The immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s surprise election victory brought a slew of comparisons with 9/11. In New York, my liberal friends waking up on 11/9 said they experienced the same range of emotions. You will have seen the stories of commuters weeping on the subway, colleges offering counselling to students and a general sentiment that life would never be the same again. Therapists reported an overwhelming sense of grief among their clients as they tried to process their world turned upside down. Robert de Niro chipped in, telling the Hollywood Reporter: ‘I feel like I did after 9/11.’ Whether or not the comparison was fair or even in good taste, the fact was that, for some, Trump’s victory evoked the same feelings of shock and disbelief as the mass murder of almost 3000 people.
I have been reflecting on that reaction in recent days after a visit to a mosque in Charlotte, North Carolina. The plan was to speak to Muslims about their fears for a Trump presidency and to collect anecdotal evidence of the rise in hate crimes reported after the November 8 election. The Ku Klux Klan were due to parade elsewhere in the state, and the testimony from the Islamic Centre of Charlotte was meant to offer a first-hand account of the effects of such bigotry and hatred. It did not quite go to plan.
There was no sense of grief. And although many worshippers at Friday prayers spoke of their fear for the future, it was all balanced by a need to get on with things. The visiting imam even managed to crack a gag or two at the expense of Fox News, exhorting the faithful to capitalise on all the free air time Muslims were receiving on the network to get their message of peace out to a wider public. There was no despair among the congregation – many of whom had fled civil war or countries with miserable records of religious freedom and spoke admiringly of America’s civil society and constitution.
Over tea, Mujtaba Mohammed said he was worried about the stories of abuse but that he had faith in his fellow Americans to do the right thing. ‘We are all Americans we are all in this together’, he said. It was Jibril Hough, a campaigner who got himself thrown out of two Trump rallies during the election campaign, who made the 9/11 comparison. Back then, he said, the attacks gave a green light to Islamophobes to go public with their hatred. So, too, the 2016 election. But it had also presented Muslims with an opportunity to build alliances with other faith groups and campaign groups. He told me:
‘I think it was a blessing in disguise because we created a lot of coalitions, made a lot of new friends and a lot of doors were opened. Some may have been closed for a moment but others opened. And I feel like a similar thing is about to take place.’
Two snapshots, two sets of responses both articulated with reference to the same defining episode of the twenty first century. The sanguine attitude of a minority living in a state where the KKK is organising and Confederate flags can be spotted flying at the roadside in rural areas, should perhaps serve as an example to the doom-mongers living in their liberal bubble.