Hillary Clinton will win overwhelming support from American Muslims in November. She is a safe harbour in a domestic political environment roiled by Donald Trump’s direct assaults against them. But for many Muslims, who make up about 1 per cent of the US population, a vote for her constitutes a difficult compromise.
“A lot of people in our community are not thrilled about Hillary Clinton because of her foreign policy record in the Muslim world,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But more people are scared of the wolf than of the fox, even though both can eat your chickens. There are people volunteering in the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
Michigan has about 500,000 Muslims, Walid said, one of the highest concentrations in the US. In the Democratic presidential primary, Bernie Sanders carried the state by barely two points over Clinton but he dominated among voters 18 to 29 years old by 81 to 19 per cent, a group that included many young Muslims. At the Democratic National Convention, Clinton forces beat back an effort by Sanders’s delegates to make the party platform project greater sympathy for Palestinians.
But Trump’s direct attack on American Muslims has left them with little choice in this election.
The GOP nominee has variously proposed blocking all Muslim immigration and tracking American Muslims — ostensibly as counterterrorism measures. He has suggested more than once that large numbers of American Muslims have been complicit in domestic terrorism. “They didn’t turn them in,” Trump said of Muslims who, he has claimed, withheld vital information about the killers in Orlando and San Bernardino, “and we had death and destruction”.
His success has predictably left many Muslims unnerved and on guard. “Trump is not what scares me,” said Abdullah Hammoud, a first-generation Lebanese-American from Dearborn, Michigan. The more serious threat, Hammoud said, is Trump’s unleashing of latent racism among his supporters.
“He has monetised racism. This man spreads bigotry and captures dollars and votes in exchange,” he said. “My mother, my sister — individuals now feel empowered to attack them because they observe the hijab.”
Hammoud, who said his father works at a grocery store, is 26, has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan and is on track to be elected in November, as a Democrat, to the Michigan House of Representatives. He is running in a Democratic district but campaigning has nonetheless been difficult sometimes. “I can’t tell you how many times doors have slammed in my face,” he said.
Muslims nationwide identified with the Democratic Party even before Trump came along. A Pew Research survey in 2011 found that “Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean towards the Democratic Party (70 per cent) than the Republican Party (11 per cent).”
Walid, the Michigan executive director of CAIR, is black, 44 years old and converted to Islam about 25 years ago. “There is a lot of apprehension in our community, particularly among suburban, non-African-American Muslims,” he said.
Muslims can only counter Trump’s mass-media performances with small, often private acts. Sumayya Master, a 21-year-old marketing student whose parents emigrated from Pakistan, said she wishes Americans would be more mindful of freedom of speech and religion. “I want for everybody to go back and remember why we built this great nation,” she said.
To ease fears, she and some friends have conducted an “Ask a Muslim” campaign at their university, where they encourage questions about their faith over free doughnuts and coffee. “Change is going to come,” she said. But with Trumpism in the air, Master doesn’t take it for granted. “For Christmas,” she said, “I gave all my neighbours Christmas presents.”