Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Muslim in Rural Minnesota

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a gripping profile of a Muslim doctor living in Dawson, Minnesota -- why he moved there, how the election shook his faith in his neighbors, and his reluctant efforts to explain not just what Islam is, but why he experienced the widespread support for Donald Trump in his community as a deep and personal betrayal. It is a compelling and necessary read.

I've mentioned that my fiancée is from Owatonna, Minnesota, and that I regularly am out there visiting her family. Owatonna is about three hours from Dawson (it's in the southern part of the state, while Dawson is out west), but they both are in rural areas that swung hard to the right this election. Owatonna, too, had a hateful incident in the immediate aftermath of the election (a middle-aged man followed a Muslim teenager around a Kwik-Trip and asked "Now that Donald Trump's president, why do I still have to see Muslims? Go back to your own country.").

I don't mean to imply this is just a rural phenomenon -- after all, my very suburban elementary school got tagged with swastikas just before the election. This isn't about playing gotcha, or kick the hick.

But in both the Dawson and Owatonna cases, Muslim community members specifically suggest that there is an extra degree of alienation knowing that many, if not most, of their neighbors, classmates, or colleagues voted for Trump. Voted to put him on a registry. Voted to ban them from the country. Voted to demonize them and consider them all terrorists seeking to impose Sharia law on the country.

Now, frequently they'll deny that. It was about insurance premiums, not race or religion or ethnicity. Put aside the ludicrous notion that Donald Trump is going to make insurance more affordable. There's a deeper problem, for it's a less of a defense than one might think to say "demonizing you, rendering you a second-class citizens, labeling you an enemy of the state -- all on account your faith -- these didn't matter to me." There's a sort of negligence at work here, where people look at what Donald Trump said about their fellow Americans and said "that's not important to me. I'm willing to accept that for the sake of demolishing Obamacare."

This is why there's a sense of betrayal here that goes beyond simply one's preferred candidate losing. When we vote, we are making one of the most consequential statements about not just our own priorities, but our vision of care and concern for everyone in our community and country. It is not and should not be thought of as the equivalent of a consumer selecting their preferred brand of grapes. When people reveal their values in this way -- "I'm not saying I like the Muslim ban, but her emails" -- it is not wrong for those persons whose lives and equality are so grossly undervalued to take exception. And it isn't wrong for them to insist that their classmates, colleagues, and neighbors look them in the eye and be made to reckon with what they did.

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