Standing by Hassan
How Trumpism has affected
a Muslim student from Rwanda
America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.
-- Neal Gabler, Farewell, America
Something certainly died on Nov. 8, 2016. What died was not the country we call the United States, but rather a sense that, as a whole, Americans are for compassion, tolerance, decency, and hope for a diverse, inclusive community with no one left behind. Martin Luther King. Jr. called it beloved community.
What disappeared was not the dream itself, which some (maybe many) share; but the sense that it is collectively shared by almost all Americans. It seems as if half of the American population abandoned it in favor of an anti-dream called Trumpism. Trumpism is about "us" at the expense of "them" -- about the free use of hateful language -- about going back to a time when men could demean women - about a nostalgic desire to return to an imagined white dominated America of the 1950's. Trumpism masquerades as patriotism, but it is really fear and hatred.
Were all who voted for Trump Trumpists? I hope not. But what I know is that if King's dream is to be reborn, we need people like Hassan Hussein Karemera. We need to hear his disappointments and his persistent hopes. First a little background.
We professors have our heroes, and one of mine is Hassan Hussein Karemera, an international student from Rwanda. Hassan recently graduated from Hendrix College where I teach; and he is now in a PhD program in plant science at Penn State. I had Hassan in two classes and also recruited him to speak at local Christian churches and share some stories about his culture at a Fat Soul Festival. Hassan's smile is infectious; his spirit filled with love; his mind ever so sharp. He was (and is) the kind of person who lights up a room with positive energy. He is a Muslim.
He is among the many who are shaken by the culture of hatred I call Trumpism. Hassan does not hate anybody! Not even Donald Trump or a man who once revered Dr. Ben Carson. But Hassan has been shaken to the core by a culture of hatred that was unleashed by Donald Trump in the general election and absorbed by many (perhaps not all) his followers, especially those at the rallies.
This culture -- the culture of Trumpism -- is indeed a culture: a shared sensibility, both conscious and unconscious. We miss it if we focus on the policy implications alone. Trumpism is more than the rules and regulations that may or may not flow from the Republican control of our congress and the Presidency. And Trumpism is more than Donald Trump the man. It is an attitude of heart and mind unleashed by Donald Trump, seen at his rallies, felt in his tweets, and shared by some of his ardent supporters.
Is there hope for Trump the man? I hope so. As a process theologian I believe that no person is quite reducible to who he's been in the past. Our core identities are more malleable than we ourselves imagine; there is always the possibility of conversion: a change of heart and mind into love. One of the best things Donald Trump can do, along with all members of his family, is to get a gentle spiritual director who helps them grow in love. It's actually much more important than any advice they might receive from other kinds of "experts." I'm recommending Hassan.
Still there is the problem of Trumpism. As I said, It is an attitude of heart and mind that has poisoned the souls of many Trump supporters, including the eight in ten self-identified white, evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. See How the Faithful Voted: A Preliminary Analysis.
What I so admire about Hassan is that, despite his anger and disillusionment with America, he is committed to living by non-Trumpist values: Dignity, Compassion, Inclusion, Respect, Gentleness of Soul. He knows the value of creative transformation.
I am an advocate of Listening Cafes where we hear the stories of residents in our country who had stakes in the election. In this I am influenced by Arlene Goldbard, author of The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future and also by Process (Fat Soul) Philosophy. I think all the stories need to be heard, including those of people who supported Trump for whatever reasons. Even if we lack common ground, we develop relationships through empathic listening which can be springboards for a better future.
But for now, and perhaps for a good long while, the need is for the so called winners (those who voted for Trump) to listen carefully and deeply to the so called losers (those who are heartbroken, soul-shaken, and angry.) I want us to hear Hassan's story, reprinted with his permission from a Facebook post.
-- Jay McDaniel
Two Post-Election Facebook Posts
by Hassan Hussein Karemera
First Post: Hassan's initial response, November 9, 2016
I can't stop thinking of the disappointment the 2016 Election has left in many people's lives. At one time I was hopeful that this great nation (USA) was going to officially stamp out double standards and rampant sexism to elect it's first ever Female president. Unfortunately, the nation still punched below the belt and let down a true fighter of children's and women's rights plus equal opportunity for families....America you have elected a President who has walked on human bones to get himself ahead. It's been proven day in day out and you have blocked your eyes and neglected the truth. You have truly shown the world your skeletons and failed a great nation and the entire humanity. Like so many great empires, America has come to her passing. When the Largest democracy can't stand to defend families, equal opportunities and human decency, it's a disgrace to the world....This is crazy and unbelievable! Don't blame anyone blame yourselves for secretly chanting hate over love; division over diversity; fear over hope; evil over righteousness; racism over unity. This speaks loud to what I call " CLOSET RACISM & IGNORANCE" stop pretending to be good in light of human eyes while divisive in your heart....I am hopeful for a blighter day! I am grateful to all those true activists of hope, love, strength, equality, justice, and unity! We need to go out and tell HOPESTORY, STRENGTHSTORY AND... TO keep humanity at peace!
