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US Elections 2016: Growing number of Muslims desert the Republican Party

In this race, where every vote counts, an overwhelming number of Muslims are leaning towards the Democratic Party

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FILE - Young Muslims speak out during a campaign rally in Wichita, Kansas, March 5, 2016. Image Source: VOA

Sept, 08, 2016: Once seen as a “natural” Republican constituency, Muslim-Americans are increasingly leaning Democratic, and they are expected to vote in record numbers for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election in November.

From overwhelmingly voting for George W. Bush in the 2000 election to backing Clinton in the current cycle, the Muslim shift in political allegiance has been precipitous, leading some critics to lament a lost Republican opportunity to keep an increasingly influential voting bloc.

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According to surveys conducted after the election, more than 70 percent of Muslims voted for Bush, and most of the 50,000 Muslim votes in Florida went to the Republican candidate. Bush won the election after a prolonged recount of the vote in Florida, a state he won by a mere 537 votes, and a dispute that ultimately was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body.

FILE - President Barack Obama meets with members of Muslim-American community at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Feb. 3, 2016.
FILE – President Barack Obama meets with members of Muslim-American community at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Feb. 3, 2016. Source VOA

To Muslim-Americans and many conservatives alike, Bush’s victory was evidence not only of growing Muslim political weight but also of a “natural” affinity between Muslims and Republicans.

‘Socially and economically conservative’

Suhail Khan, a prominent Muslim-American Republican and former board member of the American Conservative Union, wrote that “Muslim-Americans are, by and large, both socially and economically conservative,” and therefore a natural Republican constituency.

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Many Muslim-Americans do share conservative Republican values of supporting strong families and traditional marriage, and opposing abortion. And Khan noted that a quarter of U.S. Muslims are small-business owners who favor Republican policies on lower taxes.

But the reason most Muslim-Americans voted for Bush in 2000 may have had less to do with shared values than a belief that Bush, in reaching out to Muslims and handling the historically divisive Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would follow in the moderate footsteps of his father, former president George H. W. Bush, whom they also supported in the 1992 election, according to John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and author of “The Future of Islam.”

If there was a high-water mark in the love affair between Muslim-Americans and the Republican Party, it was the 2000 election. In 2004, more than 90 percent of Muslim-Americans voted for John Kerry; in 2008 and 2014, Muslims voted for Barack Obama, by 89 percent and 85 percent, respectively, according to several estimates.

Islamophobia fuels switch

Why did so many Muslims desert the Republican Party after the 2000 election?

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, looks on as one of his supporter reaches for a sign that reads "Islamophobia is not the answer," at a rally in Oklahoma City, Feb. 26, 2016.
FILE – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, looks on as one of his supporter reaches for a sign that reads “Islamophobia is not the answer,” at a rally in Oklahoma City, Feb. 26, 2016. Source: VOA

The most common answer given by Muslim advocates is a resurgence in Islamophobia, and a U.S. foreign policy perceived as detrimental to Muslim interests around the world. While Bush sought to reassure Muslims after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the United States was not at war with Islam, Republican policies and rhetoric have since reinforced a perception among many Muslims that the party is a hotbed of Islamophobia.

“Sadly, the Republican Party over the past 15 years has become the political epicenter of Islamophobia, introducing anti-Muslim policy proposals or anti-foreigner laws in at least 10 state legislatures,” said Robert McCaw of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “This has really driven the Muslim vote out of the Republican Party.”

But Islamophobia and foreign policy alone don’t explain the Muslim exodus toward the Democratic Party. A more compelling reason may lie in history. As Georgetown’s Esposito explains, most Muslim-Americans, like other immigrants, have long identified with the Democratic Party’s pro-immigration and social welfare policies; the Republican Party has appealed to only a small, mostly affluent segment of the community.

The Muslim-American population, estimated at around 3.5 million, is a heterogeneous lot. While African-Americans, historically a Democratic constituency, make up about one-third of the community, most Muslims in America are immigrants, hailing from dozens of countries, many with conservative backgrounds.

But among second- and third-generation Muslims coming of age in America, polls show their social attitudes have moderated in recent years. Many members of this rapidly growing community not only lean Democratic, but also embrace progressive views that are at odds with Republican orthodoxy.

