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For millions of Arab and Muslim American voters, this election is an emergency

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To millions of Muslim American voters, the 2016 election is an emergency, a historical pivot that could lead to a Donald Trump presidency enshrining further racism against them into law and immigration policy, or a term for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Muslim Americans, especially young Arab Muslims, had been enthusiastic supporters and surrogates for Clinton’s erstwhile rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom Clinton beat in the primaries. In Michigan, Sanders took the Arab vote by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent. With Clinton’s nomination last week, Muslim Americans of all backgrounds have a stark choice, just like everyone else.

James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, had been a Sanders appointee to the Democratic platform drafting committee, along with Cornel West, an outspoken advocate for Palestine who has since endorsed Green Party Candidate Jill Stein. Zogby has followed Sanders in calling for Clinton’s election over Trump, emphasizing that he must not become president. Still, many Arab and Muslim Americans I’ve spoken to on the campaign trail have expressed skepticism about Clinton, suggesting she has an challenge capturing the same kind of fervor Sanders did.

Zogby, however, predicts that the Arab and Muslim vote will go overwhelmingly to Democrats, led by Secretary Clinton. He also heartily endorses the Democratic ticket this year.

“I’m going to be encouraging Arab Americans to vote Democratic. That’s where our allies are, and that’s the context in which we’ve built our coalition. That’s the coalition we belong to, and I can’t abandon that coalition. That’s the coalition in which we grown and we gain strength. To me, it’s not a question of do I vote or not. I will enthusiastically vote for Democrats,” he said.

Zogby described a pattern in 2016 emerging that goes back almost 30 years to the primary of 1988, when Jesse Jackson, who had spoken out about Palestinian rights, lost a primary election to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. The Dukakis camp didn’t include Palestinian rights, just as Clinton’s hasn’t. That is an issue that has turned some Muslim Democrats off of the candidate.

Muslim civil rights issues have come to the fore this year, with Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, later revised to include only part of that year’s platform. Clinton, this year, has done the same. Muslim issues have come countries with ties to terror groups, a list sure to include Arab and Muslim majority countries.

Muslims themselves have taken center stage, literally, in the last week, after Khizr Khan, the father of a fallen Muslim-American soldier, challenged Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention, saying he had sacrificed nothing. Trump shot back, suggesting that Khan’s wife, Ghazala, who stood silently by her husband’s’ side during the speech, was not “allowed” to speak. Zogby said that Trump’s willingness to defame the Muslim parents of a Muslim-American soldier, Humayun Khan, would only further assure that Muslims vote for Clinton.

But there are Muslim members of the Democratic party who don’t plan on voting for Clinton, outraged over her stance on Palestine, which sides with Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government. Sanders had distinguished himself in a Brooklyn primary debate by using the word “disproportionate” to describe Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014, and suggested that he would be a neutral arbiter between the two sides. Palestinian flags and posters peppered the stands where Sanders delegates sat in the Wells Fargo Arena during the Democratic Convention last week.

One Sanders delegate from California, Majid Al-Bahadli, 49, an Iraqi American who came to the U.S. in 1991, said he had been a delegate for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Although Obama has thrown his backing behind Clinton, Al-Bahadli said he will not be voting for the former New York Senator.

“I did not vote for Clinton and I am not going to. Not now, not later. She is against the Palestinians,” Al-Bahadli said.

Al-Bahadli said a Democratic superdelegate took his sign reading “I support Palestinian Rights” from his hand as he tried to get it into the view of cameras. A gif of the move has been shared on social media as an example of the DNC silencing dissent on Palestine.

“I don’t trust her,” Al-Bahadli added, referring to Clinton. “She needs to show some physical evidence [of support]. Have us involved in her campaign and maybe she should consider some Muslims in her cabinet.”

Zogby said that capturing that enthusiasm Sanders had found will be a challenge for Clinton.

Zogby said that gauging the voting patterns of Muslim Americans is harder than that of Arab Americans, since Muslim Americans are composed of other ethnic groups, including African Americans, Arab Americans and Pakistani Americans. In 2000, Zogby said, Arab Muslim Americans broke for Bush, while African American Muslims voted for Gore. A Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) poll found in February that most Muslim voters would be voting for Clinton, and that Islamophobia was an important issue for them.

“I think it’s not unique to my community or to the Muslim community, there’s a lot of Americans who are going to feel that they simply are very afraid of Donald Trump, and they’re not overly enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. That said, I think that I am going to be encouraging Arab Americans to vote Democratic,” he said. “That’s where my allies are.”

