In a sprawling banquet hall, Ahmed Rehab walked to a lectern facing a glittering group of diners and launched into a searing speech excoriating the Donald Trump administration.
In a sprawling banquet hall, Ahmed Rehab walked to a lectern facing a glittering group of diners and launched into a searing speech excoriating the Donald Trump administration. “This fight is not just our fight, it is America’s fight,” Rehab told the packed room of 1,200 attendees – mostly American Muslims at a fundraiser for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which Rehab heads.
“As you look at those who are trying to ban good people from coming to this country,” Rehab continued, “people who’ve committed no crime whatsoever other than in their minds the crime of being Muslim… we will have none of it.” The room broke into applause.
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The president’s efforts to institute a ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries have been met with a strong response from Muslim Americans and their supporters.
But there is also fear that Islamophobia is on the rise, and that the Trump administration may still target Muslims.
“There’s a real dread of what’s coming next, what’s going to happen, who will be targeted,” said Louise Cainkar, president of the Arab American Studies Association, and author of a book that examined how Arab and Muslim Americans were affected by policies following the September 11 attacks.
“There’s a sense that they’re going to once again go after civic organizations, possibly surveil mosques, things that have been done in the past,” she said.
What is different now, she said, is that Muslim and Arab groups have established ties with other communities — and demonstrations against Trump’s rhetoric now draw a mix of people from various faiths and backgrounds. “This is new, and this is really energizing people,” she said.
At the banquet hall, those listening to Rehab’s speech had mixed reactions — some concerned, others optimistic because of the sense of cooperation with outside groups.
“My kids are all American citizens,” explained Fraheen Hashmi, a 36-year-old pharmacist with four young children.
“It’s just scary to raise them in this environment,” she said, worried that they might grow up embarrassed of their heritage or afraid to identify as Muslim.
Zayna Saadeh was worried, too. The 59-year-old Palestinian immigrant has lived in the United States for 40 years. But now, she keeps the front door of her clothing store locked for fear of xenophobic attacks. She unlocks only when someone rings the doorbell.
“We’re not stranger(s),” in the United States she said, but”that’s how we feel a lot of times right now.” Advocacy groups have reported a sharp rise in hate crimes.