We Belong: An Interview with Miriam Hakim of Giant Kitty
Giant Kitty. Photo: Michael Villegas
On January 20, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and officially become the 45th President of the United States. That same night, four bands with members who are Muslim or come from Muslim families — including Giant Kitty, Turnaways, Ruiners and Revels — will take part in a protest concert at Walter’s Downtown called We Belong: Houstonians of Muslim Descent Dissent. The event seeks to provide a safe space for all and to allow those disillusioned with the upcoming administration to stand in solidarity, with all proceeds benefiting the ACLU of Texas. Free Press Houston was able to ask event organizer and Giant Kitty vocalist Miriam Hakim a few questions prior to the concert next Friday.
Free Press Houston: What do you hope can be accomplished with the We Belong event?
Miriam Hakim: I hope to raise a significant amount of money for the ACLU since they are one of the most important organizations in the country for defending us against injustice and discrimination. I also hope to provide safe space for people in Houston, and in particular those from a Muslim background, to come find catharsis and solidarity together. Finally, I hope to make a public assertion that just because the electoral college elected someone who says us and our families don’t belong here does not make that person right. Our government is supposed to represent all of us, not just the people who voted for them, and we’re going to make a public statement reminding our leaders that we continue to be their constituents whether they like it or not.
FPH: How do you personally see Trump’s victory affecting the Muslim population?
Hakim: I see Trump’s victory as validating Islamophobia and racism and emboldening bigots. They no longer have to be “politically correct,” which is what they call respecting people with different backgrounds and experiences from them, and I think we will continue to see an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment and actions based on it. Honestly, Trump doesn’t seem to keep consistent positions on anything so it’s hard to predict what policies might change or be implemented, but considering that Trump’s national security advisor is on record saying that “Islam is a cancer,” I think we can assume it won’t be great. It has felt so much different being an Arab American and being Muslim in this country since Trump’s campaign and his extreme rhetoric. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this unwelcome and this afraid to be “openly Muslim” or “openly Syrian-American.”
Discrimination and violence against Muslims in this country has happened for the past several years, from active surveillance of mosques to hate crimes to laws banning “Sharia law” across the country despite the fact that no one is trying to implement whatever they think it is anywhere in the U.S. Hell, we already had a version of a Muslim registry in the NSEERS program during the Bush administration, but it didn’t seem to bother the general public too much when it was going on. I think the Trump administration will implement policies along the lines of those during the Bush administration and those in tea-party controlled states as well as extend the several military actions the U.S. is pursuing in Muslim-majority countries. However, it is impossible at this point to tell how far he will go.
FPH: Do you think that creative expression carries more importance during times of turmoil?
Hakim: I definitely think creative expression is more important in turbulent times, in particular for disenfranchised people. It allows people to feel powerful and assert themselves and their ideas, and it allows them to reach out and communicate with others in a time where they don’t feel heard. Creating music and art lets people find each other and connect, helping them feel less alone and more supported. It also is a form of catharsis, providing a medium where people can feel whatever they’re feeling (even if it’s negative) and let it out in a productive way.
FPH: Do you think musicians can affect change in “Trump’s America”?
Hakim: Musicians, especially those with a large reach, can certainly influence people to consider new ideas. Then again, Paul Ryan loves Rage Against the Machine, so maybe that only goes so far.
I think music can certainly help organize and empower the people who listen to it. I know as an anti war teenager in the ’00s System of a Down gave me a lot of confidence and hope that there were people fighting for things I believed in, and my love of them helped connect me with other people with similar values.
FPH: How do you feel that people can most constructively demonstrate their disdain for the Trump administration?
Hakim: I think the biggest things people can do are organize and educate. We can do a lot more together than we can alone, and it is our responsibility to stay informed of current events and of our rights. People should also get more involved in local politics, which includes voting in every single local election and even running for office. I also think one of the most important things people can do is support free and rigorous journalism. Newspapers should not have to resort to click bait to stay afloat, and without supporting professional journalism there is no way to actually know what is going on. There is no freedom without free and robust press, and I wish everyone would pay for a subscription to their local papers immediately. Finally, I think everyone should get involved in at least one movement that doesn’t directly involve or affect them, because we’re all going to have to band together to help fight for and protect each other.
We Belong: Houstonians of Muslim Descent Dissent, hosted on January 20 at Walter’s Downtown (1120 Naylor), is an all ages show with doors at 8 pm and a $10 cover.