April 9, 2016
Why are Muslims seemingly rallying to the Jewish candidate? Because this is America, baby—and because he calls them friends, not terrorists.
It’s official: Muslims in New York are feelin’ the Bern! Everywhere I look my Muslim friends are urging the 400,000-plus Muslim Americans in the Big Apple to vote Bernie.
The Muslim love fest for Bernie may surprise some, but I saw it building. First, Sanders handily won Dearborn, Michigan last month, a city with a very sizable Muslim population. (It’s the type of place Ted Cruz would want patrolled.) Then I saw an explosion of support on social media by Muslims for Sanders.
And recently I have spoken at Muslim events across the country, from professional organizations to colleges, and the crowds there cheered wildly when I asked if they liked Sanders. By the way, if you ever want to hear 500 Muslim Americans in a room go eerily silent, ask if any support Cruz. And if you want to hear that same room burst into laughter, ask if any support Trump. (Although stunningly there are a few Muslim Trump-lovers.)
But now with New York’s April 19 primary looming, the Muslims in Gotham City have really sprung into action. There are countless pleas on social media by New York Muslims urging others in the community to feel the Bern come primary day. And just yesterday I received an email from a Muslim American doctor imploring people to “please join the revolution.” Typically a Muslim emailing people to “join the revolution” could result in a visit by the FBI. But the doctor’s email invited people to volunteer in New York on the Sanders campaign.
So why are Muslims in New York (and beyond) feeling the Bern? Overall, it’s the same reasons he’s attracting people in other communities, although there’s one unique issue noted by many Muslims.
Haroon Moghul, a writer based in the Big Apple, explained that he’s feeling the Bern because of Sanders’s progressive stands on issues like “race, the economy, and social justice.”
Linda Sarsour, a well-known New York City Muslim American activist and a big Bernie supporter, chalks up Sanders’s appeal to the fact that “he has intentionally reached out to Muslim communities in many cities.” She added, “We went from Muslim women in hijabis being removed from camera view at rallies to introducing competitive candidates in front of thousands of voters.”
Sarsour, who introduced Sanders at a packed campaign rally last week in Wisconsin, was referring to the 2008 incident when then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign removedtwo Muslim women wearing hijabs from sitting behind the podium apparently because they didn’t want Obama to appear to be too cozy with Muslims.
Even a New York Imam, Shamsi Ali, is touting Sanders. (Cue Trump and Cruz supporters freaking out that a Muslim cleric would endorse a political candidate—to them, only right-wing Christian ministers can do that.) Ali, who leads a mosque in Queens and is known for his interfaith work with Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier, commented, “I support Bernie because his personality is based on truth, honesty, and inclusiveness.” Ali continued, “Sanders is a unifier who can bring Americans of all backgrounds together in a time that hate and divisiveness are so high.”
And apart from the feel-good reasons, Muslim Americans cite Sanders’s stands on key issues. Sarsour summed it up well, noting that Sanders has been fighting to reduce income equality for decades, opposed the Iraq War, and supports a “balanced approach to Palestine-Israel.”
That last issue is the one cited more frequently by Muslims than typically raised by people outside our community. (But the Muslim community is far from monolithic, so it’s not a major concern to all.) Many Muslim friends noted Sanders’s statement on the Middle East conflict that he released in lieu of speaking at AIPAC in March. In that speech, Sanders expressed his strong commitment to Israel, noting that our nation has been and will always be committed to the principle that Israelis “have a right to live in peace and security.”
But then Sanders added something rarely seen in American politics. He spoke of the Palestinians as human beings, acknowledging their suffering and aspirations. Sanders poignantly noted, “You can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.”
And beyond New York, Muslims are feeling the Bern in key upcoming primary states with sizable Muslim populations such as Pennsylvania and Maryland, as Ahmed Bedier, a longtime grass roots activist and founder of “Muslim Americans for Bernie Sanders,” explained. Bedier, who has been volunteering on behalf of Sanders on the ground in various primary states, shared that Muslims consistently cite Sanders’s “embrace of Muslim Americans” as being a key to his success, along with his progressive stands on issues from the economy to foreign policy.
Now the bright side for Hillary Clinton is that she does have some very solid support in the Muslim community, including the endorsement of one of the two Muslim American members of Congress, Rep. Andre Carson. (D-Ind.) (The other representative, Keith Ellison (D-MN), is feeling the Bern big time.)
And perhaps more importantly, the Muslims who aren’t supporting Clinton in the primary (with a few exceptions), will very likely vote for her over any of the GOP frontrunners if she is the Democratic nominee. After all, 70 percent of Muslims American now identify as Democrats, and only 11 percent as Republicans. (I know a few Muslim Republicans and they could use a hug.)
No one knows if Sanders will pull out the Democratic nomination. But he has already achieved a massive victory by inspiring so many Muslim Americans to get involved in politics by his embracing our community, as opposed to the GOP frontrunner, who uses every opportunity to fear-monger at our expense. It’s the inclusive words of Sanders, not the divisive words of Trump, that represents what makes America truly great.