Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rise in Islamaphobia is creating new political awareness among Muslim/Americans

Ghazala and Khizr Khan's speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of the surprise impactful moments in the event held last July in Philadelphia.
THE PUSH to get more Muslim/Americans to vote has been going oneven before Donald Trump said he would ban all Muslims from entering America in order to get a handle on the terrorist threats that might be coming into the U.S. The proposed ban injected a sense of urgency to the campaign.

But it was the appearance and speech of a mild-mannered man and his wife at the Democratic National Convention and the aftermath that really underscored the need for more voter registration among the Muslim/American population.

When Khizr Khan spoke about the loss of his son, 27-year old Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed while serving in Iraq was going on smoothly uneventful when Khan challenged GOP candidate Donald Trump to read the Constitution. Many thought that might have been the unexpected emotional highlight of the convention. He pulled a copy of the Constitution out of his suit pocket, waved it in the air and offered to loan it to Trump. 

By then, he had the attention of all the delegates. "Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery?," asked Khan, looking directly into the TV cameras. "Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one." Standing ovation!

In response, Trump belittled Khan and the silence of his wife, Ghazala, who stood at Khazr Khan's side but was too emotional to speak.
Trump's attacks drew the wrath of America's veterans and parents of soldiers who died in the Middle East. It threw Khan and his wife into the middle of the presidential campaign and gave a face and rallying point for the Muslim/American community. Trump's poll numbers plummeted from which he has yet to recover.

Robert McCaw, CAIR’s director of governmental affairs for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Yahoo News that since 2012 there have been a number of failed attempts to launch Muslim voter registration initiatives. And while he agrees that the Trump campaign has certainly motivated more Muslim voters to get involved in the election process this year, McCaw argues that the rise in registered Muslim voters is also partly the “gradual result of Muslim community becoming more engaged with electoral process.”

When CAIR launched its 2016 Muslims Vote campaign, the goal was to lead 1 million Muslim constituents to the voting booths.

American Muslims are the most diverse religious community in the country, said McCaw, noting that African-Americans make up one-third of the Muslim community, while the other two-thirds comprise immigrants — or the children of immigrants — from the Middle East and South Asia.

“It’s taken some time for immigrant Muslims to connect and work with domestic groups like the African-American community,” McCaw told Yahoo. “Only now are we getting to see the fruits of that labor.”

At the same time, McCaw said, Trump’s anti-Muslim agenda seems to be pushing the Democratic Party to work “twice as hard to engage Muslim voters,” who, although composing only 1 percent of the country’s population, are highly concentrated in key battleground states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

“I don’t know if there would have been half as many Muslims speaking onstage at the DNC if Trump had not brought them into the spotlight,” he said.

According to CAIR, 78 percent of Muslim voters cast their ballots for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush in 2000, but ever since Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been making a steady exodus from the GOP. Results of a CAIR poll of Muslim voters following the Super Tuesday primaries in March revealed that 46 percent supported Hillary Clinton, 25 percent backed Bernie Sanders, and only 11 percent favored Trump. The poll also found that the top issue concerning Muslim voters was rising Islamophobia in the U.S.

Like other AAPI voters, although their numbers are relatively small when compared to other ethnic groups, in some areas and states, Muslim voters could tilt elections.

According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims represent just 1 to 2 percent of the country’s population, but they tend to live in strategic places — swing states like Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

“When the vote is close, then in fact, the Muslim vote in those swing states can play a significant role. They ... will be seen as a significant minority community,” Georgetown University Islamic studies professor John Esposito said.

Esposito, who directs the university’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said, “There certainly are Republican Muslims but they are a significant minority, and given [Republican presidential nominee Donald] Trump’s position with regards to Muslims … I don’t see many Muslims being attracted to Trump.”

To McCaw, as well as the leaders of the New Jersey Muslim Voter Project, 2016 marks the beginning of a new era of Muslim involvement in American politics.

Once registered, groups like the NJMVP and CAIR will need to work hard to get them to the polls this November. Past experience in their original countries may have tainted their voting experience, say Muslim/American leaders.

“The South Asian Muslim community is the least involved in politics because most of them are first-generation immigrants,” said Shawn Butt, one of the founders of the NJMVP 
with a small group of local Muslim leaders. In their countries of origin, said Butt, "We’ve seen absolute levels of corruption in politics, and we kind of bring that mindset that ‘It didn’t work back home, it’s not gonna work here, so why bother?’”

For many Muslim Americans — who have been the target of vitriol and discriminatory policy proposals throughout much of the 2016 campaign cycle — there’s never been a more important time to get out the vote.

“It’s the divisive rhetoric that makes us feel we’ve got to prove ourselves,” said Butt. He described its mission as “(mobilizing) the Muslim population, get them registered to vote, and push them to go out and vote come Election Day.”