As a white convert to Islam, the typical American sees me as a curiosity rather than a threat to their way of life and demographic hegemony. I have the privilege of being seen by most as a young man going through a spiritual phase, “sewing my wild oats,” so to speak, even though I am officially now in my late 30s and have been a Muslim for nearly 15 years. Because of this perception, I never really experienced overt discrimination or Islamophobia until the day I got into an argument over text with a blood relative about my Iranian wife’s immigration case.
As one would could easily guess, my opinions regarding the current U.S. President are negative to say the least. My wife’s immigration case has been in administrative processing for months with no end in sight. It has been going on so long that her medical exam will soon be invalid, and we will have to pay new fees to get another one. Following one of my regular Facebook posts against the cruel and irrational Muslim ban, a relative of mine and I got into a heated exchange regarding my “Anti-Americanism.”
After a short back-and-forth about my regular critiques of U.S. foreign policy, I mentioned the festering anger deep inside me regarding my wife’s immigration situation. After explaining the hellish, unclear, and arbitrary waiver process, I was absolutely shocked to hear my relative’s response: “It’s for national safety and you should support the safety of the American people.” How does one respond to thatin a non-threatening way? After taking a moment to collect myself, I reminded her that my apolitical wife holds a master’s degree in bioengineering and is hardly a threat to anyone. Realizing her initial line of argumentation was totally absurd even by pro-Trumper standards, in all capital letters she typed, “YOU CHOSE TO MARRY AN IRANIAN,” as if to shout at me that I had nobody to blame except myself for my precarious situation. I was utterly appalled that this could be the response from a blood relative. It was at this point I realized that the sanctity and future of my marriage did not matter— not even to some of my own closest relatives.
It was at this point I realized that the sanctity and future of my marriage did not matter— not even to some of my own closest relatives.
The Islamophobic indoctrination of the current U.S. government has literally turned family members against each other. The idea that someone I used to eat Thanksgiving dinner with as a kid could say something so utterly callous and appalling was nearly inconceivable. However, considering the rancor that permeates throughout the United States today, I really should not have been that surprised at all.
Why should I be surprised that my relative would use the same impersonal, arbitrary standard of you are from a bad country, therefore you are most likely bad, too? Such irrational thinking that at one time was the exception eventually becomes the norm as the lines of what is legal and illegal are blurred to a point where nobody knows what is going on anymore. The courts are still hearing cases regarding the ban and many critical legal questions remain unanswered. Nobody really knows what is going to happen next, as what was originally touted as a 90-day ban continues on indefinitely with no end in sight. Indeed, it is at this point the state can do just about anything.
This crude reformulation of Giorgio Agamben’s argument about “the state of exception” can be easily extended into our daily lives as well. Things that at one time would be an exceptional and outrageous to say (or even think for that matter) such as “YOU CHOSE TO MARRY AN IRANIAN” become less outrageous somehow in the hurricane of chaos and confusion that surrounds the current U.S. government’s positions regarding Muslims in general. For a sick moment I myself conceded that, Well, I did choose to marry someone from a country the U.S. historically has poor relations with. Thankfully, after about 5 seconds I came to my senses realizing that normalizing blame on people (myself in this case) for falling in love with someone they should not have because of elite politicking is just as crazy and irrational as the Muslim ban itself.
This crude reformulation of Giorgio Agamben’s argument about “the state of exception” can be easily extended into our daily lives as well. Things that at one time would be an exceptional and outrageous to say (or even think for that matter) … become less outrageous somehow in the hurricane of chaos and confusion that surrounds the current U.S. government’s positions regarding Muslims.
We live in exceptionally dangerous times. Muslims need to demand fair and equal treatment in the United States. If the state justifies and legalizes discrimination and oppression, it’s only a matter of time before that discrimination and oppression works its way into our daily lives even amongst our closet family members. Our religion cannot be rebranded as a political ideology that can simply be banned by those on the fringes of politics. Dangerous times call for brave leaders who will not back down in the face of overwhelming odds.
Despite all of the confusion and frustrations, I remain hopeful as Qur’an 8:30 reminds us: And [remember, O Muhammad], when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you [from Makkah]. But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.
Joseph J. Kaminski is Department Chair of International Relations at the International University of Sarajevo.