/TNS)
A group of young Muslims stage a small protest as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for a campaign rally during the Kansas GOP caucus at Century II in Wichita, Kan., on March 5.
(BO RADER/WICHITA EAGLE/TNS)

They need this victory, Tlaib explained. He’s simply got to win.

No, no, not him. The candidate they’re rooting for is local: Abdullah Hammoud, a Muslim Democrat running for the Michigan legislature.

Hammoud’s sweeping primary victory this month in a little-watched race is giving Muslims across the country a pick-me-up at a time when Republican nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islam proposals dominate the presidential campaign.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Tlaib, who lives in Detroit. “I want my sons to sit down with Abdullah and shake his hand and say, ‘He has a cool name like mine, and he has the same face, and he prays in the same way — and he has access to be a member of the legislature.’”

Deportation fears
Hammoud’s ascent provides one answer to a question that Muslim parents are asking themselves every day: How do I talk to my kids about this election?

To Tlaib and other Muslim parents, the Michigan race is a positive aside in an otherwise wrenching election-year conversation involving thorny questions of faith, democracy and identity.

Last month, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a TV political ad called “Role Models,” featuring children listening to Trump’s offensive words about women and minorities — a direct appeal to many parents’ unease with his rhetoric.

Among Muslim parents, anxiety over the election runs even deeper.

Already, families say, their American-born children ask whether Trump is going to arrest or deport them. The experience of 8-year-old Sofia, who packed up her dolls to await forcible removal from her home, triggered the hashtag campaign IWillProtectYou, with U.S. military personnel vowing to defend Sofia and other Muslims from infringement of their constitutional rights.

‘A bit paralyzed’
To avoid planting such fears, some Muslim parents have opted to tune out election talk altogether, abstaining from TV and radio to shield their children from attacks on their religion.

Others prefer to charge headfirst into the fray, urging their children to volunteer at phone banks so that they learn the importance of political participation. And many more parents are caught somewhere in the middle, still unsure of how and when to have the dreaded Trump talk.

“I’m a bit paralyzed,” said Svend White, a Chicago-based Muslim father who’s facing the issue with his 10-year-old daughter. “I don’t know exactly how to broach it. I’m trying to preserve my daughter’s natural pride in her community and her background before it starts to get tainted by the fear and prejudice that’s out there.”

The Trump talk
Aamir Nooruddin, a Muslim father in Maryland, said he decided to have an in-depth Trump talk with his 8-year-old daughter, Sakeena, after visiting a grade school where the students peppered him with questions about whether he worried about his children’s future in the country.

The fears telegraphed in the students’ questions made him wonder how his own daughter was dealing with the ubiquity of Trump’s message.

When Nooruddin asked, he was dismayed to hear a girl who’d only known a Black president respond matter-of-factly that Trump doesn’t like “brown people” or Muslims.

Solemn response
Rather than “pile on,” Nooruddin said, he emphasized that bigotry isn’t confined to one person or one political party. But then Sakeena caught him watching a New York Times montage of unfiltered scenes from Trump rallies, with supporters yelling racial slurs and cheering on a man wearing a shirt that said, “F— Islam.” She looked at her dad and asked: “Do they really hate us?”

That was tough, Nooruddin said. He came up with a response that discussed the angst among many Americans over economic hardship and the country’s changing demographics. He wrapped it up by urging her to be living proof that the bigots are wrong – just work hard, be polite, smile.

“I feel bad because what I really mean is, ‘Don’t come off as a threat,’” Nooruddin said. “And that’s a tragedy in itself, that as a parent you have to tell your child not to appear as a threat.”

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