The Importance of Writing (Is It Different Now?)


Donald Trump has only been the President of the United States for a little over a week. It feels longer, doesn’t it? It also feels like an alternate reality, one in which our Constitution doesn’t seem to matter to the people in power.

In this repressive climate of government-manufactured “alternative facts,” there is an increased sense of urgency to dissent, to speak up, and to share our perspectives in blogs and books.  As Nevien Shaabneh, the Palestinian-American author of Secrets Under the Olive Tree, said in her interview on Read Diverse Books, “I think all writing is activism. Literature is able to sensitize what has been desensitized in our society.”

Indeed, writing is a form of activism, and we must share our diverse stories with anyone who is willing to read them.

But that’s the problem. Those who are willing to read about our experiences aren’t the people who voted for Mr. Trump on November 8th. They aren’t the ones who support Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim Ban, his multi-billion-dollar wall, or his vow to strip 24 million people of their health insurance. Trump’s supporters, like the man they elected, probably don’t read much. After all, one in four Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

Thankfully, though, those people aren’t the majority in our country. They weren’t even a majority of voters in the election, which Trump lost by nearly 3 million votes (while capturing the electoral college, a legacy of slavery). I hope our words will reach those people, as well as the open-minded members of the next generation, our future leaders. I hope our diverse perspectives will encourage these people to keep up the fight against Trump’s racist, fascist regime.

I’ve been making an effort to write about my experience as a multiracial, Muslim-American. I’ve also been making an effort to read books that raise up the voices of individuals from other backgrounds, especially the ones that Trump and his supporters have targeted first (of course, he’ll come for everyone eventually, if we don’t prevent it from happening).

I am also taking other steps to resist our government’s un-American policies, as I discussed in Becoming a Butterfly, which I wrote in response to Rebecca Solnit’s powerful book, Hope in the Dark:

I’m trying to push beyond my comfort zone where I can–too many of us have been too comfortable with the status quo for too long–but I’m not going to turn into a [direct action] activist anytime soon. I’m shy, and even making a phone call to a person I don’t know makes me anxious. However, I’m willing to do that when the person on the other end of the line works in a lawmaker’s office. I’m willing to do more than that too.

Every day since Trump’s inauguration, I have engaged in as many daily acts of resistance as I can — which I’ve chronicled on Twitter to hold myself accountable — ranging from participating in my local women’s march to calling my Senator’s office.

But I’ve wondered how much of it I should share publicly, especially after my 5-year-old daughter cautioned me against public displays of dissent against Trump. She said, “Oh mommy, be careful. If he finds out you don’t like him, he’s going to make you leave the country.”

I thought about her heartbreaking words when Trump and his Death Eaters occupied my town last Thursday. My friend, a white woman, gave Trump the finger, but I kept my hands firmly by my sides, keenly aware of the cop beside me with his hand on his gun as Trump’s motorcade rolled by.

But I can’t be quiet. I need to speak up. The other voices of dissent I hear on a daily basis give me strength and comfort (thank you). Maybe eventually, together, our voices will be so loud that the powers that be will have no choice but to listen.


  1. OMG, I am just reading this now, all these weeks later, and I don’t see anything to make me feel less distressed. The fact that a 5-year old girl would feel it necessary to “protect” her mother from free speech because of the president – in the United States – billed for most of its existence as the place of welcome and hope – is beyond belief and yet says it all. There have to be SOME people of compassion, reason and courage in the other branches of govt who can ensure America retains some semblance of dignity, kindness and hope. Please.

  2. I’ve been thinking about how public to be as well, but I finally decided that they’re counting on us to be silent (which is why they’re doing everything to make us afraid). I also think the most important thing we can do, especially if we’re members of marginalized groups, is to remind people that we exist and we’re human and we’re here. They want to dehumanize us because then they can justify their actions against us. So my plan is to make it as hard as possible for them to do that.

  3. I’m late to the party, but this is a beautiful article. Like many people, I’ve been struggling with my role as an editor and writer during this dystopian downward spiral. I love my work, but it sometimes feels as if everything outside of social and political events is trivial. 😦

  4. Such a powerful post…I will be thinking about your daughter and what she said for some time to come. Thank you for blogging. I only recently discovered your blog, but I was attracted to a few things: you’re a lawyer, a Muslim-American, and a reader. I want to hear what you have to say.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that the election is affecting your daughter so strongly. I admire you for continuing to speak up anyway! Are there any resources you’d recommend for taking action? So far, my favorites are the 5 Calls and Wall Of Us websites.

