Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Thu, Jan 14th, 2016

“Yo Trump: You are making my job with Muslims impossible.”

As an American expatriate living and working in one of the Gulf Coast Countries (GCC), I am probably representative of the most overlooked demographic sub-sections of probable American voters in the 2016 presidential elections. This is especially worrisome, at this particular point in our nation’s history, when the issue of Muslims and how they are defined by us and how we are seen by them is crucial.

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Yet, as an avid consumer of all media from home; and, as one who has had to navigate through all the flotsam and jetsam of blather, bloviating and outright bigotry that passes for political discourse these days, it is more than unnerving for those of us who have to constantly bear the brunt of caustic commentary by Trump and his ilk. It is especially problematic for an academic and a writer, such as me, to have to proffer continuous counter-narratives in classrooms and in offices, on a daily basis, to Muslim students, employers and fellow academicians who often see the Trump-Cruz-Carson choir as confirmation of America’s axiomatic hatred of them, their culture and their religion.

I say this as no apologist for the myopia that too often infects Arab educational institutions, or the prejudice against anything and anyone associated with Israel, or the mind-numbing abuse of foreign workers or the spasms of theocratic absolutism against academic freedom and freedom of expression (thus, the need for a pseudonym) caused by the creeping influence of Wahhabism, that affects these still tentatively moderate Gulf states on a daily basis.

Yet, if those of us who are on the front lines don’t try to stem this tide, who will? Certainly not this present crop of Republican hopefuls, whose understanding of this region is jejune at best or highly selective when it comes to engaging with the actual individuals of their collective scorn. I am now in my eleventh year of teaching Arab female university students, who are predominately Muslim. I have to work hard, each day, to win their trust, to seek their patience with my tortured Arabic syntax; and, to gain their permission to let me take them on that the journey through English Literature, Philosophy, History, Theatre, the Social Sciences and the rigors of critical thinking. I do this, in order to demonstrate to them that these are pathways to a better appreciation as to what unites us, rather than what divides us. It is not easy.

As a Westerner and as an American, I am either the personification of all the pre-conceived biases of some of their families, friends and imams or the hope of an America that partakes in inclusiveness, diversity, freedom and, especially for women, a place where the suffocating reach of patriarchy cannot stop them from pursuing their goals of a higher education or of attaining a career of their own choosing. It is this latter scenario that I have been able to accomplish for some of my students in the past, but now it is that former fearful possibility that is gradually taking its place, thanks to the Donald, the Ted and the Ben.

Unfortunately, it seems that all the mainstream portals of news and opinion would rather bask in the glow of their radioactive comments, shake their heads as to their varying degrees of bombast, while at the same time engage in more micro-analysis of every poll that charts the rise and fall of these so called front runners. So, it might be time to invite, to the roundtable, the many of us who actually know what we are talking about; who engage with Muslims as actual people and not as abstractions; and, who are involved in dialogue on a continuous basis not because it is a luxury, but because it is a necessity for survival in an increasingly suspicious foreign environment.

You see, Mr. T, when you spew toxic hatred it does not come back on you but to those who speak the same language as you, who look like you (hopefully, without the tonsorial aberration) and who carry the same passport. So if anyone out there is listening, there is another silent majority who is a very important focus group; one that can add a valuable degree of unvarnished expertise to the present political landscape. Like many others, I chose to come here; and, as with many others I left family and friends to do so. I did not do it for the money, or for the frisson of travel or for the lure of adventure. I came as an American who wanted to make a difference. I do not want to leave because a fellow citizen with more cash than common sense makes it impossible for me to do my job.

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