[As published in the Washington Blade on January 6, 2017]
[The differing statistics used in the piece below and in the one here speak to the difficulty of knowing the full extent of the very secretive NSEERS system.]
We sit on the precipice of a Donald Trump presidency. In the run-up to the election and the long weeks afterwards, the president-elect has made too many frightening proposals to list.
One of the most terrifying is his plan to revive a Muslim/Arab registry. While the details aren’t clear (something that’s true of many of his proposals), we can be certain that it would include some subset of Muslims and Arabs – perhaps all of them – registering their names, addresses, workplaces, activities, and/or places of worship with the federal government so they can be surveilled for anything that might be vaguely construed as “terrorism.”
Unfortunately, this idea is hardly new. George W. Bush created such a registry after Sept. 11: the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). From 2002-2011, 83,000 Muslim and Arab teen boys and men had to register their whereabouts and activities with the federal government. They had their photos taken; they were fingerprinted and interrogated. Included in those registering were non-citizen high school and college students, tourists and non-citizens with jobs here.
While NSEERS was in effect, 13,000 Muslim and Arab men and boys were deported. Many of those who registered were held in captivity in the U.S. for months, often with no outside contact. Families were torn apart, communities were irreparably changed, and the fear for many was palpable. And yet not one man or boy who registered was ever found guilty of terrorism.
Fortunately, President Obama dismantled NSEERS in December. So Trump will have to go through the regulatory process of having the registry reinstated before it could become active.
Unfortunately, irreparable damage has already been done. Both NSEERS and Trump’s blatant Islamophobia have led to an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes. For instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center received reports of 112 anti-Muslim attacks from Nov. 9 to Dec. 12, just outpacing the number of reported anti-LGBT incidents (109) in the same period. In one month, that’s over one-third of the total number of incidents reported to the FBI in the entirety of 2015.
These anti-Muslim incidents have included tearing off women’s hijabs, burning or defacing mosques, and threatening letters sent to Islamic centers. Slightly over one-quarter of the anti-Muslim incidents reported to the SPLC were perpetrated by individuals or groups who made a specific reference to Trump, and many others were undoubtedly also motivated by his Islamophobic rhetoric.
So why should LGBTQ people care? Several reasons.
If you’re a decent human being, the blatant, systemic profiling of any group of individuals should give you pause, especially if that profiling has significant, negative impacts on the targeted group.
LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs would be doubly impacted. Not only will they be put under surveillance for their faith and/or nationality, but they would be forced into contact with a system that is notoriously homophobic and transphobic. LGBTQ individuals caught up in the criminal injustice system often suffer greater abuse and trauma than their straight/cisgender peers. Do we want to put Muslims and Arabs who are members of our family at that risk? And how would a registry of men and boys impact folks who are trans or non-binary?
LGBTQ Muslims will have to face not only homophobia and transphobia among certain Muslim leaders (as well as from our culture at large) but increased Islamophobia outside of their faith.
LGBTQ people who aren’t Muslim or Arab know what it’s like to be marginalized and oppressed. But i doubt that most of us have any idea what having to register with and be watched by the federal government feels like. If the thought of having that additional burden strikes fear in your heart, imagine how it must make LGBTQ Muslims and Arabs feel.
As an agnostic, white queer who is a U.S. citizen, I do not want to see this horrific practice revived under a Trump administration.
When the president-elect takes office, we must respond strongly whenever he mentions such a registry. It is only through the consistent, uncompromising action of individuals over the next four-eight years that the great abuses he promises will be beaten back.
Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or religious faith, a registry of Muslims and Arabs has no place in the U.S. Will you join me in that fight?
Usually, New Year’s Eve is a time to anticipate starting anew. For the second time in my life, however, i’m not looking forward to tomorrow.
The first was December 31, 2001, when we were pretty sure that my dad’s cancer was terminal, something that was confirmed mere days into the new year. And sure enough, he died about five weeks later, on February 7, 2002 – fifteen years ago this coming winter.
This time, going into 2017, i’m dreading something entirely different: a Donald Trump presidency.
I’ve always dreaded Republican presidential administrations. But this kind of dread is completely different. This is a deep, abiding fear about the terrible, unprecedented changes that he will bring about.
I’m incredibly concerned about freedom of the press under Trump, about how the Republicans already seem to be rolling over to do whatever he wants, about how he will impact the Supreme Court for a generation or more to come, about his denial of climate change and the benefits of vaccines, about his pugilistic approach to everything from warring on Twitter with individuals who have criticized him to criticizing leaders from other countries, about his total lack of self-control, about his blatant misogyny and racism, about…everything.
And Mike Pence being there doesn’t make things any better. As a homophobic bigot who believes in reparative therapy, denying both abortion access and general reproductive health care to people who can get pregnant, reducing funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, and a host of other things, his presence in the administration will hardly be a salve to anyone in any of the communities that i care about.
I’m even more concerned about how all of this will impact individuals. People will literally die over the next 4-8 years as both a direct and indirect result of Trump’s presidency. People who are deported, especially LGBTQ people, will be killed in their countries of origin. People will lose health care, which will mean in some cases literally losing their lives. Those who are denied entry into the US, like Muslims, will be killed in their home countries. People abroad will be killed in the wars that he will start. A host of individuals – LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, cisgender women, disabled folks, working class people, and many, many others – will be harassed, assaulted, raped, and killed by those who are newly emboldened by Trump’s blatant hatred of all those groups.