But challenges lie ahead, Zogby said, especially in pitching Clinton to younger voters, who split for Sanders by heavy margins across ethnic and class lines.

“It’s not going to be an easy sell. It’s one we’re going to have to work at. I think it can be done. I think there’s a compelling case to make,” he said.

The Democratic Party has been the party of religious minorities since northern Catholics, lead by the Kennedys, fully took control of the Democratic Party in the 1960s from southern Protestants, who then went on to fill the Republican fold. To Zogby, that coalition is still the one that offers Arab and Muslim Americans the best chance of having their voices heard.

“The case is number one to keep Donald Trump out of the White House. Two, that is where our allies are. We will not get a hearing on civil liberties, on anything we care about outside of that coalition that we work with,” Zogby said. “The candidate may not agree with us, we may not agree with the candidate, but that is where the coalition is. It is grounded in civil liberties, peace and human rights community that are part of that Democratic party coalition.”

The task up to the Clinton campaign is to try to control the narrative and win over the constituency Trump has built.

“Give them a sense of confidence that real change can come. That you understand the dislocation, that you want to give them a sense of confidence that the future can be better. That you’re fighting for them, and Hillary has a big job. She’s got to do that,” he added.

In the meantime, Muslims on Twitter have worked outside of the constraints of party politics to challenge Trump themselves, using the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow, in response to Trump’s criticism of Khan’s wife choosing not to speak during her husband’s address about their dead son.

“I’m a female Muslim lawyer,” wrote Sumbai Naqi. “4 generations of women writers, doctors, lawyers in family Don’t dare say Muslim women don’t speak! #CanYouHearUsNow”

The Twitter campaign was promoted by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a non-partisan Muslim rights lobby, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

In a campaign marked by personal jabs, Malika Dee, tweeted a photo of Trump gesticulating at a podium while standing next to his wife Melenia, who was silent.

“Please don’t project what goes on in your own household onto us! @realDonaldTrump #CanYouHearUsNow”

Wilson Dizard

Wilson Dizard is a freelance reporter and photojournalist covering politics, civil rights, drug policy and everything else. He lives in Brooklyn with his bicycle, camera and drum set.

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8 Responses

  1. echinococcus on August 4, 2016, 1:17 pm

    “I’m going to be encouraging Arab Americans to vote Democratic”
    thereby ensuring their further enslavement, invasion, and massacre for X more years.

  2. Abierno on August 4, 2016, 4:06 pm

    I would have been far more impressed with Mr. Khan’s speech had he been correctly introduced as a Harvard trained attorney, who presumably holds membership in the American Bar Association, who worked for a lengthy period of time at Hogan Lovells, a large DC law firm which is reported as having as its clients the Saudi government as well as the Clintons and their foundation. While he is presented as the “average Muslim immigrant” on the street, he clearly has deep ties to the DC infrastructure. No doubt after several constitutional law courses he knows the constitution well.

    I mourn the unnecessary death of his son, as I mourn the deaths of all our brave soldiers who have given and continue to give their lives for wars that have little if any positive outcome other than to serve as recruiting actions for wide spread foreign jihadi. I also mourn for the even greater number of civilian deaths, particularly women and children, from these wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

    I would ask you Mr. Khan as well as your wife, how can you support a presidential candidate whose vote (among many) authorized the Iraq war? How can you support a presidential candidate who has been responsible for such devastation and death to both soldiers and innocents of all of the aforementioned countries? Has it reached your ears that Ms. Clinton was fully knowledgeable in the arms trade to these countries on behalf of these jihadis, that she is supported by many parties who benefit both directly and indirectly from the chaos ensuing from these perpetual wars?

    I support neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton – I stand with a vast number of US citizens who are profoundly appalled by a presidential nomination process which has simply run off the rails offering no correctional process and only the logical truism that whomever of these two are elected, neither is a statesmen of sufficient acumen to guide this country in its hour of greatest need.

    • jd65 on August 5, 2016, 12:31 am

      Nice post, Abierno.

    • Misterioso on August 5, 2016, 2:51 pm

      For the record:

      Salon, August 2/16

      By Ben Norton

      “Khizr Khan: ‘U.S. wars have created a chaos’ in Muslim-majority countries”

      “The media amplified Khizr Khan’s patriotism—but not his criticism of US foreign policy and the ‘quagmire’ it led to.”

