Wariness of Trump gets Muslim Americans interested in elections

Sunday 23/10/2016
Young Muslims protest against US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Wichita, Kansas, last March.

Washington - A determination to keep Donald Trump out of the White House has boost­ed efforts to encourage Muslim Americans to register to vote and participate in the November election, activists said.

Those campaigning to get Mus­lims to the polls November 8th said the response has been lively as Trump, the Republican Party candi­date for president, made headlines with rhetoric depicting Muslims as a potential national security risk, call­ing for an entry ban for people from Syria and Iraq and criticising the parents of a Muslim-American sol­dier who was killed in action in Iraq.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a lobbying group in Washington, urged supporters to get five other people to register to vote. CAIR activists called 150,000 Muslims on one recent weekend to remind them to register and vote.

“Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is definitely a motivating factor,” said Robert McCaw, director of the government affairs department at CAIR. McCaw spoke of increased enthusiasm among Muslim Ameri­cans to take part in the election. “We have Trump to thank for that,” he said. “If a candidate is challeng­ing your civil rights, the response is to go out and vote.”

McCaw said Muslim voters were likely to be further motivated by incidents such as the arrest on Oc­tober 14th of three white Chris­tians in Garden City, Kansas, who are accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex, which in­cludes a mosque, housing Somali- Americans. Authorities allege the three were planning to detonate car bombs around the complex on No­vember 9th, one day after the elec­tion.

“Kansas is not going to intimidate Muslim voters,” McCaw said. “If anything, it will motivate them to turn out and make sure our country is not going in the wrong direction.”

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has also been encouraging Muslims to vote, publishing a vot­ers’ guide outlining the positions of Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. “American Muslims are playing a more visible role in this volatile election, are expected to turn out in record numbers and could be pivotal in swing states,” the guide says.

Rabiah Ahmed, director of me­dia and public affairs at MPAC, said Trump indirectly inspired Muslim voters, an “unintended side effect” of his campaign. There is more at stake for Muslims than during other elections, Ahmed said. Muslims re­alise that “somebody is targeting your place in society, your loyalty,” he said. As a consequence, “there is more engagement”.

McCaw said the number of regis­tered Muslim voters in the United States had risen from 500,000 in 2012 to 800,000 this year. There is no official number of Muslim-Amer­ican citizens but estimates range be­tween 3 million and 8 million out of a total population of more than 320 million. McCaw said CAIR planned to contact 500,000 Muslim voters by telephone before the election in an effort to get them to the polls. He said a celebrity would “voice that call” but declined to provide a name.

CAIR, citing a poll it conducted in October, said nearly 90% of reg­istered Muslim voters plan to take part in the elections in November. The poll indicated that 72% of the 804 US Muslims contacted said they support Clinton and 4% backed Trump.

The poll suggested that the Re­publican Party’s image among Mus­lims has worsened since 2012, when 51% of Muslims said Republicans were unfriendly towards people of their faith. That number has risen to 62% and only 7% of Muslims re­cently polled said Republicans are friendly towards them.

Ahmed Mohamed, operations of­ficer for the Arab American Family Support Center in New York, said he had met people who were voting for the first time in 15 years. Many said they were not aware that they had to register first to be able to vote, he said.

Trump has not made any obvi­ous effort to win over Muslim vot­ers. During the October 9th debate, Trump said Islamophobia was “a shame” but he added that the United States had a problem with Islamic extremism, “whether we like it or not”.

Trump repeated his demand that Muslims should “report when they see something going on” that could point law enforcement agencies to planned terrorist attacks. “If they don’t do that, it’s a very difficult sit­uation for our country,” Trump said

In response, some Muslims took to Twitter to poke fun at Trump. “I’m a Muslim and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri,” tweeted Moustafa Bayoumi, author of the book How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America.