“My family is directly targeted, and my community is directly targeted, and it’s very, very fucking scary,” said Muna Hussaini, sitting outside a bookstore on a park bench in the dark of the November evening. Hussaini, who works for Paypal and was born in Pittsburgh, is a practicing Muslim who helps out with public affairs work for her mosque. It’s a week after the presidential election, and the world feels like a very different place with Donald Trump’s election.
“It is a disappointment that a person who can publicly say such heinous things, divisive things, can be elected,” said Imam Mohamed Umer Esmail, religious scholar at the Nueces Mosque in Austin.
The campaign, fueled in large part by rhetoric based on intolerance, racism, and xenophobia, has alienated many members of minority communities, especially people of Muslim faith or Middle Eastern origin, who Trump often made a point of personally attacking, threatening to deport or place them on registries reminiscent of a number of racially motivated policies of years past.
“A lot of people in Austin are grieving, and it’s not just Muslim people,” said Hussaini.
The reaction to the election was powerful and incredibly varied based on an area’s political leanings. While many Trump supporters were elated, opposition to his election led to nationwide protests and marches.
“He won, and I was scared,” said Hussaini who has two children. “And I felt the need to call my daughter’s teacher and my daughter’s principal and say, ‘How are you ensuring that if something happens at school [that] the minority children going to be ok?’”
Esmail had much the same to say, in the broader view he witnesses as an imam.
“Since the campaign began, we’ve seen a rise in Islamophobic, in homophobic, in xenophobic behavior,” said Esmail.
The fear of things to come is occurring in the midst of increasingly visible instances of racially charged incidence spreading across every aspect of American life, from casual harassment in public to students being told to “pack their bags” – and worse- by teachers, according to a number of stories by the Washington Post and New York Times.
“If I did that in a meeting, I would be reprimanded, even fired. If a teacher did that in school, they would be fired. And he just gets away with it,” said Esmail.
Esmail said that a University of Texas student wearing a head scarf was nearly struck by an automobile as she biked home from class.
“A car almost ran her over, and the driver was laughing as he drove by,” he said.
A lot of the sentiment seems to be bubbling up now that it’s ‘acceptable’ to be saying such things in public. People seem to be using Trump’s election to give voice to discriminatory sentiment that they had held tight but quiet all along.
“I can’t remember the last time the KKK had a celebration out in public after an election. And a vote for Trump meant you were ok with that,” said Hussaini.
“People have this sense of immunity; people at the top are saying it, so I can say it. It’s emboldening people,” said Esmail.
The change is vastly different than the country’s mood following Obama’s election in 2008. While many Republicans were dismayed, protesting on social media and even burning effigies of the new president, there wasn’t a mounting spike of racially-motivated crimes and violence.
“Trump winning the presidential election feels like… carte blanche,” said Hussaini. “Maybe people aren’t racist, or sexist, or misogynistic, or whatever you want to call it, but when you vote for Trump, it’s an approval of all the things he did and he said while stumping.”
For now, what the Muslim community seems to be focusing on is protecting those most vulnerable to this kind of hateful rhetoric and violence, and looking to the future.
“How are we ensuring we’re engaged with our civic duty?” said Hussaini. “Just because the election happened doesn’t mean it’s over.”
Those interviewed hastened to mention the need to get engaged with politics on a local level, and that these changes that scare us so.
“This is not the America I grew up in,” said Hussaini. “These are not the values I’m ok with.”