It was Saturday afternoon and I was headed to protest at President Donald Trump’s Florida rally. I hadn’t really wanted to go, but I refused to let the slight drizzle dampen my mood. As someone who’s actually not Thomas Jefferson once said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty."
In today's political and social sphere, my entire existence is an act of resistance. I’m a Muslim woman, and I wear the hijab, or headscarf.
Since Trump started campaigning in June of 2015, CAIR Florida, a branch of the leading Muslim civil rights group, reported a marked uptick in anti-Muslim incidents, including hate crimes, across the state—a 500% increase over the past year, according to executive director Hassan Shibly.
Trump has prompted an upswing of “patriots” who believe that American Muslims—if they even believe such a thing exists—have some nefarious Muslim agenda to take over America and take away pork, clitorises, Bibles, beer, and a woman’s right to drive a car. Armed with the second amendment, “facts” about Islam from easily debunked Facebook memes, and the latest conspiracy theories peddled by pundits who literally make millions manufacturing anti-Muslim hate, they’re the avengers of America and they’re taking back their country with a brand of hateful, dangerous nationalism.
It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in politics. Women receive little to no credit for the major role they play in conflict resolution and nation building, while simultaneously bearing the brunt of the burden from problematic and harmful policies.
Throughout Trump’s campaign, which seems set to continue through 2020, women have been negatively affected. Whether they’ve been re-traumatized by national support for a man who thought it was OK to grab women by their genitals, or they live in a state where they can be jailed for having a miscarriage, America’s women are being attacked.
And it’s the women from already marginalized minority communities—the LGBTQ communities, black communities, the Latinx community, immigrant communities, and Muslim communities—who are suffering the most. I dare say that Muslim women—or those mistaken for Muslim women—are probably the most vulnerable at this moment, thanks to intersectionality—imagine being an immigrant, black, and Muslim—and visibility, for those of us who choose to wear Islamic or cultural dress and/or the hijab.
Take the cochair of the wildly successful Women’s March on Washington, Linda Sarsour, who was attacked with an Islamophobic smear campaign and claims of anti-Semitism after the march. She also, with the help of the American Muslim community, raised $100,000 for a Jewish cemetery that was vandalized.
I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I showed up to the protest at Trump’s rally and found a large number of women out in full force. I spotted only one other visibly Muslim woman, her hijab a flowing scarf printed with the American flag. The red, white, and blue looked bright and cheery, almost hopeful, against the sullen gray sky.
By the end of Trump’s speech, the other headscarf-clad woman was gone, and I was the only visibly identifiable Muslim in the crowd. That’s when two women and a man leaving spotted me—or rather, my headscarf.
They never did see me that day; all they ever saw was the headscarf.
Singling me out, the woman screamed at me angrily. “Take that shit off your head!” Her male friend followed her lead. “Go the fuck back to Iraq,” he barked at me, yelling across the barricade of police and police vehicles that separated us.
I felt as if we were miles apart and not just feet.
“I’m a proud American, I was born here, and I’m not even Iraqi!” I called back, standing my ground, even as my voice fell to the wind.
Eventually, I left. I spotted a friendly face, falling into conversation with her. We passed the trio without incident, until one of the hawk-eyed women spotted me.
“Oh, look!” she said with malicious glee. “It’s your friend!”
After they told me to take my scarf off or “go back” because America was a Christian country, I thought the second verbal assault was over. They’d go home, happy and fulfilled that they had berated a Muslim woman in defense of their all-American values.
As they walked past me to cut through the parking lot, it continued. “Go back!” said the woman. “If you don’t like America, get the fuck out!” the male echoed aggressively, screaming at me to get a job and calling me a “sorry bitch.”
I kept walking the same way I’d came, only to notice them behind and somewhat parallel to me. I filmed them, fearing my hijab would be snatched.
“Why are you filming this, you stupid bitch?” the woman said. “You gonna go home and watch us?”
“She’s gonna masturbate. Oh, they took your clit off—you don’t have one anymore, do you?” he taunted while his female companions cackled with laughter at the idea of women having their genitalia mutilated.
“Don’t they take your clit off over in Muslimland?” he asked, walking faster to catch up to me, and changing his direction to walk alongside me.
“That’s not Islamic,” I replied, coolly.
“What rights don’t you have in this country?” screamed the woman angrily, getting in my face. “That’s why you need to go back, because you don’t appreciate living here!”
“You’re disrespecting our President!” she fumed.
The woman continued to be irritated with my camera.
“When you get home," the male said, "you can jack off."
"I’ve got a big ole white American redneck dick,” he twanged.
This time it was me that finished his sentence, infuriated that I was being sexually harassed a second time, besides not to mention the continued ignorance I’d endured. I told him where to shove it.
“No, I can put it up your little tight ass…and I won’t be hitting that clit because it already got removed.”
I kept walking, eyeing them warily. A bystander was filming me filming them, narrating that I was harassing Trump supporters.
When told him that I was being harassed, he was unmoved. He informed me that I should know all about sexual harassment because female genital mutilation and sexual harassment are part of my culture.
At first I didn’t want to write about this experience because I didn’t want to endure the backlash of victim-blaming that I’m sure will follow: I went to a Trump rally to protest; what did I expect? (Someone’s actually already said that to me.)
My grandparents, who raised me, have always told me to stand up for what’s right, even if I’m the only one standing; to speak up and speak out, even if I’m the only voice.
I’ve been thinking about what that bystander said—and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that he was, in a way, right. But not in the way that he thinks he’s right.
There exists in America—and the world, because violence against women is in no way discriminatorily exclusive to Muslim communities—a disgusting subculture where it’s permissible to harass and abuse women, sexually or otherwise, because we’re brown, black, white, “exotic,” scantily clad, we wanted it or were somehow “asking for it” or “had it coming,” or got what we “deserved.”
That day these people, who I’m sure in their heart believe themselves to be red-blooded American patriots, thought it was permissible because I was wearing a headscarf and participating in the democracy they think I’m under-appreciative of.
They can keep their pork and their beer; I don’t want it. I’ll keep my headscarf, my compassion, my human decency—and my right to democracy.