AFTER the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, a real estate mogul and television host with nature-defying hair used the moment to publicly muse about registration databases and even special identification cards for American Muslims. For the sake of efficiency, I created a card myself, listing my skin tone as “Caramel Mocha,” my ethnicity as “Bollywood” and my religion as “Sunny-Side Sunni.”
On Monday afternoon, Donald J. Trump, that mogul turned leading Republican presidential candidate, said that this country should bar all Muslims from entry until we can “understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.” He used the horrific attack in San Bernardino, Calif., which claimed the lives of 14 and wounded 21, to cast suspicion on roughly 1.6 billion people worldwide.
The proposal was so outlandish that at first I tweeted to ask if he actually said bar Muslims or muslin? As an American Muslim, I don’t support either idea, but I can live without the latter. (Although I would miss the softness.)
We live in absurd times with these absurd realities, but sadly, there is no laugh track.
That’s the “Trump Drill”: Begin with an ominous warning such as, “Something really dangerous is going on,” before launching into an insidious exercise of manipulating fear against minorities to cynically mobilize support. It’s most effective after tragic events like the San Bernardino shootings, reportedly carried out by a radicalized couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who were sympathetic to the Islamic State.
When I first heard the news of the attack, I also began a drill. The Muslim Drill. It’s familiar to many minority communities. First, I pray for the victims and their families. Then, I start a different sort of prayer: “Oh, Allah, please don’t let it be a Muslim. Just let it be some white dude.”
My prayer reflects no ill will or animosity against white people, but rather a realization that when a white male, say, kills three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, the entire civilization, behavior and population of whatever constitutes “whiteness” are not indicted and asked to engage in post-tragedy condemnathons.
White Christians generally don’t have to denounce violence in the name of their religion or hope their patriotic “American-ness” isn’t questioned by a nameless, skeptical jury.
But that is exactly what American Muslims are expected to do after violent extremists they’ve never met commit violent acts in cities they’ve never visited.
Even before the shooting was declared an act of terror, an American Muslim civil rights organization held a news conference to condemn the shooting on behalf of the “American Muslim community.” Memo to Muslims and haters alike: There’s no such thing as a monolithic Muslim community. American Muslims are among the most diverse religious communities in this country, who can’t even decide on what day to celebrate Eid.
Who can blame anyone, though, for pre-emptive condemnations when anti-Muslim bigotry is now mainstreamed? The F.B.I. reports that anti-Muslim hate crimes are about five times more common now than they were before 2001. However, that hasn’t stopped some American Muslims from pledging more than $100,000, as of Tuesday evening, for the families of the San Bernardino victims.
When Syed Farook was named as one of the San Bernardino shooters, a Muslim friend texted: “Donald Trump loves this. If it is ISIS, it’s like they want him elected so he can put us in camps,” resigning himself to his inevitable internment. We joked that we could make money by making bean pies and hummus in the camps and selling them on the black market.
It is dark and can seem callous, I know. But many American Muslims have learned to adopt a gallows humor since the attacks of Sept. 11. This doesn’t minimize the tragedies — we, like all Americans, mourn for the victims and fear for our country — but rather allows a collective catharsis amid the anxiety.
For example, after law enforcement officials confirmed that Mr. Farook’s wife, the other shooting suspect, was a Pakistani citizen, I noticed that #Pakistani was trending on social media. I mused about creating a new “Pakistani Drill.” I’ll start telling people that I’m a pre-partition Indian who is “spiritual but not religious” and loves “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Of course, general suspicion, manifested in calls for exclusion, is no laughing matter. An exasperated Arab-American friend asked on social media: “Can someone please come up with a strategy we can get behind to put the brakes on this slide to the very ugly future on the horizon?”
An unlikely but welcome brake came from the former vice president Dick Cheney. In a radio interview, he said, “This whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
I actually agree with Mr. Cheney’s statement. Truly, we must be witnessing the apocalypse.
Many Americans know there is a problem of violent extremism and mass shootings in our country. “The Trump Drill” will not help us. We don’t need a repeat of a shameful past that rationalized internment and bigotry in the name of security. We need a way to feel secure that celebrates our values: pluralism, liberties, diverse partnerships and the inevitable marriage of halal meat with corn tortillas. Maybe we can call this the “American Drill.”
Wajahat Ali, a writer and the author of the play “The Domestic Crusaders,” is a journalist at Al Jazeera America.