Donald Trump is much more than a political oddity for people like Obeid Kaifo. Trump is a threat to their lives.
Obeid is a young Aurora man you might have known while he grew up here. He graduated from Overland High School. He attends pre-med classes at Metro State University of Denver. You might have seen him in a grocery store, at the gas station, the mall.
If you visit Capitol Hill, you might have had shwarma or gyros at his family’s restaurant in Denver.
Obeid is just like every American millennial, probably too spoiled by his parents, too used to a life filled with digital and technological conveniences, and too quick to take for granted all this Colorado life has to offer.
He’s not like that any more.
He’s afraid, pretty much all the time. He’s nearly sick with the fear that what Trump has said and done — and still won the presidency — will get him and others like him hurt, harassed or even killed.
“We’re being very, very, very cautious,” Obeid said. He was at work when we talked, serving up hot Syrian treats to customers at his restaurant. He was at times hushed and clearly fearful. He was animated and angry, too.
He forced himself into the election spotlight a few weeks ago when he wrote a passionate essay we ran in this newspaper. In that, he lamented that he and his family are being persecuted in ways he never imagined, just because his parents left Syria decades ago and emigrated to Aurora. Obeid was born here. In his essay, he said he never thought he was any different than anyone else in his Aurora schools, because he wasn’t. It wasn’t until after the Sept. 11 attacks that his Arab and Muslim ancestry mattered to anyone.
Despite a spate of temporary insanity in America, prompted by the attacks, the issue of his Muslim and Arab roots faded, for the most part.
Then came Trump.
Suddenly, a young Aurora guy busy working his way through college to get to med school is bombarded with hateful comments — from a U.S. presidential candidate. For months Trump tweeted and barked about how Islam and Muslims were threats to national security and “Americans” — excluding Obeid and his family. Trump rambled and effused ignorant lies and propaganda about idiotic things like Muslim immigrants being “Trojan” horses. Then Trump stepped up his ravings, saying that he wanted to ban Muslim immigrants, possibly detain Muslim Americans. He impassioned and inflamed Islamophobics across the country and right here in metro Denver.
The vicious ignorance and hate prompted Obeid to start speaking out against Trump’s spiteful and dangerous rants, and against those who felt empowered by it to inflict it on him, his friends and other Americans whose ancestors came from Arab nations. For no logical or acceptable reason, he was suddenly shunned.
“You can’t imagine how it feels to suddenly be the outcast of your own group,” Obeid said. “Now, for some reason I have to convince people there’s nothing to worry about, that I’m a safe person to be around, as if I have some sort of disease.”
We’re the ones who are diseased. Our minds have been made sick by Trump and his malignant brand of hate, fear and intolerance. Not even sworn in, Trump’s gathering dark clouds of appointees are floating the notion of a Constitutional argument for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Meanhile, they dismiss Americans’ fear that Trump would try such a thing with Americans deemed Arab or Muslim.
Trump and his newly anointed officials are coy about whether they would force those deemed Muslim or descendant of Arab nations to register with the U.S. government.
It’s the stuff of chilling dystopian cinema and fiction, and Obeid and millions of other Americans are seriously scared.
“Trump’s victory has only legitimized his rhetoric,” Obeid said. “We’re already getting lots of negative stuff.”
This week, Aurora Sentinel reporters talked to residents and officials about the spreading unease and fear in a community that has long been lauded for being an iconic American melting pot of all kinds of people.
But even more disturbing than Trump’s predictable doublespeak and dog-whistles, emboldening the country’s racists, are the people who claim to be Obeid’s defenders.
“The politicians and officials who are keeping quiet are the ones that I’m concerned about most,” he said. He wants to know where the outrage is from local congressmen, city and state officials about a Muslim registry, about blatant racist taunts and outrageously unconstitutional notions. Obeid wants to know why elected officials who said they would stand up to Trump, so far, aren’t.
It’s their quiet that makes him wish there was at least one Arab-American person in Congress to help the ignorant or outright bigoted to see the folly in what they’re doing. Maybe Obeid should consider stepping up.
Obeid and all of America’s non-white melting pot need to know they’re not the only ones afraid. Trump has publicly tried to shame the media for outing his lies, his fascist and racist flirtations and outright embraces, his erratic and contradictory claims and statements, and his toxic and repulsive rants.
I’m repeatedly threatened by Trump’s minions, who warn me that Trump will silence journalists like myself. That I am watched. And the rest of America watches as those who stand up to Trump and his cultish following are berated, and it has a chilling effect everywhere from grocery stores to schools to the halls of Congress.
Fearful white Americans are already cravenly distancing themselves from our bullied neighbors, fearing that a Trump government might come after them, too.
It’s insidious, and it’s not going to work. White Americans might be shell-shocked by Trump’s victory, or unsure of what might really happen, but I know that even as our trepidation grows, we’re Americans. We will not tolerate anyone, especially our own government, abusing any of us. Those days are gone, and America will never be “great” like that again.
“There’s an old Arab saying about this,” Obeid said. “The person who quietly watches an injustice is actually a silent devil.”
It’s time to make some noise.
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