Donald Trump recently retweeted a doctored photo of the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wearing a traditional Iranian maghnaeh (headscarf) and amameh (turban), respectively, and accused them of sympathizing with Iran’s supreme leader. The image was disturbing, confusing, and—given that hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are a growing concern—dangerous.
In response to the tweet, the White House press secretary told Fox News that the president was “making it clear that Democrats are … almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans.” But if the president simply wanted to link Democrats to Iran’s supreme leader, he could have tweeted any number of images that did not include them wearing attire worn by millions of Muslims around the world, none of whom has anything to do with ayatollahs or terrorism.
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.