    1. Thank you! My daughter doesn’t understand the nuances of Trump’s policies–such as the fact that our family is not the target of his Muslim Ban because we are not immigrants from one of those seven countries–but she certainly understands the hateful message behind his actions. She knows that his supporters do not believe families like ours belong in this country, even though we are American citizens. In my opinion, Islamophobia and xenophobia are worse now than they were during the Bush Era.

      As for resources, I’m a public interest lawyer with a policy focus, so I’m tied into an informal activist network that keeps me informed of when to act (action alerts from other public interest orgs, direct emails, word of mouth, etc). However, I’ve also started following Philly We Rise to find out about demonstrations/protests in my area. I don’t know if there are similar groups for other locations, but I hope so. I’m familiar with 5 Calls, but I’ve never heard of Wall of Us. I’m going to check it out. Thanks for mentioning it!

  6. Oh my goodness, your daughter’s words break my heart! These are scary times we live in to be sure, but if we sit back and don;t do anything at all, they will only get scarier. Big hugs to you and your girls.

    1. Thank you, Stefanie. These are definitely scary times. I try not to talk about Trump too much at home, but it’s hard to avoid the subject. My kids hear the news. They can hear the hateful message in Trump’s words. It’s heartbreaking that this is our reality in 2016 and ’17. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and so many other forms of hatred have always existed, but Trump’s presidency still feels like an enormous step backwards. I don’t know many Trump voters personally, but one of the few I do know kept saying, “Oh, Trump won’t actually do any of the things he promised.” Well, that wishful thinking definitely didn’t pan out. It’s horrifying.

    1. I fear things will get worse before they get better too. It’s heartbreaking. I can’t believe this is America in 2017. Trump’s rise is a huge step backwards.

  7. Oh, friend. I’m heartbroken that your daughter has that fear for you, and I am so glad that you’re still writing and still speaking. You are important and your words are important. I’m glad I know you. ❤

    1. Thank you, Jenny. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can better protect my daughter from having these fears. I am an American citizen (my mother is a naturalized citizen), but my daughter is too young to realize that my citizenship status makes it hard for Trump to force me to leave this country.

      But I understand where her fears come from. She knows that I get treated differently based on the way I look and my background. She is aware of how upset I get when I get searched or held at security (which happens with increasing frequency), and I have made a decision to travel less because of how humiliating the experience is for me (and what if they start searching my social media? I worry that anti-Trump sentiments will result in worse treatment). She also knows that Trump is racist–even a five-year-old can tell the meaning of his words–and she knows how he feels about Muslims. She knows more about Trump than I would like, but he’s everywhere. What she doesn’t learn at home, she learns at school, where many students come from families who have reasons to fear Trump and his supporters.

      I’m thinking about taking her to a pro-refugee rally this weekend in the hopes that it will remind her that we are not the only family opposing Trump (I’ll scope it out before I take my kids there–I might go without my kids if the themes will scare them too much). She had a very positive reaction to our local women’s march–when she was surrounded by supportive people–and I want to reinforce that feeling. I also want to her to learn more about the people who are directly impacted by this hateful executive order.

  8. Wonderful write-up, Amal. ❤
    You are right that our opponents are not the kind of people who will read the books we need to uplift most right now, those of marginalized people and experiences. Which is why it's so important that children are taught to celebrate the diversity of world early on. But if their parents don't want them to read these narratives, what can we do then? The best is that schools around the country/world do a better job at teaching empathy and compassion for others.
    Thank you for linking to my interview!

    1. Yes, it’s very important for school curricula and libraries to include books featuring diverse characters. In our segregated communities, those books might be the only exposure some children have to diversity.

      Thank you for your thought-provoking interview of Nevien Shaabneh. I’ve added her novel to my TBR. 🙂

  9. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking post. I can’t imagine the fear you are feeling and I applaud your courage in standing up for what is right. (And please, from a friend, go only so far as you are comfortable. Only you know where your line is. No one would judge you for doing what you need to do to stay safe and keep your family safe. But it sounds like you’re already doing that.)

