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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that.” Martin Luther King
By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Edited By Adam Rizvi, New Jersey, TIO: The 45th president of the US, Donald Trump took not just the country but the world by surprise when he won the top post against all odds. And the four years of his first term has witnessed the worst of religious bigotry, racism, inhumane immigration policies, and to top it all a mismanagement of the COVID crisis, which has catapulted the USA to the top of the charts, with the highest number of cases, for months now. The pandemic which was dismissed no worse than a “flu” attack by Trump, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO), has now resulted in over 200,000 deaths, over seven million positive cases, and 20.6 million jobs lost, since mid-March, affecting a little over 14 % of the population.
The 45th president of the US, Donald Trump took not just the country but the world by surprise when he won the top post against all odds. And the four years of his first term has witnessed the worst of religious bigotry, racism, inhumane immigration policies, and to top it all a mismanagement of the COVID crisis, which has catapulted the USA to the top of the charts, with the highest number of cases, for months now. The pandemic which was dismissed no worse than a “flu” attack by Trump, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO), has now resulted in over 200,000 deaths, over seven million positive cases, and 20.6 million jobs lost, since mid-March, affecting a little over 14 % of the population.
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Trump’s vague, unworkable policies, his “we have to do something” blabberings during a pandemic and an economic collapse, the fraudulent statistics, the dark insinuations of conspiracies, “there is something we don’t know about Obama”, the constant triggers to keep the prejudices of the people burning, his 22,000 lies and still counting, his total disregard for science, “we must wear a mask, we must not wear a mask”, the Russian links in the last presidential elections, his fondness for the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong, is making many
determined to vote him out this year. A possible second term for Trump, with no pressure of re-election, is being simply seen as an unmitigated disaster, to be avoided at all costs. The polarization that was seen in the 2016 presidential elections in the US, has only gotten sharper this year, as President Trump gets ready to fend off challenges from the Democrat nominee and former vice-president Joe Biden, in what seems to be a tightly contested battle.
It is not just the Americans who are polarised. The 5.4 million-strong south-Asian population, who make up about 5.6 % of the population, to are polarised. Though a large majority of the American Indian population, especially Hindus have always been traditionally democrats, the American Muslims, including Indians have been swinging right from 2001, when George Bush was first elected. Disillusionment quickly followed after the Iraq war, which triggered a wave of Islamophobia on US soil.
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The disappointment led them to vote for Barrack Obama, a Muslim himself. But then the September 2011 Islamic terrorist attack on the twin towers happened, leading to almost 3000 deaths, leaving over 25,000 injured. Large scale persecution of innocent Muslims happened, leading to the setting up of the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force (CVE), by the Obama administration, in his second term as president. This task force ended up giving a free hand to the police to reign in the Muslims.
This sent them scurrying back to the Republicans and Trump. Any hopes that Trump would be sensitive to the Muslim persecution soon vanished, with him not only imposing the ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries in 2017 but also increasing funding to what was then CVE and renaming it as the 2018 National Strategy for Counter-Terrorism. This despite the fact that in the last 14 years, since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed 45 people on US soil, an average of three in a year, while gun violence, by mostly white supremacists, has killed more
than 11,000 people this year alone.
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The community is being pushed so much that more and more young Muslims are putting traditional career choices like medicine and engineering on hold, opting to now become journalists and policymakers.
Muslim youth, born and raised in the US, who never thought of themselves as just Muslims, are made painfully aware of their identity after the Muslim ban in 2017, which is now making them more politically aware. According to a report in the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a record number of Muslims ran for office in 2018, across the country. More than 80 ran for state and local offices across the country in 2019 of which 39 won.
Although Muslims, who make up about 1% of the US population, are a small voting bloc, experts say that their votes and their rate of participation can play a role in close elections, especially this year.
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The “Trump effect” has been such that the Muslim community has been shifted to the left much more than when President Obama first ran for office. About 76% of Muslims who cast ballots in the 2018 midterm election voted for a Democrat, while only 13% voted for a Republican, according to a 2019 study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The spectacular win by Rashida Tlaib, the Detroit-born daughter of Palestinian immigrants, during the mid-term polls, one of the four female Democrats, who form the `squad’, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, was just the momentum, the diverse population needed. Indian Americans, half of whom are Hindus, are the second-largest immigrant group in the US after Mexicans. In 2016, fewer than 20% voted for Trump. Traditionally they have identified with other minority voters, especially at the time of rising white nationalism. By census estimates, 400,000 more Indian voters have been added since 2016.