Switching policies and parties

In the 2011 Pew survey, 70 percent of Muslims in America described themselves as Democrats or leaning Democratic, while 11 percent said they were Republicans or leaning Republican. Those numbers have held relatively steady since then. McCaw of CAIR cited another poll that showed 55 percent of Muslim-Americans describe themselves as moderate, while 26 percent identify as liberal.

FILE - A Muslim woman holds a poster during a protest against Donald Trump in New York, Dec. 20, 2015.
FILE – A Muslim woman holds a poster during a protest against Donald Trump in New York, Dec. 20, 2015. Source: VOA

Many analysts thought conservative Muslims and Republicans shared common views on issues such as homosexuality and the role of government. The 2011 Pew survey showed that Muslim-Americans have grown “considerably more accepting of homosexuality” since 2007. On the role of government, the survey found that 68 percent of Muslim-Americans preferred a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services.

“So not only do they switch parties and now are voting Democratic, but they’re also adopting some of the policies and positions and ethics” of the Democratic Party, McCaw said. “Traditionally, a number of immigrants from the Middle East or South Asia are more socially conservative, and there was a place for them in the Republican Party. But I think as people grow and develop in America, [they] definitely change their views and preferences over time; and more importantly, their children grow up here and they might be voting different than their parents previously had.”

Esposito says that Republicans and Muslims were not really natural allies to begin with, and that culturally and politically most Muslims feel more at home in the Democratic Party. He points to polls showing that far more Republicans than Democrats hold a negative view of Islam and Muslims.

At home among Democrats

The 2011 Pew Research Center found that that 15 percent of Muslims see the Republican Party as friendly toward their community, compared to 48 percent who see it as unfriendly. By contrast, 46 percent of Muslims found the Democratic Party friendly toward them, and only 7 percent said it was unfriendly.

Sajid Tarar, a longtime Muslim-American activist now campaigning for Republican Donald Trump, disputes the notion that most Muslims feel at home in the Democratic Party. He says the party “hardly recognizes us as a minority.”

But surveys show that the Muslim-American flight from the Republican Party has only deepened amid anti-Muslim rhetoric by Republican candidates, most notably Trump, who enraged many Muslims by saying “Islam hates us” and proposing to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a position he has since softened.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton participates in a roundtable with Muslim community leaders at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, March 24, 2016.
FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton participates in a roundtable with Muslim community leaders at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, March 24, 2016. Image Source: VOA

Historically, Muslim voter turnout has been low in the U.S., but with surveys showing Islamophobia is a top issue, CAIR and other members of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations this year launched a “One America Campaign.” They hope to register 1 million new voters, an increase of nearly 300,000 since the 2012 presidential election.

Power of Muslim vote

Muslim turnout is expected to be high this year, Esposito says, with as much as 80 percent of the vote likely to go to Clinton.

The Muslim-American vote remains relatively small, but with large Muslim communities in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Muslim activists say their vote is likely to prove critical in tipping tight races in key swing states.

Meanwhile, both presidential campaigns say they see the Muslim-American vote as important.

The Trump campaign, perhaps recognizing the tepid level of support the Republican candidate enjoys among Muslim voters, appears far less focused on the community. Tarar says his American Muslims for Trump has about 1,000 followers, and he remains hopeful the candidate will visit a mosque soon.

“It is a very tight race and every vote counts,” said Tarar, who traveled with Trump earlier in the campaign and later spoke at the Republican National Convention. “Right now, they’re working on the African-American voters and issues.”

Clinton’s campaign says the Democratic candidate has met with Muslim community leaders over the past year and the campaign is working to mobilize Muslim voters in several key swing states.

“We’re not taking any vote for granted,” said Zara Rahim, a campaign spokeswoman on Muslim-American issues. (VOA)

  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    A kind of dicy situation! Well the article is latest state and seems potraying things excatly.

  • srikrishna sadula

    I could see a current India which is a future of America, an electoral polarization on religious and caste lines..and advanced media houses also give tactic support to all this mess !! so sad!

  • Arya Sharan

    It is almost similar to the vote bank politics in India.

SHARE
  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    A kind of dicy situation! Well the article is latest state and seems potraying things excatly.

  • srikrishna sadula

    I could see a current India which is a future of America, an electoral polarization on religious and caste lines..and advanced media houses also give tactic support to all this mess !! so sad!

