Why American Muslims will lean left for 2020

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FOR THE 2000 presidential election, a consultant urged George W. Bush to go after a segment of voters who would like a pro-business, pro-social message: Muslims. Mr. Bush took the field and it worked. In 2001, a survey of American Muslims (including those who did not cast a ballot or gave no clear answer) found that 42% reported voting for Mr. Bush versus 31% for him. Democratic rival Al Gore. Among upwardly mobile Muslim immigrants, many of them professionals or entrepreneurs, the proportion voting Republican was much higher.

Now, however, with anti-Muslim sentiment on fire among Donald Trump’s supporters, and the president hardly discouraging, that love is a distant memory. American Muslims are gaining political visibility, but only on the left side of the spectrum. A symbol of this movement is the election of two Muslim women to the House of Representatives (Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) who, together with two female colleagues, who are also Democrats on the left, are ridiculed by Mr. Trump and his supporters.

A major shift in Muslim sentiment was evident in the 2004 presidential race and confirmed by Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. By 2007 about 63% of American Muslims were at least “leaning toward” the Democrats, versus just 11% for the Republicans. Those numbers haven’t changed much since then, according to Pew Research, a pollster. Among Muslims who voted in the 2016 presidential race, just 8% said they chose Mr. Trump (who said “Islam hates us”) and 78% for Hillary Clinton.

Campaigners for Muslim political engagement estimated that more than 1m were registered to vote in 2016, and that last year’s parliamentary elections had seen an increase in Muslims going to the polls. Pew estimates that there are approximately 3.5m Muslims living in America. At around 1% of the country’s population as of 2015, they were more numerous than Hindus (0.7%) or Buddhists (0.7%) although they were significantly higher than Jews (1.8%). But that picture is expected to change rapidly with the Muslim proportion doubling by mid-century.

Much analysis has been done on the main reasons for the transformation in Muslim attitudes. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, there were a number of hate crimes against followers of Islam and open antipathy towards Muslims appeared in a growing part of the electorate. That put Muslim voters in a protective frame of mind, and the Democrats, with their acceptance of cultural diversity, were the safest refuge. Another factor, although its importance is disputed, is that younger American Muslims have become more liberal on cultural issues such as gay rights, and are therefore less susceptible to “family values”-style arguments. Republicans. As for African-American Muslims, they (like black Christians) have been well to the left in their voting preferences.

However, it would be too simplistic to say that American Muslims have moved from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other. According to Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, Muslims are less determined as leftists than nominalists, finding anyone to listen to them, and the only respect they have getting to the left. Even in that quarter, they’ve been feeling a little unloved lately. At the August 31 conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which bills itself as the nation’s largest Muslim organization, only two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination accepted an invitation to talk: Senator Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro, former housing secretary. . Mr. Sanders is also perhaps the strongest supporter of Palestinian rights in the mainstream. As Mr. Chouhoud says, this leaves Muslims “looking for a place where they can be wanted.” Any politician who even talks to them will be appreciated. “

In this climate, Muslim Republicans are an endangered species, although they are not extinct. One veteran of that cause is Arizona-based doctor Zuhdi Jasser. He has served as vice chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan watchdog, as a Republican nominee. Although Mr Trump was not his preferred candidate, Dr Jasser says he is “very surprised” by many of the Trump administration’s policies, and insists it is not “a Muslim ban”. an accurate way to describe the president’s attempt to ban entry from five Muslim-majority countries. the dominant hand.

Dr. Jasser feels that the stereotype of “Muslim equal-left” is partly the fault of the self-proclaimed representatives of his community, not so much the young firebrands as the old fathers of the community. . In his opinion, these former leaders have one major failing. They have never departed from the global cause of Islamism, the belief that the only ideal form of governance is Muslim. (They do not, of course, recommend such a regime for America, but many support political Islam elsewhere.) That soft spot for Islamism makes them especially toxic in the eyes of America’s leading conservatives, leaving Muslims with nowhere to go. left.

While touring America speaking to conservative groups, Dr. Jasser finds them open to the idea that the political doctrine of Islamism, which he believes can and must be to be separated from the spiritual teachings of Islam, their real enemy. He makes the case that Islam as a set of metaphysical beliefs and ethical norms can thrive, in America and elsewhere, under the principle of church-state separation that the Founding Fathers loved. Once that argument is made, his audience is open to believing that right-wing American Muslims are allies against Islamism.

Whether they deserve to be dismissed as old men, America’s Muslim thought leaders, whether spiritual or political, are decidedly divided. In ways that leave ordinary Muslim voters somewhat confused, they squabble among themselves, usually about events in distant lands. Arguments arise over the coup in Egypt in 2013, the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and the civil war in Syria. At the heart of many such disputes is a difference of opinion regarding the global Muslim Brotherhood, as the standard bearer of Islamism. In the words of HA Hellyer, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment, “one of the fault lines in American Muslim understanding is between those who see Islamism as the correct, fundamental norm of Muslim political life, and those who philosophically against it.”

American Muslims may not have much time for philosophy but many have been feeling a bit confused in recent weeks as one of their most revered spiritual figures has been embroiled in a row at has a domestic political dimension. Hamza Yusuf, a graybeard based in California, is often referred to as America’s most distinguished Islamic scholar. In July he took a job, of sorts, with the Trump administration by joining a panel set up by the State Department to discuss the definition of human rights. Some said he was selling out to the Muslim-bashing administration; others that made his warm relationship with the United Arab Emirates, which he says is tolerant, that he deserved to pronounce about human rights. (The UAE is an avowed enemy of the Brotherhood, so comments on that country are sensitive.) Mr Yusuf was already angered by fellow believers on the left for saying after Mr Trump’s election that Muslims should accept his authority.

In recent days he has been heavily criticized for talking mockingly about the Syrian revolution that began in 2011. In a three-year-old video clip that went suddenly, he said that the revolution had led to an unintended humiliation for Muslims. In a new video he apologized if his words had offended people who suffered under the rule of Syria.

However, some proponents of a Muslim-Democratic coalition feel that they can do well without such prominent Muslims as Mr. Yusuf. Despite the lack of interest shown by other Democrats, they took heart from Mr. Sanders’ appearance at the ISNA convention and especially about one of his comments. He appeased Pakistani-Americans by saying he was “deeply concerned” about India’s “inappropriate” actions in Kashmir. That hinted at one foreign policy issue that could loom large for South Asian voters in the 2020 race. Mr. Trump’s friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has struck a chord with some Indian Americans. ; many Pakistani Americans hope that a Democratic runner will take the opposite direction.

Shadi Hamid, who is a member of the Brookings Institution, a think tank, says that the deep partnership between Muslims and Democrats was built not on questions of foreign policy but more on conflict: the alarm created by the spirit white-native they see. a country There is a certain tension, he says, between the social conservatism of some Muslims and the increasingly secular philosophy of the Democrats. But for now, such tensions are kept in check by a common sense of being threatened. If the Trump era is over, the pressures within the Democratic coalition may come to light, but until that happens, a sense of siege will hold it together. In general, Muslim voters say: “No matter how secular the Democrats may be, it’s the Democrats who have our backs.”

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