On the anniversary of executive order 9066, which called for the internment of Japanese Americans, signed by Roosevelt in 1942, thousands mobilized in solidarity with Muslim Americans, and in opposition to the Trump administration’s executive order targeting Muslim immigrants. The event, which carried the slogan ‘I Am Muslim, Too’, was organized, in part, by former Trump friend Russell Simmons, and included an extensive list of civil rights advocates, celebrities, religious figures, and politicians
New York governor Andrew Cuomo was one of many political figures to throw support behind the event. Cuomo, who refused to “second guess” the NYPD’s pervasive infiltration and surveillance of Muslim American communities, shared a video on Twitter of himself delivering a speech from January during Family Planning Advocates Day of Action wherein he stood behind a pulpit and declared “I am Muslim, too”. “We will ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and opportunity and will work to protect the rights of those seeking refuge in our state,” Cuomo belted.
Standing in Times Square, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told an energetic crowd that “an attack on anybody’s faith is an attack on all people of faith”—a few years ago, de Blasio was singing the-police commissioner Raymond Kelly’s praises when the first wave of stories revealing the extent of the department’s surveillance program were published by the Associated Press. When Muslims impacted by these covert spying operations sued the city of New York, de Blasio’s administration responded by thoroughly defending the practice of spying on Muslim Americans. And still, he stood amongst New Yorkers at the ‘I Am Muslim, Too’ rally and said just that, that he is Muslim, too.
Among the many placards and homemade signs carried by demonstrators, there was one poster that was seemingly the most popular—the image of a woman wearing a headscarf with a US flag design. The poster, which was illustrated nearly a decade ago by Shepard Fairey based on a photograph of Munira Ahmed, who does not wear the hijab, has been used by patriotic Trump resistors in order to communicate one fundamental point, that Muslim-Americans are a part of the so-called American Dream.
The adoption of the American flag as a symbol of progressive desires is an appeal to nationalism that is steeped in anti-immigrant history. It is also reckless language that alienates those not committed to being proud of being Americans. The combination of claiming to be Muslim for the sake of unity, when one isn’t, and nationalism produces a toxic brand that undermines genuine solidarity efforts. Any attempt to use patriotism to undermine restrictive and inhumane immigration legislation only works to make patriotism palatable. This in turn allows detractors to use it as a litmus test for someone’s humanity, and specifically whether or not they deserve our empathy.
As touching as it may be to claim, even in a sense of solidarity, that you are Muslim, if you aren’t, then you aren’t. You will not face the same heavy-handed consequences most often delivered by the state, its representatives. Government programs have likely never been built around “mapping” your communities, or infiltrating houses of worship and community centers due specifically to their Muslim affiliation. And believe it or not, vowing to “register as Muslim” should Trump’s administration create a Muslim database is not resistance but pure naïveté, at best. You don’t get to claim empty slogans for the sake of fleeting camaraderie because they make you feel good while also arguing that systematic change is necessary in order to rectify injustice. You don’t need to be Muslim to express solidarity, nor does resistance demand any attachment to nationalist mythology which turns Muslims into commodities only worth defending should they express the right amount of patriotism. By all means, demonstrate your support, but at least question the manner in which this support is expressed.