Muslim Artists and Activists Discuss the Clear and Present Danger of Trump’s Presidency | News Feature | Indy Week

News » News Feature

Muslim Artists and Activists Discuss the Clear and Present Danger of Trump’s Presidency



Laila Nur is a musician and lead organizer with Durham For All. Saba Taj is an interdisciplinary artist and lead coordinator in the Durham Artists Movement. Zaina Alsous is a community organizer with the Durham Beyond Policing campaign and a poet.

How does Trump's presidency affect you and your community?

LAILA NUR: Watching the results, I was not shocked but was immediately terrified. Terrified for my safety and for the safety of people who look like me, for the safety of people who love like me. Trump's presidency is an affirmation for those who hate people like me. For a community that's already scrutinized, already under the microscope, already vulnerable, it's going to get worse when his supporters now feel emboldened and supported by the president in their racist views and their bullying. There have already been more than 200 reported cases of harassment and violence from Trump supporters against people of color, visibly queer folks, and people they suspect to be immigrants or Muslims. What I know for sure is that, internally, our community has been strengthened in realizing, regardless of our differences, that we are fighting the same beast. And more and more people are willing to come to the table to have difficult conversations to build across our differences and fight against this violent level of white supremacist racism. Everyday Americans are waking up to the truth that people of color have been speaking for a long time in this country. Everyday Americans are now stepping forward to strengthen their relationships and alliances with people of color. As terrifying as this time can be in many moments, it's inspiring and beautiful to know what's possible.

SABA TAJ: The fear I feel now has always been there to some degree, but there's a more present danger in that feeling now; it isn't as abstract. Seeing someone like Trump come to the presidency has emboldened people's bigotry, as they feel more justified to take harmful action against individuals when their government is backing it up. I feel more Muslim, more woman, more queer, more melaninated than ever. And also, more deeply connected to my community. This struggle is about survival, not just political opinions, and we need to be there for each other. This means building true solidarity and actual political power on the left, starting right now. We are already seeing the impact as Trump has announced that he will deport three million people and as hate crimes have increased since his election. There is hope, however, that the folks who did not elect Trump, the majority of this country, will be galvanized to take the action necessary to defend the human rights of marginalized individuals who are most impacted by a white supremacist in the White House, to defend the dignity of those who have been denied humanity by this government. So I think we will be facing a heightened level of oppression under Trump, and that, concurrently, we will see our communities grow in power under this pressure.

ZAINA ALSOUS: My parents are on my mind a lot lately, especially as this wave of hate crimes that have taken place just in the past few days come to light. My mother wears a hijab (headscarf), and many of the Islamophobic attacks committed by Trump supporters since Election Day have been directed towards visibly Muslim women. I feel competing desires: to be extremely loud in my identity as a Muslim woman but also to be cautious. It's hard not to feel the urge to encourage alarm when so much of Trump's rhetoric around refugees and Muslims during his campaign evoked Nazi propaganda. Already since Election Day you see mainstream journalists encouraging normality, calling him "unconventional" or "a symbol of hope," as if less than a month ago we weren't discussing dozens of accusations of sexual assault against him. Much of my frustration about this political moment stems from the liberal desire for civility that seems to be prioritized above the literal livelihood of black people, immigrants, trans people, queer people, Muslims, and women. I really don't want to discuss peace and love right now. I want to discuss how open white supremacy rose to this level of prominence and what we are going to do to stop it.

What can be done to express opposition to Trump and solidarity with the most affected communities?

LN: Action. In addition to the love rallies, Facebook likes, or verbal opposition, action makes the biggest difference. A light bulb has gone off for so many, and that is an invitation to be bold, uncomfortable, and challenged: in conversations with family, friends, and neighbors around race; in confronting internalized ideas of "other" and the actions we take based on the value we put on those lives; an invitation to challenge local government around voter suppression, gentrification, gerrymandering, school funding, prison population, and other issues that disproportionately affect people of color. This moment is a challenge to understand that we all benefit from coming to the table, finding humanity and love in our differences, and deciding that this fight is all of our fight. We all benefit from defeating not Trump, but the ideas, values, and legacy of racism that put him there.

ST: Folks can actively seek out knowledge, connect with the progressive work that is already happening in their state, and make the commitment to step into environments that might feel uncomfortable at first. We all have something to offer this movement, whether it is time, resources, hard skills, or leadership. We cannot allow ourselves to be satiated by a loud and brief expression of shock and dismay, and then return to a comfortable place of passivity. Lean into discomfort, understanding that it is small compared with the actual lives that are at stake here. If you love and value black folks, immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ folks, activate that love into words and action every day.

ZA: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid right now, but I also know that now is the time to prepare and to raise some hell. First and foremost I want people to take the time they need to grieve and process the shock of it all. Next, I think it is really important that we arm ourselves with knowledge by studying the policies that Trump wants to push through so we can have some expectation of the violence that we need to be prepared to fight against, as well as studying histories of past anti-fascist social movements. Just a few examples: we know that Trump announced this week that he plans to try and deport three million immigrants immediately. We know that the union representing immigration and customs enforcement officers endorsed Trump, and we know that Trump is in favor of employing racist "stop and frisk" tactics across the country. For those of us who want to engage in effective resistance to Trump, it's clear that we need to be prepared to fight against increased surveillance, mass criminalization, deportations, and even less federal oversight and regulation of law enforcement. What this looks like practically is becoming familiar with local organizations on the front lines of divestment from police and prisons, defending immigrant community members, and dedicating time and resources to these groups to build our infrastructure of resilience. SpiritHouse Inc., Southerners on New Ground, Black Youth Project 100, and Alerta Migratoria NC are all local organizations doing really important work to protect black and brown community members from criminalization and/or deportations.

What do you think is the role of artists in this moment?

LN: Art is the quickest way to the heart. Before we've recognized the lyrics, understood the image, or interpreted the poem, we are moved by it. Our bodies—our gut and desire for deep connection and aliveness—have already been stirred. If the moment we are in requires a concrete sense of interconnected struggle for liberation, then art is the best way to trigger deeper understanding and authentic empathy. I can tell you about racism, but it would land differently than a song that hit your core or made you cry. Music, poetry, dance, graffiti: they shape our culture and ideas, tell our histories, reveal our truths and humanity to each other. Art is a powerful and necessary form of connection and truth. Use it.

ST: Art has a way of making us vulnerable: we open up, feel things we don't have words for, and find ourselves transported outside of our bodies. This is a deeply powerful and transformative space that can be deliberately utilized to build understanding. Art goes beyond typical interactions, a vehicle to express and connect to the depths of our humanness, which is what really drives us to fight against oppression. So the role of artists right now is to be present and accountable to this moment in their expression. That can mean many different things depending on who you are, but I think about how, as marginalized people, we are given the task of documenting our own histories and our own present, of preserving our culture and art practices, in an empire that has systematically erased us and stolen from us. In a more practical way, I think we need to push our artwork into the public realm and challenge ourselves to create in collaborative environments as opposed to in isolation. I would ask artists to speak truth without trying to speak for others, to support and uplift one another.

ZA: I've been meditating on this Toni Morrison quote: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." As writers and artists, I think we need to use every word, every line, every note we have to refuse the Trump agenda. Historically, cultural work has always played an integral role in resistance movements, and I think now is another time for us to use art to be dangerous to our enemies. If art is truly a vehicle for connecting with our souls as well as the corporeal environment, the question becomes, what are we prepared to express in this moment? How loudly are we willing to declare our demand for the destruction of this world and the emergence of another?

This article appeared in print with the headline "Clear & Present Danger"

Add a comment