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Chicago Muslims: ‘We’ve been yelling, but no one’s been listening’

CAIR’s Hoda Katebi says her group is bracing for a Trump presidency by beefing up its legal team—and promoting self-defense classes.

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Donald Trump made his blood-curdling call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So last week the Reader checked in with Hoda Katebi, communications coordinator for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to see how her group—and the Chicago area's 400,000-some Muslims—may be bracing for Trump's presidency.


Does this political moment feel unprecedented to you, or does it feel all too familiar?

I can't say we weren't surprised. We were surprised. I was personally surprised that Trump won. But it didn't come out of nowhere. A lot of us are people of color, immigrants, refugees—we've experienced multiple layers of institutionalized discrimination, surveillance, and violence. The election made people who were unaware of this deeply rooted racism and anti-Muslimism aware. It's what we've been yelling this entire time, but no one has been listening. I think, finally, more privileged communities, white communities, are opening their eyes. But for a lot of us, it's nothing new.

Hate crimes against Muslims jumped 67 percent last year, according to FBI data released last week. Postelection, we're seeing reports from around the country of Muslims being attacked, harassed, and threatened. Are you aware of any similar incidents in Chicago?

Yeah. It's been fairly well documented. At UIUC a Muslim girl was threatened. There have been a lot of threats made. There's been a lot of fear.

Can you talk about what the fears are?

Trump's campaign has empowered people to commit hate crimes against Muslims with no repercussions. Now our social media, and my social media, have been filled with threats from Trump supporters saying, 'Oh, just you wait until someone gets in office who won't care about you anymore.'

Then, just from a political standpoint, the people who are possibly going to be added to Trump's advisory team—[Stephen K.] Bannon and others—these are all people who have expressed anti-Muslim sentiment. So they are, on an institutional level, very frightening.

But also, Trump gets to decide the Supreme Court justices. And on top of that, I think it's 400 or 500 local judges across the country. So these are the judges who, when there's a civil rights case that we want to bring, they're the ones making the verdict. This is very troubling for us. We think of the Supreme Court as the last resort, and if those justices are also rooted in white supremacy as much as Trump and his whole campaign is, things are not looking good for us from that standpoint.

Is Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration even legally possible? And if you fear it is, how will you mount a defense?

It's possible, and it's been done before. I wouldn't even say that a ban on Muslims would be unprecedented. We've seen internment camps [for Japanese-Americans]. We’ve seen a ban on Jewish immigrants after World War II.

A lot of law firms have reached out to us, and we're building our network with law firms that have similar goals and values. Coalition building is a really big agenda point for us, because we know that Trump doesn't only target Muslims. He targets women, immigrants, refugees—literally everyone who isn't a cis straight white man. We know it's not only our fight—it's a collective struggle.

How would a ban on Muslim immigration affect the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Americans who are already here?

Well, it's just one step to what could be next. Trump also proposed "extreme vetting" of Muslims who already live here. I was born and raised in this country. What does that mean for me? It's criminalizing me, the same way black people and indigenous people have already been criminalized in this country. If the ban is enacted, what next? What happens to the Muslims who are now trapped here? We already have heightened surveillance, we already have entrapment. Now what's going to happen?

Can you talk about how Muslim women in particular are reacting right now?

On a personal level, we want more self-defense training for our community. I think self-defense is really important for women in general—the patriarchy is alive and well in this country.

On top of that, I think hijabi women are particularly vulnerable. I wear the hijab myself, and I think it’s important to have self-defense training if anything happened.

I know there are a lot of Facebook posts going around of allies saying they want to sit next to the hijabi woman on a bus, and while it's an appreciated sentiment, it's rooted in an Orientalizing and paternalistic point of view that sees Muslim women as weak and docile and unable to protect themselves. So I appreciate it, but I think support needs to come in a different way.

What advice do you have for non-Muslims who do want to show solidarity?

I think support needs to come in a different way. I think the people who are sharing those [Facebook posts] need to be talking to their racist aunts and uncles who voted for Trump and changing their mind-set. That's what support and allyship look like.

Then I think it's important to respond to the needs that have already been articulated. Right now CAIR Chicago and other groups need monetary support. With privilege comes more access to jobs and resources and money, so it's important to help facilitate the work of people of color monetarily. That's a direct ask we're making of our community and our allies.

I don't know who asked them to put on a safety pin—it doesn't necessarily help me in any way. I appreciate the sentiment, but that's not how trust is built. "Trust" is a verb—it's built through action.   v

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Ms. Katebi's name in the subheadline. We regret the error.

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