The Immigrant Mind: Why Do Iraqi Christians Support Donald Trump?
Luma Simms | November 17, 2016
I woke up thinking in Arabic. It happens when I spend more time than usual in conversation with my Iraqi relatives and other Levantine friends and acquaintances. Lately, I have spent a good amount of time doing that, in person and on the phone. In my head, I hear their voices, their accents and their common refrain:
“Thank God for Trump.”
“God had mercy on us.”
President-Elect Donald Trump’s name rings in my ears with the Moslawi Christian accent of my closest relatives, and I am conflicted. They are happy and hopeful about his election. It doesn’t matter if they don’t live in America; the Iraqi Christian diaspora are heartened. On the phone, a relative living in another country – one who hasn’t read anything I have written about Trump during the last few months – probed, “What do you think, Luma?”
During the elections, my talk of character and principle fell on deaf ears. These people had lived under Saddam Hussein. Saudi-friendly American foreign policy has driven them out of their homeland during the past two decades. They have left professional jobs, houses, friends and family. As asylum-seekers, they go wherever they are accepted; a single family can end up in four separate countries. They have been scattered to the winds. Who has the luxury of assessing a politician on his personal character when family, community and culture are devastated? They didn’t believe anything the media was saying about Trump, but they did believe at least the gist of what he was saying. They sought a strong protector and found him in their vision of Trump.
Given all of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, one may wonder what it is about him and his message that would draw immigrants to him. The answer, in some ways, is the same for all of those who cheered him on and voted for him: They are people who have been ravaged in one way or another. These are “the unprotected,” as Peggy Noonan called them back in August. The Arabic-speaking Iraqi Christian community, a minority among minorities, is yet another unprotected group, overshadowed in the American media mindset by Muslim immigrants.
The causes and motivation that drove the Rust Belt to break so heavily for Trump drove this demographic, as well. Sure, the outside circumstances may look different, but fundamentally, it is the same human story: communities denigrated, jobs lost, family fragmented, religion disdained, traditions derided, ideas assaulted and human identity assailed. All of the issues that drove America’s white working class to vote for Trump have a counterpart in this community.
The presence here of Iraqi Christian immigrants in particular, and the Middle Eastern Christian community in general, is due solely to the political and cultural climate set by Muslim governments across the Middle East. This is something that is often overlooked. It is because they have been suppressed, subjugated and persecuted that they are even in America in the first place. They escaped to the West only to find Muslims following them to a land in which they believed they could finally be free of them.
Before I get accused of being Islamophobic, let me explain. We had Muslim friends while I was growing up. They were kind, intelligent and freedom loving. As I have written before, most people who are able to unite faith and reason – able to hold the two in tension with a faith that is well-formed and holds up to reason – are better equipped to assimilate to Western countries. But, for most governments in the Middle East, faith subverts reason, and increasingly so. Christians can no longer live under that strain, especially since the faith that rules is one that would harass, punish and subdue them to back to dhimmi status.
It is an intra-Islam argument – that of how to unite their faith with reason. But it is evident that Islam needs to have that conversation. When Pope Benedict XVI tried to address this issue in his Regensburg Lecture in 2006, the Muslim community promptly protested in outrage, while media elites began gnashing their teeth. That Trump was willing to publicly and unapologetically broach the subject was the key to his success within this beleaguered community. Someone was finally willing to say the things everyone else wanted to bury. Someone had finally given a voice to something these people had experienced their entire lives; something no one in the West was willing to discuss. Muslims were coming to this country and gaming it, using even political correctness for their purposes. When these Iraqi Christians see a hijab-clad woman on national TV claiming that she is the subject of prejudice, they’re incredulous. They see a foot in the door to making this country like the places they left.
It is this incredulity – this sense of injustice – that Trump was able to tap into.
Middle Eastern Christian immigrants are not opposed to Muslim immigrants. What they are resistant to are those who would come in and not assimilate. But instead, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has noted, and as Middle Eastern Christians know well, there are Muslim immigrants who would use Da’wah to slowly but surely Islamize America. We don’t know what a Trump administration will hold in terms of Middle Eastern foreign policy or domestic immigration policy. Whether anything will come of his talk on tightening up the U.S. immigration policy, no one knows. But for now, Iraqi Christians’ hearts are cooled by the fact that somebody finally sees the injustice of things and is willing to speak out.