Recently, I’ve been inspired by the number of people who have decided to stand up against the Trump brand of bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism.
But I’ve also been troubled.
When I see people who have strong, long-standing scholarly agendas, and they say that they must set aside their work to deal with the crisis that besets our nation, I am beginning to be troubled.
I feel rather strongly that not all of us should jump into the fray. Not all of us should be speaking to lay audiences and offering Islam 101 lectures, or Tolerance and Equality spiels to high school students. Some of us should focus on their long-term work, whether it’s daily service to their constituents or their work on specific knowledge projects. Important work should not be dropped by the wayside to deal with the unending crisis of the Trump presidency. Some of us are better qualified to do the Islam 101. Others are much more valuable pursuing historical research on classical Islamic jurisprudence. Each person needs to appraise her individual expertise and to use her time and effort wisely.
We can’t fail our ongoing work. A parallel for me is the ongoing scholarly work of the Muslim gender scholar. Her work is often hijacked by the urgency of defensive, more basic gender activism of No, dear White liberal /Islamophobe, we are not oppressed Muslim women, so stop tarring Islam with the brush of misogyny. Not to be elitist, but at some point, you have to leave the perennial lay message to the junior troops, and move on to research classical treatises on gender and jurisprudence so you may contribute to the critical scholarly framework. At some point, you may even be a little out of touch with the day-to-day activist agenda, so it is better for you to leave it to the on-the-ground activists.
The anti-fact, anti-intellectualist program of the Trump presidency pushes us into short-term triage. Triage or crisis-activism is often shallow. We must not allow the Trump presidency to hijack our other agendas – scholarship, research, progressive coalition-building, scientific work, etc.
Now, the understandable difficulty of that situation is that many our agendas seem to be endangered due to funding issues and new policies like the Travel Ban. In those cases, it is understandable to focus one’s attention on short-term activism. But if you’re good at it, please don’t quit that knowledge-building, that service, that parenting, – all that work that is not crisis-management. If you’re devoting yourself to excellent teaching and not to tweeting about the Muslim Ban regularly, you are doing your job.No one else will do your job. Keep doing it. Thank you. If you can inform yourself and others about the crisis of the nation without sacrificing your work and well-being, please do so. But don’t feel guilty if you’re not responding to every single Issue every day.