At the time, Trump had just declared his theoretical plan for a complete shutdown of Muslims coming into the United States. I can’t say that one man standing up to suggest this fazed me much (sadly), but for the rest of my life, I will remember how it felt to hear the roar of applause that followed that statement. The following week, after the rally, I spent a lot of time thinking about how it would feel to be a Muslim American walking through airports, going to the grocery store, taking your kids to school. America’s dirty secret was out: our dark past that we’d tried so hard to move beyond was alive and well.
So when Monica and I were up talking about the lyrics to “-ism,” I recall saying that I didn’t think the song could remain relevant for long. This was based on my assumption that Donald Trump would never be president, there would never be a Muslim ban, and, eventually, our country would move on and push this dark chapter back into the shadows. I thought that I (as well as others) would later look at a song like this one, and say “Wow, we were really, really afraid, and all over nothing.” The lyrics are as follows:
Gliding through a sea of fearful people
strangers crossing to the other side
This is loneliness they’ll never know
a recluse haunted by a million eyes
I am your unshakeable fear
the latter of the binary “us” and “them”
One spark from two stone hearts burns everything here
Wrap me in the flag of an -ism
You were cautious, you were never curious
you’re emphatic, and keeping empathy at bay
I feel it, but I could never prove it
just like true love, havoc always finds a way
You are my unspeakable shame
a tragedy of violent and fearful men
Our heartless past and future one and the same
wrapped up in the flag of an -ism
Fast-forward to now.
I suppose the heart of what the song is trying to say is: we will do terrible, unforgivable things to very good people when we are driven by a fear or terrorism. And we are willing to accept that we do these terrible things as long as we do them in the name of patriotism.
(Photo credit: Kyle Dean Reinfold)