Some US Muslims planning to vote for Trump, despite his reputation

Sunday 16/10/2016
Sajid Tarar (L) and Donald Trump.

Washington - Donald Trump has made headlines in the US pres­idential campaign with statements casting Mus­lims as a national secu­rity threat and by publicly feuding with the parents of a Muslim-Amer­ican soldier killed in Iraq. However, for some of America’s 3.3 million Muslims, the New York developer and reality TV star remains their choice for president in November’s election.

“He is not anti-Muslim, he is anti-radicalism,” said Sajid Tarar, 56.

Tarar, a Pakistan-born real estate entrepreneur who lives in Maryland and is the founder of the group Mus­lims for Trump, said the Republican presidential candidate was right to draw attention to the threat posed by Islamic extremism. He added that Trump stood for conservative values that many Muslims agreed with. “We are not here to promote same-sex marriage,” Tarar said.

The sharp differences of opinion about Trump within the US Muslim community reflect deep divisions in US society as a whole. Even as many US Muslims reacted strongly against what they see as efforts by Trump to stir up anti-Muslim sen­timent and to present them as a group that cannot be trusted, those such as Tarar are planning to vote for the billionaire businessman be­cause he stands for characteristics that they would like to see reflected in US policy.

Tarar said that while he did not agree with everything Trump said, the candidate was a political outsid­er who was badly needed in Wash­ington. As for some of Trump’s more controversial statements, such as the call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, Tarar said the Republican was reacting to an existing problem with Islamist ex­tremism. “We have a right to pro­tect our country,” he said. “Muslims have a duty to be loyal to the coun­try they live in.”

Tarar, who said he has about 5,000 supporters in Muslims for Trump, addressed the Republican convention in Cleveland in July, which officially nominated Trump as the party’s candidate. Much was made of hecklers shouting “No Is­lam” during his speech but Tarar said there was only one man who was shouting.

Polls indicate the majority of Muslim Americans are likely to vote for Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton on November 8th. In a survey of about 2,000 Muslim voters conducted earlier this year and released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 11% of respondents said they were planning to vote for Trump as op­posed to 46% for Clinton. Support for Trump was strongest among Muslim respondents in California and Florida, the poll indicated.

In general, Muslim voters stated deep concern about Islamophobia, according to the poll, with 24% of Muslim voters asked listing anti-Is­lam sentiments as their biggest con­cern. Muslim Republicans, howev­er, were more concerned about the state of the economy than Islamo­phobia.

Trump’s credentials as a busi­nessman play a big role for his Mus­lim supporters. Naveed Sadiq told the Chicago Tribune that he saw Trump as somebody who could jump-start the economy. “I look at it not as a Muslim, more as an American,” Sadiq told the news­paper. “I look at a guy like Donald Trump and say: ‘I’m willing to take a chance.’”

Tarar said many Muslim Ameri­cans were not well-informed about the American political system be­cause they came from places with no functioning democracies and lacked citizen participation in the political process.

“Muslims hardly vote. They are not active in politics,” he said. Tarar moved from Pakistan, then a dicta­torship under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, to the United States as a 23-year-old law school student during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. “I started to see freedom with my own eyes,” he said.

The experience left a deep im­pression. Tarar gives speeches to motivate fellow Muslims to learn more about US politics and get in­volved. “This is always hard work,” he conceded. One of the reasons so many Muslims were siding with Clinton and the Democrats was a media bias against Trump, he said.

Tarar is also confronted with anti- Muslim prejudices in his own party and in the United States as a whole. According to the Pew Research In­stitute, about half of Americans say that at least some Muslim Ameri­cans are “anti-American”. Republi­cans are more likely to be concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism than Democrats, the poll indicated.

Tarar, a father of four, said he knew that he was facing an uphill battle but that he wanted to keep pursuing a double aim. One was to demonstrate to fellow Americans that Muslims “are not bad people”, as he put it. The other aim was to show young members of the mi­nority group “how to become good American Muslims”.