Wariness of Trump gets Muslim Americans interested in elections
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.