Throughout my time at college in the US, I thought I was taking the high road by believing people are generally well intentioned, and it would be morally inconsistent to paint the greater American canvas with the brush of a few vitriolic white people. Among my close friends, it’s no secret that I was part of the small subset of Muslims that actually pushed against the Islamophobia narrative. I actually believed Muslims peddled a victimized storyline that aimed to pin away blame from ourselves, and that Islamophobia was a just another hype narrative that made us look weaker than we actually were – divisive and detracted from genuine struggles – giving us an easy way to earn sympathy on social media.

But after seeing what’s unfolded after the last two GOP debates, and reading Vox’s recent take on Trump and Rubio, I’m starting to understand otherwise. I’m starting to understand the gap between perception and reality, where my self-fulfilling newsfeed failed me. What looks like a Muslim megaphone is merely an echo in a Muslim tunnel. In each presidential campaign, candidates come and go. What’s different about this one is that it’s repeatedly tapping into an underlying problem that should have been extinct by now in a country that takes every opportunity it can to pride itself on all the humanitarian good it does.

I’m starting to see the stains of bigotry seep further and further into the accepted American fabric. I’m seeing my engineering mind turn and say “this problem is now statistically relevant”. I’m starting to understand the plight of those more outwardly Muslim-looking — their constant fear, how dismissive looks have turned into homicides and mosque burnings, and how there’s much greater precedent for spite than there was before this whole charade started.

I’m starting to understand that America’s fearful and hateful mindsets taken complete advantage of freedom’s torch. A torch that both, lets us see them for who they truly are and also a torch that gives them impunity. This impunity is what’s so problematic. Because the fact is that the only thing minorities have on their side is social consequence. That’s how they find their civility. Racism and discrimination buy you a ticket to a ruined reputation and ostracism. That’s the way prejudice has always worked. You could argue that that’s more costly and more powerful than any legal punishment, but it’s been months and we haven’t seen anything of the sort.

The response to the Muslim ban fell flat. I don’t like playing up fears, but this isn’t “problematic” anymore. I finally considered a Trump-Carson ticket. I finally considered Muslim IDs, a policed Internet, a gun-oil-military stranglehold. I finally considered the nuclear triad in these candidates’ fingers. I considered another invasion and drone strikes where civilian collateral is okay. I finally considered it all together not as TV raucous, but as presidential powers one step away.

Throughout last year, this newfound fear and spite spread from just foreign Muslims to “self-radicalized” American Muslims. Attacks on Muslims may be politically motivated but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. There isn’t much point in hiding until the backlash ends, because from here on it only looks like it’ll get worse. Impunity is always given, never taken, and it’s about time we stopped giving it like it’s for sale. When Republicans feel the need to take stand up against the growing extremism within their party and demand better leaders — that’s when you know it’s gotten pretty bad. That shouldn’t sound unfamiliar because when you point one finger at someone, there are always three pointing right back.

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