The president’s tweet was personal for me. I’m a first-generation American from a Muslim family and, until 2017, I spent my entire career in public service, including eight years as a civil servant at the Department of Defense, where I advised the department’s leadership on Middle East issues. As the daughter of Egyptian immigrants, working at the Pentagon was more than a job—it was a way I could show my parents that their sacrifices through the years were worth it. I would see admiration, sometimes surprise, reflected in the eyes of officials from the Middle East when they saw a young woman of Arab descent sitting behind the secretary of defense at a meeting. So when I read about how my colleagues Rumana Ahmed and Sahar Nowrouzzadeh were alienated or pushed out under the Trump administration for being Muslim or Iranian, I was devastated—not just for them personally, but also for the image and spirit of our country.
This is not the first time the president has twisted facts or conflated issues as they relate to Muslims to score political points with his base. Almost a year before he won election, Trump called for banning Muslims from entering the United States—a policy that evolved into what is now known as the “Muslim ban,” with hugely detrimental effects. On the campaign trail in 2016, he stated that “Islam hates us,” portraying Islam, and by extension Muslims, as an angry, monolithic “other” dead set on destroying the American way of life. With those three words, Trump set the tone for the years to come, fueling an “us versus them” narrative that has widened deep fissures within our society.