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A Muslim-American mother’s fears and hopes

  • Published at 12:02 am November 25th, 2016
A Muslim-American  mother’s fears and hopes

I am a fiercely proud New Yorker and American. I love my city. My only child, a teenage daughter, was born at New York University Hospital, and her very name symbolises hope and peace. So far, so good –- I sound just like any one of 8.5 million New Yorkers and millions of other Americans.

But here are other descriptors that begin to set me apart. I am a Muslim. I am an immigrant from Bangladesh. I am a brown woman who still speaks with a “foreign” accent. I am a lawyer. And I am the mother of a daughter who wants to be president of the United States one day.

Today, at the early dawn of an unexpected Trump era, I feel scared and betrayed. I scan the media headlines for the latest news about a future Trump administration and I continue to be at a loss for words. I struggle with so many fears and questions.

What will happen to brown people who look and sound like me? Will we be deported and told to return to where we came from? Will it become easier to assault women sexually? Will Muslims be barred from entering the US? Will we go to “war” against Islam, a global religion, and what does this mean for our security in the US? Will my gay best friend be denied the right to marry?

My deepest fear is about not belonging to this country that I so love. I feel betrayed by my fellow Americans who voted for a xenophobic candidate.

I fear that my adopted nation will reject me and treat my daughter and me like second-class citizens -- a historical regression politically that would be so painful as we lose our standing as a global champion of tolerance and openness.

My heart breaks at the very thought that my bright child could even conceive of asking herself if she can achieve her dream of leadership in our nation. She is an American, and we have always idealised our uniquely American dream of equality for all.

How was I to explain why the first ever woman to run for the White House did not make it? How was I to ensure that she, as a Muslim, did not feel threatened in our nation?

Like millions of people, I was up until the wee hours of election night and slept only for a few hours, all the while rehearsing how I would speak to my daughter when she awoke. This is her “first” election. Like so many other schools, her middle school had used this election to educate students about civic participation.

She was beyond excited to come of age at a time when a Madame President was possible. She even studied how to predict election results as part of her math work. My daughter went to bed on election night filled with hope and excitement, dreaming that the most powerful of glass ceilings would be shattered for her.

As the election results became clear, it was my task on Wednesday morning to reassure my daughter of not just our nation’s future, but also her own. How was I to explain why the first ever woman to run for the White House did not make it?

How was I to ensure that she, as a Muslim, did not feel threatened in our nation? Bleary eyed, I told her what I had rehearsed mentally: We are so proud to have finally had a Hillary Clinton who paved the way for more women leaders, including a senate that now is projected to include more women of colour senators than ever before.

Even though it is clear that we have a profound schism in our country, this is an opportunity to learn how to deal with a setback and yet move forward in life. Most importantly, I told my daughter that our nation’s future lies in her actions and next steps. She must stand for her ideals. After hearing me out with her usual teenage nonchalance, she pretended to be fine.

She asked: “Will there ever be a woman president?” I said, “Of course!” But even as I said this, I could see that she wasn’t convinced. Her sideway glance said it all: “Will I be able to achieve my dream to be POTUS? What does it mean to have that ‘Rahman’ in my name?”

Even as I deal with my fears and sense of betrayal, I see hope. I have hope in the power of our nation’s ideals. I have hope in the example set by Hillary Clinton. I have hope in our ability to strengthen our movement. And I have hope that young people, including my daughter, will lead us to a future where there are no glass ceilings, only open sky. I hope that every person in our diverse nation feels at home here.

Anika Rahman is a lawyer with a distinguished career in human rights. This article was previously published on Huffington Post.

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