Friday, November 18, 2016

No Direction Home

Several prominent figures, including the comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert, have, with what I am sure is good intent, gently ridiculed those American citizens who have chosen to remain outside the borders of the United States following the 2016 presidential election. As one of those citizens, I want to offer a respectful dissenting voice.

Shortly after the election, Colbert compared staying in the US following the Republican victory to enduring a Thanksgiving dinner with a racist relative in the habit of making offensive remarks when drunk. It was a funny bit, one that made an effective appeal to a favorite progressive  theme: America as family. But Colbert’s routine was a joke, not a decision, and decisions are now what matters. Each of us has to make our own.

I am a Muslim born in the United States. I voted for Clinton. I know my side lost. I also know what that means: We have just elected a fascist Islamophobe with a habit of inciting violence to the highest office in the land.

That fascist Islamophobe has installed another Islamophobe, Stephen Bannon, one of the nation’s leading white supremacists, as his chief strategic advisor, and he has chosen yet another notorious Islamophobe, Michael T. Flynn, as his senior national security advisor.

With these two early choices, the president-elect has eviscerated any remaining hope that he was merely an ambitious, loudmouthed pragmatist whose actions would, unlike his campaign rhetoric, somehow manage to coexist with twenty-first century democratic values. He has forced us all to confront a painful reality: The president-elect is a threat to the Republic.

Complacency in the face of such a threat is, I believe, immoral. It is now time for massive, peaceful organized resistance, within legal boundaries, on a scale no one has yet seen or imagined, using tools no one has yet used. One valid expression of that resistance, and something new to American political history, I think, is the formation of a peaceful, effective, articulate expat opposition community in support of democratic values, which I now invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join.

You know what kind of community I mean. I'm talking about that wave of eloquent expat dissenters all the very best tyrants (Stalin, Khomeini, Mugabe, etc.) get. And, I suppose, target. The time has come for us to create such a forum for these dissenters and to share their voices.

That is an appropriate and, I believe, necessary sign to send the nation and the world of how serious things have become.

It is not the only appropriate sign, of course, but it is one we should not apologize for sending. Taking a seat at the Thanksgiving table is, for some of us, no longer healthy or safe. We need to notice: That drunken uncle now has a shotgun on his lap.

Colbert's family metaphor is apt, but it is under-explored. Sometimes families are dysfunctional. Sometimes there are abusers. And when there are, you don't have to stay.

I don't know when I'm going back to the States. But I'm glad I'm in Ireland now. The home I used to have has changed beyond recognition.

Eight years ago, I began work on JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, a novel about, among other things, an Islamophobe with outsized political ambitions -- and an extremist “caliphate” movement in the Middle East that appears to materialize out of thin air. Both of those notions were sheer fiction when I began working on the book in 2008. They are chilling reality now. I sometimes feel as though I have somehow managed, without meaning to, to summon up something evil, by daring life to imitate art. Please accept my apology for that dare.

Following the presidential election, hate crimes are up sharply. That is no surprise. I suspect hate crimes will continue to rise as unrepentant bigots congregate ever more openly in whiter and whiter, larger and larger mainstream gatherings. In recent weeks, the safety pin has become a symbol of support to all those threatened by racists taking their cue from the man we just elected president.

I write to America now from Ireland to suggest that the nation as a whole deserves that support ... the notion of American diversity deserves that support ... and that some of us are indeed justified in choosing to offer it from abroad. Notice that we do. Notice that this is not normal. Notice that normalizing racism is not acceptable. Notice that absence, coupled with effective advocacy, is protest, too.