Donald Trump has made it no secret that he harbors deep racist resent for Muslims. Throughout his campaign he famously touted islamophobic rhetoric arrogantly, and into his presidency we’ve seen him and his Brain, Steve Bannon draft executive orders banning the immigration of anyone from seven Muslim majority nations.
One Muslim has experience working inside Trump’s White House, and it turned out almost just as you’d expect. Well, she had experience. Rumana Ahmed, part of the National Security Council, was part of the Trump White House for just a little over a week.
Ahmed had been working as part of the NSC long before Trump ever announced he was running for president. She was hired to work in former President Barack Obama’s White House in 2011 after graduating from George Washington University. According to Ahmed, she was the only person who in the Obama White House to wear a hijab, but that the previous administration had been nothing but courteous to her, and allowing her the freedom to do so.
Though she was concerned by Trump’s hateful rhetoric against Muslims on the campaign trail, Ahmed was steadfast in her decision to stay with the NSC. She rationalized that her expertise could provide Trump and his administration with a perspective on Islam that would help educate them.
It only took eight days for Ahmed to realize that she wouldn’t possibly be able to assimilate into the Trump administration.
The travel ban issued by Bannon (through Trump) that prohibited travel to the United States for Syrian refugees and people of other Muslim-majority countries was the last straw for Ahmed. It was with this executive order that Ahmed realized just how little Trump and his administration valued her and her people.
Before she departed, Ahmed had an interaction with a colleague, senior NSC communications adviser, Michael Anton. She told him that she could not work in a White House that was so set to undermine the principles of democracy that it’s supposed to uphold. Ahmed later learned of an essay written by Anton, under a pseudonym, in which he railed against Islam.
Ahmed’s parents first arrived in the U.S. in 1978. Her mother owned a day care, and her father worked his way up to vice president at Bank of America before his death in a car accident in 1995. Ahmed began wearing a hijab at age 12. The 9/11 attacks had a profound impact on her and how she was viewed by her peers, but wisdom from her father gave her the strength to persevere.
Though she never forecasted working in the government, Ahmed’s experience in the Obama White House gave her a new sense of hope. She worked her way up from intern to the Office of Public Engagement to the NSC. She worked closely with President Obama on matters involving Muslims in the U.S. and our relationships with our countries. Although Islamophobia was still alive during Ahmed’s time with Obama, it had not blatantly crossed into the White House itself.
As Trump campaigned, Ahmed noted more and more instances of violence against Muslims. All she could do was hope that voters would be sensible and not vote for a candidate so unrepentantly prejudice.
Unfortunately, hope wasn’t enough to keep Trump out of the White House. Ahmed recalls the dismay she felt and struggling whether or not she should stay on with the NSC. She concluded that her role in the Trump White House would be very valuable.
After Trump’s inauguration, Ahmed noted just how much hostility Trump’s staff was projecting towards her. The way the administration was enacting policies and decrying the press was alarming to her and others who had served in past administrations.
On January 30, Trump announced his Muslim travel ban, and Ahmed realized she could not proceed any further. This executive order spoke out against everything America was supposed to represent. For Ahmed, this was not a political difference that could be debated or rationalized. She could not be in a White House that justified prejudice.