The night before, Reuters had reported that President Donald Trump would soon sign an executive order blocking visas for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa. The move, an expression of the “Muslim ban” that Trump touted during his campaign, marooned Muslims legally working or studying in the United States and threatens to divide families who have relatives in their home countries.
Cochran is director of the Virginia chapter of Emerge USA, an organization founded in 2006 to help Muslims get involved in local politics across five states. It’s one of many organizations that American Muslims created in the aftermath of 9/11 to protect and advocate for their embattled community. That very morning, she was already set to travel to Richmond to meet with state lawmakers to communicate the concerns of Muslim Virginians.
If Trump keeps his campaign promises — and so far there’s every indication he will — the country may see a return to the excesses of the Bush era that saw American Muslims profiled, surveilled, harassed and marginalized. Trump’s administration is more openly anti-Muslim than any in history. Trump himself has stated that “Islam hates us”; his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has called Islamism a “vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people”; his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, once operated Breitbart, an alt-right news site known for anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Sixteen years ago, many American Muslims didn’t know where to turn for help. There was no Emerge USA for them to email. They had almost no political, social or cultural capital. Now they are far better prepared. That’s because American Muslims have learned to arm themselves, not with weapons but with the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. In the crucible of American society after 2001, Muslims have fully embraced the democratic ideals, expansive religious freedom and rich civil society that truly make America great.