When Marwa Balkar learned of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s support of a tracking database for Muslims, she decided she would not take his remarks lying down.
“When I first heard Donald Trump’s comments, I wasn’t shocked because I feel like it was something Donald Trump would say,” she told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “But… I realized that just because Donald Trump is saying something that Donald Trump would say, does not make it all right. And I’m not going to be the one to tolerate it.”
In response, Ms. Balkar penned a Facebook post defending her identity as both a Muslim and an American, and challenging Mr. Trump to embrace tolerance and understanding. The letter – since shared more than 140,000 times – highlights social media’s power to give voice to the fear of backlash that Muslims face in the wake of terrorist attacks from groups who claim to perpetrate violence in the name of Islam, and their struggle to distance themselves from such acts.
Whenever a high-profile attack makes headlines, “The everyday Muslim, they’re thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Edgar Hopida of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), based in Plainfield, Ind., to the Monitor following the Nov. 13 Paris massacres. “It’s like a fire drill. It’s time to hide under the table again.”
Indeed, in the aftermath of the attacks, mosques across the country faced vandalism and threats of violence. A largely partisan debate took place around the US government’s plans to resettle as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees – majority of whom practice Islam – over the next year.
Then at a campaign event in Iowa on Nov. 20, Trump told NBC News that he “would certainly implement” a database system tracking Muslims in the US. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he added. "We should have a lot of systems."
Instead of hiding, Balkar fired back on Facebook.
“I heard you wanted us to start wearing ID badges, so I decided to choose one for myself,” she wrote. “I chose the peace sign because it represents my #Islam. The one that taught me to oppose #injustice and yearn for #unity. The one that taught me that killing one innocent life is equivalent to killing humanity.”
She invited Trump to the charity events she attends and interfaith dinners held at her local mosque, adding, “Maybe then you'll see that me being Muslim doesn't make me any less American than you are. Maybe if you walk in my footsteps, you can see that I am not any less human than you are.”
Others have since taken to social media to counter Trump’s comments – and change perceptions about what it means to be Muslim. In an echo of the broader #NotInMyName crusade, the #MuslimID campaign saw doctors, lawyers, journalists, students, and others posted images of ID cards that showed their professions.
“I take care of our vets, the underinsured, the indigent – proud to carry my #MuslimID,” tweeted Mariam Nawas, a doctor based in California.
“Proud former Congressional staffer. Media pro, grad student, Jersey girl. Here’s your #MuslimID @realDonaldTrump,” wrote Zainab Chaudary.
Other politicians, including Trump’s rival candidates, have since blasted the idea of a Muslim registry.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the suggestion “outrageous and bigoted,” while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said that tracking a particular group based on religion sets “a pretty dangerous precedent.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the prospect of a database abhorrent, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has generally kept from criticizing Trump during the 2016 campaign, said, "I'm not a fan of government registries of American citizens."
Trump himself has also backed away from his support of the idea, though he has clarified that he stands behind surveillance of refugees coming in from Syria as well as of certain mosques.
For young Muslims like Balkar, however, the message that groups such as the Islamic State do not represent their faith and identity transcends the words of one politician.
“All these extremists are not me,” she told Today.com. “That's not my religion. I'm tired [of] people claiming to do these horrific attacks in the name of Islam.”