Second Post: Hassan tells his story, Nov, 11, 2016
Recently, I posted saying Thank you America for Screwing Humanity? My post called for more answers and I have taken time to answers those below.... I am still hopeful in America!!
I am and will always be grateful, hopeful, and above all God fearing! I am also open-minded, against marginalisation and subjugation.
As a young son of an African farmer who survived a genocide (due to hatred and racism), dictatorships, military governments, and marginalisation of the minorities. A Trump win spoke down on me and the values I hold dear. My parents spent each day of their lives working hard to be exemplary and role models to me and my siblings. They taught us to be disciplined, respectful, and good to other regardless of race, religion, sex, socio-economic background, beliefs and other differences because they believed love is more natural and human than hate and division. My dad always said to me “son no man or woman gains from destroying others”. My parents emphasised hard work and community (UBUNTU: I am because we are!) as a remedy to hate, division and destruction. These lessons have shaped my life and allowed me to embrace diversity over division, smiling over fawning, love over hate, understanding over apparent beliefs, inclusion over marginalisation and segregation, hope over fear, humbleness over arrogance, openness over ethnocentrism and truth over lies and belief in others.
In the last 18 months, I have seen Mr. Trump constantly defy the values I hold dear like respect (for elder, women, children and oneself), equality, inclusion, hope, courage and family. In many cases, he has embraced NAME-CALLING and BULLYING his opponents from the Republicans primaries to the general election to get ahead. This reminded me of my early life as a primary and secondary school pupil in Uganda and Rwanda. I and other new kids were always bullied and teased by older and powerful students every time I joined a new school. I share this feeling and pain with so many millions of pupils, students or former students around the world. I can’t see someone who has used the same unfair mischiefs and marginalising behaviours as a leader and Face of the world democracy.
I believe so many parents will find parenting very hard after electing a president who has defied civil decency, discipline, respect, and other fundamental values of a healthy childhood. He has shown no love for others and minimal understanding of co-existence. He has divided the nation into us and them emphasising the “Otherism” idea that nearly wiped my nation 22 years ago. He blamed immigrants for unemployment, increase in crime, sexual assault, and so many unprecedented cases. He promised a massive deportation force for immigrant , building a Mexican-USA wall, ripping health care that has benefited nearly 20 million needy working Americans instead of fixing it. This kills me! I believe America is the envy of the world because of her diversity, hopefulness, talents and an immigration system that works for all.
The President-elect has for the last 18 months played on fear, anger, division, indecency, and hate. I believe fear and anger are the new HOPE, division is the new DIVERSITY, indecency is a new law of DISCIPLINE, hate is a new LOVE. He has preached racism through talk at not to the minority communities making it hard to believe he will indeed “Make America Great Again”. He has awakened the beast of evil exposed the worst out of people through division, anger and fear. He has endorsed sexual assault and sexually predatory behaviour with his signature “Locker room talk” after his 2005 leaked video. This hurts and breaks my heart a lot as a human being. You don’t have to be a woman, father or son or daughter to understand women’s rights are human’s rights. The worst of all he threatened to sue 12 women who came out and attacked them with all kind of uncivil statements. This speaks volume of what powerful and rich people do in other countries I have visited and lived in.
As a former Resident Assistant at Hendrix College, I can say this is one reason as to why sexual assault victims never or are afraid to come forward to report their cases. This election was a signature of what men can get away with and how worse women have been mistreated and subjected to double standards, sexism, and belittling. In addition, he allowed men to brag and objectify his own DAUGHTER! with sexually sensitive words. To what I know a father loves, protects, and respects his own before and above anything. If you can't father your own , I don't think you can father a nation. Allow the above are notebook definitions of sexism, double standard, objectification and obscenity which are clear disqualifiers for anyone running for the highest office in the land.