  • Arya Sharan

    It is almost similar to the vote bank politics in India.

Next Story

Story Of Pakistani Immigrant Who Came To U.S. Helps Feed The Homeless

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing."

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Food
Sakina Halal Grill serves a hot luncheon buffet to paying as well as non-paying guests. (J.Taboh) VOA

When Pakistani immigrant Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. in 1996 as an impoverished young adult, he could only dream about success. He worked long hours in a series of tough jobs, saved money and learned everything he could about working and living in America.

His hard work paid off. After more than 20 years, he’s now a successful entrepreneur and owner of a popular Pakistani-Indian restaurant just a few blocks from the White House.

But what’s most remarkable about his story is what he’s doing in his restaurant every day.

Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh) . VOA

Mannan offers free meals to the homeless and anyone else in need.

Paying it forward

He says it’s his way of heeding the principles of his Muslim faith.

“I know God is happy with me, what I do, because I do it with my pure heart, with my pure intention, to uplift others without seeking any reward, any recognition,” he says. “I don’t need any awards, I don’t need any money. I just want to please Him.”

Mannan helps the needy he says, because growing up poor in Pakistan, he knows what it’s like to be hungry.

“I have nine siblings and [we didn’t have] much to eat … when you are poor and you [don’t] have things that other people have, when you get it, you want to appreciate, you want to share with others,” he said.

His desire to share deepened as he worked as a limousine driver in the nation’s capital. He saw homeless people on the street, day and night, in all kinds of weather — looking for food in trash cans.

The experience had an impact.

“I don’t want to see another human being going through the poverty that I went through. I don’t want to see another human being going through the hunger that I went through. I want them to have that feeling that they were being accepted, so they can come and sit here and eat with respect,” he says.

Just like family

His message is simple. Come to Sakina Halal Grill, which is named after his late mother, ask for food, use the restroom, and sit for as long as you want.

“We will love you and respect you the same way we respect a paying guest. We will treat you like family,” he said.

Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh). VOA

Marchellor Lesueur, who is homeless, has been coming to the restaurant every day for the past eight months.

“I think that he’s a saint. He’s a beautiful man,” he says about Mannan. “My stomach was growling, I was looking for a blessing, then he popped up, gave me a card and invited me to a restaurant for lunch. And I was so overwhelmed and happy I couldn’t wait to get here, and ever since then I’ve been coming.”

Hegehiah Griakley is also a regular. He was finishing up a generous portion of rice and chicken, which he described as two meals in one.

“This is more than lunch,” he said. “They give you enough to feed you for the rest of the day I think. The food is great, the people are nice. I wouldn’t mind working here!”

Griakley says he once asked Mannan what he could give him in return for the free food. “Because most people expect you to give back.”

“But he said ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ He just wanted me to have a good meal,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that. It was so nice. I loved it.”

Compassionate immigrant

Mannan estimates that he’s provided more than 80,000 free meals since the restaurant opened in 2013.

And when he’s not feeding the needy in his restaurant, Mannan delivers meals to local shelters and churches, and organizes food and clothing drives at nearby parks.

Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive -- one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan)
Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive — one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan). VOA

“Some people tell me ‘homeless people are using drugs and you’re feeding them; that’s bad.’” To which he responds, “For you, it’s bad, for me, it’s joy. … I see a person who’s fallen to the ground. Whatever problem they went through to become homeless, it’s not my job to judge — my job is to give them respect and love.”

His paying customers are still his main business. Many of them contribute towards the free meals… and support his cause.

First time customer Geralyn Nathe-Evans was visiting from Minnesota when she read about Mannan’s mission in an article.

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing,” she said.

Mannan uses food as a way to help his fellow man, in practice of his faith. He urges others to do the same with their talents.

“If you’re a medical doctor, can you love him through your practice? If you are a lawyer, can you love him through your practice? Be kind and be compassionate to your client?” he asks.

In doing so, he believes “we will all prosper and flourish” as a society.

Also Read: Apple Watch Can Detect And Notify Users Irregular Heart Rhythms

Meantime, he says he will continue to nourish both body and soul of all who walk through the door of his restaurant.

“Just uplifting others is a joy for me. It doesn’t matter [what] color, religion you belong to. We are all human. I am focusing on humanity. I’m bringing humanity together and this is my mission.” (VOA)