Converting to Islam almost 20 years ago created a few challenges in my family. Some of my relatives viewed Islam as the religion of Satan and yet despite this, as a family we managed to hold it together.
My choice to become a Muslim was a personal choice that only affected me. The obvious disdain some of my family had for my choice wasn’t enough to motivate me to speak out and cause a schism. Although frustrating, I felt maintaining family ties outweighed any personal discomfort.
This changed when half my family voted for Trump. Not only was I repulsed by their choice, I felt deep shame about be related to people who had more in common ideologically with Nazis, than they did with me.
Trump and his administration’s Islamophobia is apparent, but it was not Islam that placed a wedge between members of my family and me. The ideological stance Trump represents, and my family’s embrace of it drove a stake into the heart of our family.
I hesitated to write about this for many months because it’s painful, and I feel like I’m outing my family – worsening an increasing rift; but this goes beyond my family and me.
Their choice to vote for Trump will impact so many families adversely, and I imagine we are not the only one grappling with this.
As an American and as a human, I could not remain silent.
I’d love to go on with my life as if nothing had changed, but I was compelled by duty to call them out, hoping they would realise what their vote could mean. I weighed the consequences of doing so, knowing that part of Trump’s strategy is to divide us, but in this case, we were already divided. This was my effort to help them understand what their vote meant for me and my children.
I could not remain silent when half of my family was going over to the dark side. Years of watching, reading and listening to World War II history wouldn’t let me.
What if people in Germany shed a pseudo “polite” culture and called out and sat down their own family members for supporting Hitler? Maybe history would have gone differently.
This was once the good fight in the United States. I grew up listening to the stories of my Finnish great aunt who fought the Nazis. I watched Sands of Iwo Jima and Bridge over the River Kwai with my grandfather more times than I can remember.
Why were our values so different even though we were raised by the same people and in the same way? When I look at it, I don’t think we have different values, we have a different understanding on how to reach them.
There was nothing easy about doing this. It was extremely difficult to confront something so ugly in people who are so close to me, and who played such a vital part in my upbringing, but silence kills.
Perhaps they didn’t understand the repercussions their vote and their views would have on real lives, on my life and the lives of my children.
Thanksgiving came and I decided the time was now. First I asked them if they voted for Trump. They didn’t even have the courage to admit they had voted for him and a few literally scurried away as I approached them. My response: “You should be ashamed.”
Sitting in my uncle’s living room last Thanksgiving my entire world changed. I could no longer take my security or the security of my children for granted, not even here, with my family. I told one of my aunts, “No matter how I feel about what you believe, I would not ever vote for someone who said they would deport you, imprison or harm you, but you just did that. So please don’t hug me. You don’t love me.”
In the end, it didn’t have the effect I had hoped for. They didn’t wake up. Instead they acted like victims instead of perpetrators. I don’t know what made them hate so much.
I don’t know what happened in their lives that made them able to justify their racist views. They didn’t come to my mother’s house for Christmas and I struggle to understand how people who claimed to be Christian refused to acknowledge the sanctity of God’s creation in all of us.
History shows us the horrible things people can justify to themselves when they stop seeing other people as human.
I tearfully wonder if one day I will need to push my children into a stranger’s attic to save them from death. And if my family would place my children and I into a gas chamber, thinking they were saving our souls from the evils of Islam?
If we are not all safe, no one is. My family won’t be able to protect my children and me if Trump continues on his tirade of hate, and they will have to live with the consequences. We all will, but I hope as a nation we don’t go down that path.
Anisa Abeytia is a writer whose work has been featured in The Hill, Brunei Times, The Dubai Sun, Orient.net and the Middle East Observer. Abeytia holds an MS and an MA from Stanford University in Post-Colonial and Feminist Theory.