He has praised dictators like Putin, threatened to imprison his opponent, called for hacking of his opponent’s emails by Russia, and shamed the greatest army men on earth... I am grateful America is a democratic nation. In countries like Uganda, Dr. Kiza Besigye (a political opponent of the current Ugandan President) has been imprisoned more than 156 times in the last 15 years. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba was killed because of political opposition. In my very own Rwanda, the 1994 genocide claimed about a million people due to hate, division, misogyny, bad governance and suppressed political oppositions. In South Africa, The great Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for opposing apartheid, racial segregation, and fighting for social justice. I have personally witnessed the worse of a dictatorship, hate, and misogyny and it terrifies me to hear the next leader of the largest democracy endorse violation of human rights, dictatorships, racism, and otherism. A country divided is a country destroyed! I believed in America and I was disappointed.
I have been in the US for the past 4 years and a half; I have never said this to anyone but the time has come for me to tell my story. Arriving in the USA on May 23rd, 2012 for my undergraduate study on Full-Bright Rwandan student my excitement and hope were crippled a bit when I had to go through an extra hour of security screening, questioning and fingerprinting which none of my other 22 friends in the group had to go through. Two years later on May 19th, 2014 when I passed my road test and went to get my Driver’s license; I was subjected to a second fingerprinting and 90 days wait for security background check to get my license (August 19th, 2014). On July 29th, 2015, after my Botany 2015 conference in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, I was fingerprinted and questioned again before entering the US like it was in 2012. On July 26th, 2016, As I was getting back from Rwanda to the USA, I got fingerprinted and had another extra hour of questioning.
Many might be asking why? I don’t know either but I have a rough guess now. I was repeated asked if I wasn’t a terrorist or had any connections. To me as a Muslim (Hassani Hussein), it wasn’t surprising since I knew of September 11 and wanted to make sure I contribute to making this nation and myself secure by collaborating and answering all the question with an honest answer “NO”. For years I have joked with my college mates on how much I have been fingerprinted and subjected to security screening checks and never thought my "joke" second nature would become a nightmare. I had never at one time doubted or fawned because of who I am.
However, 2 days ago, I thought of changing my name and religion to assimilate and be “NORMAL”. Even with those running thoughts and tears of terror, I strongly believe in Islam because it’s good and brings out the good values I learnt from my parents. There isn't a moment that passes without thinking of missing my next flight or having to spend an extra night somewhere because of my religion and name. If living my life isn't terrifying enough for any of you: Welcome to my world. I have always hoped, believed, graced, and counted my blessings because of an inclusive, warm, supportive and loving community America had become by understanding the difference between Islamic value and Extremists terrorist values, acknowledging and working to reduce racism and identifying and talking about the hardest questions our communities face today (Especially at Hendrix). Thank you Home-drix!!!
I think I should tell you about my Islam that I know and love. Islam preaches against hate, crimes against humanity like what ISIS and other groups terrorist organisations stand for. A small fraction Muslims who don't represent moral campus of Islam have indeed been disastrous to the world. These people are using the name of Islam to the elevate their selfish agendas and hate. My Islam believes taking one man’s life is like killing an entire humanity and saving one human life is like saving an entire humanity. Islam has been shaped and animated in the worst possible ways by our misleaders.
On February 16, 2016, As senior at Hendrix College my fears were ignited by one of my once favourite role models Dr. Ben Carson when he said “Muslims in the U.S. who embrace Islamic law while also supporting American values of democracy are “schizophrenic”, this broke my heart. A few hours later my loving Host dad Mr. Scott Williams sent me a message to comment on the issue. I took time to digest the comments even with lots of tears and disappointment. A day later in my short remarks, I wrote, “there is no good or bad Muslim, there is no good or bad Christian… But there is a good or bad human being.” I believe a human being can choose to be good or bad depending on the community, feeling and many other factors.
On March 11, 2016, The President-elect said in an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, “I think Islam hates us.” He promised to have extra screening for Muslims or even temporarily ban Muslims coming to the US. This terrified me and made me sick and powerless as the brighter days of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion seemed to come to an end. The results of the 9th November polls screamed hate, racism, anger and fear at me.
I hope Dr. Ben Carson, The President-Elect and other misleaders can view Islam and the American and international Muslim communities as human beings, not a terrorist breeding centre. I am grateful for opportunities afforded to me by this great nation and I don’t want to see that vanish in thin air. I want to see so many hopeful young people achieve their dreams. We should choose HOPE, LOVE, DIVERSITY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND TOLERANCE.