During the campaign of Donald Trump to become president of the United States, he said a lot of things that will surely inspire the next great punk rock era. One of those was his desire to ban Muslims from entering the country, lest they be terrorists, or possibly to round them up and put them on some kind of registry. Few American politicians have ever sounded so much like Adolph Hitler, but 306 electoral votes shows that’s the flavor of leader we’re in the mood for until at least 2020.
Well, some of the rock stars of Houston who are of Muslim descent have taken some umbrage at that sort of rhetoric. It’s understandable, considering that hate crimes targeting Muslims (or other groups Johnny the Casual Bigot thinks are Muslims) have risen 6 percent since the election. On January 20, when Trump will ascend the highest office in the land, four bands with Muslim members will host a protest concert called We Belong at Walters. Those bands are Turnaways, Giant Kitty, Ruiners and Revels.
“I hope to provide a place for people to show solidarity with those who have been affected by the extreme Islamophobia and racism that have been integral to Trump's campaign,” says Giant Kitty singer Miriam Hakim. “More important, I want to provide a productive outlet for the pain and anger that we are feeling right now by collecting donations for an organization whose only job is to protect American civil liberties while also providing a safe space for catharsis through punk music.”
“When we are in an area where his supporters know you aren't from around here or you look ‘different,’ you get called anything from a ‘fag’ or to ‘go back where you came from,’ and it's crazy,” says Saad Wadiwala, drummer for Turnaways. “How damaging it is to hear; we brush stuff off like that, hence the name ‘Turnaways.’ Turning away from all that nonsense.”
The concert is the brainchild of Hakim and Ruiners’ guitarist and vocalist Shan Pasha, with guided assistance from Free Press Houston editor Omar Afra and Muna Javaid, an organizer with Girls Rock Camp Houston. Hakim and Pasha were discussing the effects that Trump’s ideas had and would have on American Muslims after the election. For Hakim, the hateful ideas feel like a betrayal. She is of Syrian descent, but grew up here in Texas listening to Oum Kalthoum and Willie Nelson. At her sister’s wedding, guests dance both the two-step and the dabke. This is her home.
“This is the country I work and pay taxes in, the country I’ve lived my whole life in,” says Hakim. “Just because a man was elected president who called for an indefinite ban on Muslim immigrants, a registry of Muslims in the United States, and denounced second-generation Americans like me as possible radicals doesn’t change that I am an American. Muslims have been a part of the United States since its founding. There are even records of Muslims in this country as early as 1528 (near Galveston, by the way) and we make up almost 1% (3.3 million) of the U.S. population, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the U.S. It is preposterous to me that this month an administration will take office who ran a campaign suggesting that we don’t belong and that we don’t make America great, because we do.”
We Belong will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, with all proceeds going to the organization. The ACLU has been bracing for possible rights infringements from the Trump administration since the day he was elected. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone , executive director Anthony Romero said the group expects an onslaught of unconstitutional and illegal policies on subjects ranging from immigration to torture.
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“While Muslims have been a specific target of Trump’s campaign and state Republican Party platforms in general, there are many other groups who face discrimination and damaging laws under this next administration, and the ACLU is a major line of defense against unjust government action in any regard,” says Hakim. “We chose the ACLU as a beneficiary because we want to help protect everyone, not just ourselves.”
We Belong is part of a larger trend of artists choosing to fight back at the incoming administration through their art. The Trump inauguration has been plagued by antipathy of top-rated acts willing to play the event, though a rumored counter-concert failed to materialize. Most recently, Trump was admonished for mocking a disabled reporter by Meryl Streep during her acceptance of a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, an act that sparked another of Trump’s famous tweet-storms.
“We have a new song we wrote after the election called ‘Et2YT,’ which is pretty appropriate for the event,” says Hakim. “In Giant Kitty we write very personal songs, and given my background and that half the band is transgender, [that] means that our sets are political anyway, whether we try to be or not. For us the personal is political.”
We Belong, featuring Turnaways, Giant Kitty, Ruiners and Revels, is Friday, January 20 at Walter’s. Doors open at 8 p.m. $10 cover.