    I think there’s another group that diverse books may reach. It’s true that those who are inclined to read the stories of people who are different from them are not, in large majority, Trump supporters. And that the die-hard Trumpers won’t listen or pick up that book. But I believe the next elections are going to hinge on those who did not vote this time. Whether they were disenfranchised by harsh voter ID laws (which almost kept me from voting as I still had my NY drivers’ license – fortunately my polling place accepted my federally issued court ID) or because they just weren’t interested or “inspired by Hillary” (and, ugh, how I wanted to scream at that complaint – as if it’s Hillary’s responsibility to be personally inspiring to every special snowflake with a voter registration form!). I think there were people who cast ballots for President Obama but couldn’t be fussed to get out this time – and they must go vote in 2018 and beyond. I believe diverse books can reach many from that group and I hope that we can use the power of books to mobilize better in the future.

    Again, hugs to you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Jaclyn. I think you are right that diverse books could reach and inspire the people who didn’t vote this time. I can’t understand why those people didn’t see Trump for the threat he really is–the idea that there was “no difference” between the two main candidates is baffling–but I do understand how hard it is to vote in this country. My state doesn’t have early voting. I think some people, perhaps many people, in my state didn’t vote because every poll said that Hillary was going to win. So, it didn’t seem worth it to stand in a long line and try to make sense of a confusing ballot when the candidate you prefer was going to win anyway.

      I am afraid right now. I don’t think Trump can force me from this country — I was born here — but I was well aware of that cop staring at me. He thought I was more of a concern than the friends standing with me (who were white). I’ve also decided to travel less (work only) because I’m just tired of being humiliated and delayed by security. I am lucky that humiliation/aggravation are what I’m most likely to continue to face over the course of Trump’s administration, and my heart breaks for everyone who is facing far worse. I am also worried that it’s going to get worse for everyone. What we’ve seen from him this week is just the tip of the iceberg.

  10. Your daughter’s words are very upsetting. I do think that what is happening now in the US and also the situation in Germany, it is more important than ever that allies take a good look at their priviledges and use it. Not all of us are brave enough to speak up, especially those with visible marginalisations.

    I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you to speak out, especially as your children still depend on you. I do it on my German twitter account, and I get quite a few rude comments.

    Writing and reading are still important forms of activism, in my opinion. I’m going to be reading more children’s books in an effort to find diverse books that can be used as educational material as well as for recreation.

    1. I’m trying to figure out the best way to comfort and protect my kids. They see how I am treated because of the way I look and my background, and they hear what Donald Trump says (even a five-year-old knows it’s racist/sexist/xenophobic/etc). It’s scary. At the same time, though, it’s easier for me to speak out than it is for other people (such as undocumented individuals and refugees). I have to keep protesting for their future as well as for my family’s future, even if that means I’ll be subjected to more harassment. I want my kids to understand that.

      I’m sorry you get rude comments on your German Twitter account. I get the occasional Trump troll, but it doesn’t happen that often. I’m more worried about the people I meet in person.

      1. That sentence about undocumented individuals and refugees is exactly why I speak so openly about discrimination nowadays. In Germany, POC are also told to go back home if they criticise the situation here, and I had the priviledge of telling them that I am a citizen of Germany. I want to use that priviledge.

        We’ve been quiet for so long, and each POC generation has had to keep dealing with the same problems…

        I get it quite often offline – but people don’t realise it’s disrespectful.

  11. This last week has made more of the quiet Trump voters in my small town think again, so don’t believe that it’s hopeless. On Monday my physical therapist told me that she “regrets her vote.” I am doing my best to respect her and my neighbors as people and be ready when more of them ask what they can do to help repair the harm they have done.

    1. Thank you for sharing that. I don’t want to alienate the Trump voters who realize they made a mistake. For now, though, I don’t feel comfortable engaging with them when they voted in a way that showed such little empathy for the people Trump overtly threatened during his campaign (nothing Trump is doing now is a surprise; these actions were his campaign promises). But I will try to keep an open mind, and I will appreciate anyone’s help in mitigating the effects of Trump’s rise.

    1. It makes me sad that I can’t protect my daughter from feeling so afraid. We are lucky that we’re not in the most precarious position at this time, though. Our hearts break for the families who are.

        1. It is too bad. The Internet has its pluses and minuses, but this is one of the times I’m glad we have it. I can’t imagine how isolated I’d feel if I didn’t know you and similarly minded people through social media.

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