      “Many media outlets have amplified Khizr Khan’s patriotic sentiments. Significantly less attention, however, has been paid to Khan’s criticism of U.S. wars and his lamentation that ‘We have created a chaos’ and a ‘quagmire’ in Muslim-majority countries.

      “Khizr and Ghazala Khan spoke on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ on Monday, Aug. 1. Fifteen minutes into the program, after Khan harshly condemned Islamist extremists for ‘hijacking’ his religion, host Chris Matthews briefly asked Khan about U.S. wars in Muslim-majority countries.

      “ ‘What do you think, or feel, when you see us attack Iraq, or go into Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden? Or we go attack, we bombed Libya. We’re bombing Syria now, all Islamic countries,’ he said. ‘What do you feel, as an Islamic man?’ ”

      “ ‘As a Muslim American I feel that these policies are not in the interest of the United States of America,’ Khan replied, with a look of distress.

      “ ‘And we see the result of it,’ he continued. ‘We are more vulnerable now. We have created a chaos.’ ”

      “In total, they only discussed U.S. foreign policy for 50 seconds in the 15-minute ‘Hardball’ interview.

      “This brief excerpt, in which Khizr Khan criticizes militaristic U.S. foreign policy, is not included in the isolated clips for the episode on MSNBC’s website. One has to watch the full episode to see it.”

  3. italian ex-pat on August 4, 2016, 11:23 pm


    I want to expand on your post, which is a refreshing change from the barrage of outrage and condemnation against Trump, from both sides of the aisle, that has dominated the news in recent days. Even as I most certainly do not share his views.

    We all agree that Trump is guilty of spewing innumerable ignorant and racist comments in the course of his campaign. But. . . . . isn’t it kind of hypocritical on the part of the media to condemn him for demonizing the Muslims, when these very same media have been beating that same drum for years now? Whenever a mass murder is committed by a Muslim, it’s called an act of terror, whereas a white Christian mass murderer is ‘mentally ill’, and his religion is never mentioned. Isn’t Trump then basically voicing the media’s slanted portrayal of a certain group of people, which has consequently influenced the average person’s views on the subject?

    I appreciate your information regarding Mr. Khan’s professional status, although it was already clear that he is well educated as well as impeccably groomed, and successfully integrated into America’s upper middle class. In other words, not your average Muslim immigrant from the ME, certainly not an Arab (I would guess Pakistani), and certainly not what Donald Trump visualized when proposing to stop all Muslim immigration. The fact that he and his wife have lost a son while serving in the US military completes this family’s appeal and the sympathy it generates wth the public. That this model family was trotted onto the stage at the Dem convention and Mr. Khan invited to give a speech condemning Trump’s insulting remarks was no impromptu event, but a planned political move by the Clinton team. That the Don reacted by going on the offensive and compounding the damage was icing on the cake, the stuff political consultants’ dreams are made of.

  4. anti_republocrat on August 5, 2016, 12:07 am

    Once again, most Americans of all stripes, including Muslim Americans, are far more concerned about their rights and comforts at home than the lives of people in Muslim countries abroad. So Hillary Clinton is supported because people believe she will respect the rights of Muslims here in the US, even though it’s a sure bet she will instigate or escalate wars in Muslim countries.

    As Jill Stein says, and as demonstrated by lesser evil policies for 16 of the last 24 years, electing the lesser evil paves the way for the greater evil. Fight for the greater good.

    • Mooser on August 5, 2016, 10:53 am

      “anti_republocrat”, in case you didn’t know
      (and really, why would you know, since I don’t think it is mentioned anywhere)
      using an underscore ( “_ ” ) in your user-name causes the commenting system to not archive your comments.

      (That is not a TE! I’m quoting the underscore parenthetically. Hmmm, I must admit, making little faces with punctuation is sorta fun, isn’t it…no, no, mustn’t give in…(*o*)…Oh no, it’s got me!)

  5. Boomer on August 5, 2016, 7:31 am

    More Americans are waking up to reality. From WaPo:

    “Dozens of Black Lives Matter organizations jointly released a wide-ranging platform Monday spelling out standpoints on dozens of issues.

    “On almost all of the issues — including education, food insecurity, criminal sentencing and policing — progressive Jewish groups heartily agree. But the new platform’s stance on Israel has angered major Jewish organizations.

    “The platform calls for an end to U.S. federal aid for Israel. By providing aid, the platform argues, the United States is “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” Criticizing the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas and the arrest of young Palestinians, it describes Israel as “an apartheid state.”


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