Today in America it is hard to have a conversation about American Muslims without the conversation shifting to Donald Trump and his policies. What about those who elected him? My neighbor of 12 years is one of them: Roy, the proud MAGA guy.
Roy moved in the neighborhood shortly after us, arriving from Ohio where he worked for a big multinational. My wife hit it up with his wife Tricia. Our kids also began trick-or-treating together on Halloween. We were both the new families on the block.
Throughout the years, he never said anything to me about Islam – even after terror attacks took place on US soil and the rise of ISIS. We both assumed where the other stood politically and it wasn’t a big deal.
Then Donald Trump ran for President… and lo and behold, there was a big MAGA sign on Roy’s front lawn. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because like many, I assumed Trump’s candidacy was just a stunt.
As the campaign went on, I could tell that Roy wanted to have a conversation with me about the topics of Islam, terrorism and Muslims. But I could feel that he didn’t quite know how to broach the topic with me for fear of offending me. Every now and then he would try.
“Hey, is it true that back in the Middle East you were taught it was your duty to kill Americans?” Then he would quickly add: “I know you’re not one of those, you’re my neighbor.”
To me, it was kind of funny to see a staunch right-winger who hated political correctness yet reflexively adopted it. He was clearly terrified of being called racist.
I could tell stuff he was picking up from Fox News. And as the campaign heated up, he seemed more and more eager to talk to me about these questions.
Roy of course has no idea that I’m quietly waging my own struggle against extremists in our community. He didn’t know the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist. He used the terms interchangeably.
Then came the Muslim Ban.
“Hey, you shouldn’t fear anything, you’re a law-abiding citizen, and I know for fact that there isn’t a bomb in your garage” said Roy when I ran into him at Whole Foods. “We’re only after terrorists.”
Amused by his out of the blue statement, I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to say. I stammered: “I guess, but you should know that this thing has real consequences, and has created real hardships for people who are already here.”
“Do you think it’s racist to want to protect one’s country? I don’t hate Muslims but I just don’t want people who want to kill me into the country!”
I realized then that he was actually seeking my approval for his politics. He wanted me to reassure him that he is not being bigoted. I didn’t and still don’t know quite how to engage with him on this. His primary source on information on American Muslims is Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.
I wasn’t sure how to go about it, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. To be continued…