Muslim Americans running for office

Sunday 12/06/2016
Yasmine Taeb being interviewed on Virginia television.

Washington - The 2016 election campaign has been one of the most negative in US history and it is also the most anti- Muslim.

Violence in the Middle East, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the San Bernardino, California, ter­rorist attack brought the issue home to many Americans but nobody and nothing propelled it to the forefront of US politics more than presump­tive Republican Party nominee Don­ald Trump. His call to ban Muslims from entering the United States and his general anti-Muslim rhetoric are having a huge effect on the Muslim- American community.

According to FBI’s most recent an­nual Hate Crime Statistics Report, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased in the United States in 2014, while overall reports of such crimes de­creased and that was before Trump’s campaign. Muslim Americans are not taking the new wave of hostility lying down.

US Representative Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and the first Mus­lim American elected to Congress, spoke recently about the state of Islamophobia in the United States. He was joined by Congressman An­dre Carson, D-Indiana, who was the second Muslim elected to Congress. Carson is a member of the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Com­mittee.

Ellison said anti-Muslim rheto­ric in US presidential campaigns precedes Trump and “spikes with election cycles”. He said the best re­sponse is to “adhere to our constitu­tional values”.

The good news is that Muslim Americans are not running scared — they are running for office. Elli­son noted that large percentages of the Muslim-American community vote and so it is becoming an impor­tant voting bloc. More importantly, he said, Muslim Americans are re­sponding to rhetorical attacks by running for office and taking part in the political process. Ellison said that anti-Muslim rhetoric is “awak­ening Americans who appreciate their democracy”.

Carson pointed to the involve­ment of Muslim Americans in the campaigns of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and said the question is “How do we lever­age this [involvement] to influence change?” Carson predicted that “when Clinton becomes president you will see Muslims in important positions in her cabinet”.

The real story is the Muslim Amer­icans who feel empowered and chal­lenged because of the anti-Muslim rhetoric and are running for political office at local and national levels.

Sarah Cochran, director for the Virginia Chapter of Emerge USA, a group that, according to its web­site, “seeks to engage, educate and empower” Muslim Americans, said Muslims have been running for po­litical office for a long time but that this year more are running than ever before. “Muslims are feeling the challenge to have their voices heard among other voices,” she said.

She pointed to a dilemma faced by Muslim Americans: They feel unwelcome in the Republican Party because of the rhetoric of Trump and others. This has left many con­servative Muslim Americans feeling politically homeless.

Cochran said: “One of the big­gest problems is that the conserva­tive movement alienated Muslims and Arabs. Some people feel if they don’t like the Democrats they have no choice left. They are stuck. This is the most important identity issue. Where do they belong? The right has alienated them. It is no longer a par­ty that is inclusive.”

She mentioned that a number of Muslim Americans are running for office in Maryland and Virginia. Atif Qarni, for example, is running for the Virginia State Senate, where he would join Sam Rasoul, the first Muslim elected to the Virginia legis­lature.

Yasmine Taeb is running to rep­resent Virginia on the Democratic National Committee, the party’s governing body. Taeb said she has been an activist all her life but “af­ter 9/11, as a result of the backlash against Muslim Americans, I feel it is my responsibility to stand up for my religion”.

“The demonisation of Muslims has certainly escalated my con­sciousness,” she said.

She said there is a new wave of Muslim involvement in politics. “I’ve certainly noticed a significant increase in involvement by Muslim Americans and that’s in part due to the hateful rhetoric Muslim Ameri­cans are seeing from Republican presidential candidates,” she said. She praised the Democratic presi­dential candidates for “reaching out to the Muslim-American commu­nity”.

A survey by the Pew Research Foundation found that 70% of Mus­lim Americans identify as Demo­crats and 11% as Republicans. While this result may be explained in large part by anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republicans, the poll also found that 68% of Muslim Americans sup­port a stronger role for government in providing services to society, a position more associated with the Democratic Party.

A survey of Muslim Americans voters conducted in February by the Council on American Islamic Rela­tions (CAIR), an advocacy group, found that 7.5% of respondents said they support Trump, while 52% sup­port Clinton and 22% support Sand­ers. Although the CAIR survey was not a scientific poll, it does suggest that the Republicans will have a hard time winning Muslim votes in 2016.