It’s a lousy time to be an American Muslim.
Especially now in New Hampshire. In the first-in-the-nation primary state, overrun by candidates and political junkies, there is no escaping the hateful rhetoric of this year’s GOP primary.
Messrs. Trump, Cruz, and Carson have said such odious, un-American things, holding an entire faith responsible for the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, blithely asserting Muslim-Americans don’t deserve basic rights.
The ravings of these demagogues are troubling enough. But they’ve found fertile ground among some voters in New Hampshire and beyond, who now appear liberated from common decency (they call it “political correctness”) to express their bigoted views.
“It’s even worse than after September 11th,” said Salman Malik, 52, an oral surgeon who lives in Londonderry. “I’ve never seen this. Open hatred has become popular.”
Malik’s family left Pakistan when he was 9. When he learned about the Japanese internment camps of World War II in school, it was considered a dark chapter in the nation’s history. In this campaign, internment has been spoken of by Trump supporters in approving terms, and that frightens Malik, who has an immigrant’s fervor for the ideals this country is supposed to stand for. “You don’t pick a group of people and pounce on them,” he said. “In a democracy, the majority rules, but they protect the minority.”
President Obama gave a speech at a Baltimore mosque on Wednesday condemning the surge in Islamophobia, saying “an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.”
How dismal and predictable were the responses from the trail. Trump reprised his cynical suggestion that Obama is a Muslim. Marco Rubio criticized the visit, calling it divisive. “Look at today; he gave a speech at a mosque,” Rubio said at a town hall meeting in Dover. “Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”
Imagine that. And this is the candidate sometimes called an alternative to the extremists in the race.
Last week, too, state Representative Ken Weyler, a Republican who somehow graduated from MIT, said giving public benefits to any family that practices Islam is “treason.”
Yikes. How do you make sense of all this if you’re a New Hampshire Muslim who has felt mostly accepted and welcome, until now?
“You drive around and you see Trump signs in your own town,” said Tasneem Mohammed, a high school math teacher who lives in Salem. “I’m concerned that all of those people are buying into what he’s saying. It makes me afraid for me and my kids.”
Mohammed, 46, was born in Scotland, and immigrated here 19 years ago. She recalls little open prejudice in her youth, and only brief discomfort here after 9/11. While she and others say they’ve had plenty of support from friends and neighbors lately, she’s still concerned for her three children, young adults bombarded with offensive statements on TV and Twitter. She has urged them to resist the impulse to respond: “We told them, ‘This is not a time to advocate for Islam; you don’t know what people are thinking right now.’ ”
The current climate presents Muslims with two lousy choices: Lie low and watch the wave of intolerance grow, or try to convince the ignorant that being a Muslim doesn’t mean you aren’t a proud and loyal citizen.
“It takes one drop of blood in a liter of water to make it look red, and that is what is happening,” Malik said. “They just mix us together and everyone is now contaminated.”
Mohammed is just waiting for it to end. Maybe after Tuesday’s vote, the Trump signs will come down. Then again, maybe one of the candidates who profited from her pain will win New Hampshire, and keep winning.
“It will take a long time for this damage to be fixed,” Malik said. “I’m not sure where this country is heading. I can only hope it goes in the right direction.”