How many of those impacted will I know? How many of them will be ones i love? How many of my neighbors who are undocumented will be torn away from their homes and families? Will the Muslims i know be forced to register their whereabouts with the US government? Will any of them be deported on baseless suspicion of “terrorism”? Will my queer friends who don’t have my race and/or class privilege make it? What happens to the beautiful trans and gender non-conforming children with whom i volunteer, especially in school? What new diseases will run rampant, as HIV/AIDS did under Ronald Reagan, with nary a word of concern from Trump and people dying left and right? How many funerals will i go to in the coming years?
We don’t have a good track record in this country of knowing or analyzing our history. We don’t learn in school how to be good citizens, how to analyze the media, how to be critical thinkers regarding the actions and words of our leaders, how to think for ourselves. The immediate calls after the election to “unite” behind Trump and “give him a chance” show just how little we have learned from US and world history, how easily disasters in the past can be repeated, how self-righteous statements about “how could they have let that happen?” always apply to some other time and some other place.
I have little confidence that this time will be any different – or, at least, that it will be any different before it’s too late for way, way too many people, whose lives will have already been destroyed or literally ended.
How many of you reading this will get involved – like, really, get out there and do something? Repeatedly? Over and over again? For years? Will you call your representatives in your local, state, and federal legislatures? Will you read and watch things that will teach you about where we’ve been, how we got here, what Trump is doing, and how we can challenge him? Will you get out of your comfort zone? Will you support “the other” when Trump comes for them?
WHAT WILL YOU DO? Signing petitions is not enough!
If you cannot answer those questions, please stop right now and begin the process of coming up with some answers. WE NEED YOU! We cannot succeed without every single one of us being involved.
It is hard to feel optimistic about the new year on any more but the most micro level. Today, especially, i’m feeling very pessimistic about the ability of individuals in the US cultural context to organize to counteract a Trump administration successfully – or, at least, to be successful in any more than a piecemeal, patchy fashion.
Which doesn’t mean that i won’t be trying. I’ve already made more calls to my Senators and Representative (as well as entities like the DOJ) in the past 7-8 weeks than i have in my previous 44 years. My lack of job gives me the time to attend things like marches, rallies, and teach-ins without sacrificing the “me time” that i need as an introvert to feel emotionally healthy (a sacrifice that i will probably eventually need to make). I have two opinion columns in the works and hope to write more.
I commit to doing more to get involved and stay involved. Trump cannot go unchallenged.
But, oh, it feels so hopeless and useless in a US cultural context of apathy, lack of engagement, and pervasive fear and hatred of those who are different.
Tonight will not be a time of celebration. While the only thing i’ll miss about 2016 is that it wasn’t 2015, i’m not at all looking forward to the disaster that 2017 and the following years will be.
May we weather the Trump years and their aftermath in the least painful way possible. May every single one of my loved ones make it through unscathed. May their loved ones, and their loved ones, and their loved ones…do the same. May we find a national will to act against our government, which we haven’t had in the US since maybe forever. May Trump be dogged by opposition at every turn. And may that opposition SUCCEED.
May every single one of us remember that lives literally depend on our actions and involvement over the coming years.
Only then will 2017 (and 2018 and 2019 and 2020…) not be complete and total disasters for our country and for so many of the people who call it – or our earth – home.
WHAT WILL YOU DO TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?
In the current presidential election cycle, where Donald Trump seems to gain popularity each day, liberals, progressives, radicals, and even many conservatives are watching in shock as things play out. Will Trump really win the Republican nomination? And if so, could he actually be elected president?
It is a terrifying, shudder-inducing prospect for many of us, especially for immigrants, Muslims, and people of color, all of whom would face significant personal and community oppression if Trump is elected.
In an attempt to rally people to oppose this racist, sexist, xenophobic, and puerile candidate, i have seen many posts on Facebook of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem from after World War II:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
While the sentiments in Niemöller’s poem are certainly well taken and relevant, i find them incredibly problematic. Niemöller’s basic premise is that i should stand up for those who are oppressed because someday there might not be anyone to speak out for me.
Not because all oppression is wrong.
Not because i find [fill in the Oppression du Jour] problematic.
Not because i love people who are [fill in the name of the Oppressed Group du Jour].
But because someday none of those people may be around to help save my own hide.
How selfish and egocentric. And what a very sad statement on reasons to oppose oppression.
Certainly, Niemöller confronts many folks’ reticence to get involved in social justice movements if they aren’t (or don’t think they are) personally impacted by something. This dynamic is one of the deepest weaknesses of identity politics.
And the violence of the context about which he wrote – up to and including the state-run execution of Nazi opponents – would instill fear of being outspoken in just about anyone.
But his bottom line – “and there was no one left to speak for me” – is telling.
I am not involved in antiracist activism because i stand to benefit personally (although i do). I’m not an LGBTQ advocate because i’m queer (although i am). I don’t oppose xenophobia because i’m an immigrant (i’m not). I don’t support multilingual education and culture because i’m bilingual (how i wish that i was!).
I do all of those things because they are right. Because they’re ethical. Because they will lessen the burden of oppression faced by millions of people in the US.
If you’ve (re)posted or been touched by Niemöller’s poem, either recently or in the past, i urge you to step beyond his bottom line.
Please get out there and oppose not just Donald Trump but all forms of oppression – not because it might someday save your own self but because you truly want to help other people and to make the world a better place.
First they came for the Socialists, and I spoke out—
Because Capitalism ruins the lives of untold numbers of people.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I spoke out—
Because Unions improve conditions for workers in many industries.
Then they came for the Jews, and I spoke out—
Because anti-Semitism has a long history that I refuse to let continue unchecked.
Then they came for me—and I continued to speak out—
Both for myself and for every other group for which they’d come.
And even if I lost my self, I knew that the world had improved because of my voice.