For the first time, however, the five million Hindu voters in the US are divided. On one hand, they fear white supremacy, endorsed by Trump, and on the other hand, they are being swayed by Hindu nationalist forces, active not just in India, but also on US soil. They have launched aggressive campaigns to woo Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s supporters, by claiming that Trump is a friend of Modi and this friendship will help India keep Pakistan and China in check.
The fact that there has been no evidence of this in the last four years is lost on the hardened Modi supporters. Since both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden expressed their displeasure at the lockdown in Kashmir and against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), they are being projected as anti-India.
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The moderate Hindu voters are however quite aware of the disaster hastened by an incompetent president that now surrounds them. So much so that the newly elected president and the members of the 117th congress will have to have solid plans to address the post-pandemic, economic revival of the US, which collectively affects everyone.
Most are also aware of significant threats to not just the US but the rest of the world as well, from the rising right-wing fascists around the world, including India. To withstand and curb them, the US needs a strong president.
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There are 1.3 million eligible Indian American voters in eight battleground states namely Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Michigan was lost by just 10,700 votes and the Indian voting population there is 1,25,000. In Pennsylvania, the margin of loss was about 42,000 votes and the population there is about 1,56,000 Indian voters.
To ensure that the Muslim votes are not divided this time, Farooq Mitha, an attorney and a Fullbright fellow from the Middle East, has been appointed by the Joe Biden campaign team, as the senior advisor on Muslim American engagement, across the country.
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According to Mitha, young people are very frustrated with this government’s response to COVID. New Zealand has been COVID free for 150 days and this should have been the USA’s reality as well. He, therefore, urges them to vote for Biden, who he assures them is progressive and has a concrete plan to address the current COVID crisis.
Mobilizing the diverse sections of the Muslim community, like the Arabs who are concerned with the Yemen issue, the Indian Muslims who are concerned with CAA/NRC besides the plight of Kashmiris and the Palestinians who have their own issues, African Americans students, who are concerned only about their college tuitions, is no mean task.
Assad Akhter, an elected official, who has worked closely with Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. in both his Washington and New Jersey Congressional offices, is doing his part by engaging the
The Muslim community in politics. Akhtar who was elected a week before Trump was, warns that just as George Bush was much more destructive in his second term than his first, the same would be the case if Trump is given a second chance. He reminds the voters that Trump inherited a good economy, but now the economy is in a downward spiral.
“Though it is natural for us to take pride in our backgrounds, we must remember that privilege is not just white privilege alone, we have it too. We have more freedom here than in our home countries. And therefore cannot limit ourselves to just being Muslim Americans. We need to step up and make sure our voices are heard. And the very minimum we can do, is to ensure we vote”, says Akhter.
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During the COVID crisis, serious inefficiencies of the presidency came out. “Just by being responsive, we could have saved so many lives”, she says.
The civil unrest during Trump’s rule, the hatred that has been unleashed by him, the people he is surrounded with, mostly white supremacists, all have made the South-Asian community wary of Trump’s presidency. “Hate has no boundaries. It spreads as was witnessed after 26/11. The hate that was unleashed against the Muslims spread to the Sikhs too. This hate needs to stop now. It is especially painful to watch so many children being exposed to hate”, she says.
“I personally have a good feeling of Kamala Harris. It is easier to shatter glass ceilings now. No one person runs the government and it is important to see how diverse is the president’s team. While Trump’s team is full of white supremacists, Biden’s team is as diverse as it gets. By celebrating Muharram Biden further cleared his intentions”, she adds. Born to Pakistani immigrants, Annie Anjum, a practicing attorney migrated to the US as a small child. Though she has been the Cherry Hill’s Democratic committee member since 2018, she had no ambition of getting into politics initially.
“What made me jump in was the fact that earlier families would work hard and enjoy themselves. But now even if they work hard, they are insecure about the future. I felt a need to address this insecurity. If I as a mother don’t do it now, I will only pass on the problem to the next generation”, she says.
Mussab Ali, a student of Harvard Law School, was re-elected to the Board of Education in Jersey City in 2018 where he is the youngest elected official in the history of Jersey city as well as the youngest Muslim elected official in the country. Ali was also galvanized by Trump’s candidacy during the last elections. Not only is the hate that was unleashed after 9/11 in 2015, still fresh in his mind, but so are memories of Muslims cheering for Trump in NJ, caught on TV. He got into politics, to understand what Muslim leadership was like.
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Intashan Chowdhury, the son of Bangladeshi-American immigrants, is the youngest Borough administrator and an advisor to Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah, a former high school teacher and the longest-serving Arab and Muslim elected official in NJ. “The Muslims are disgusted with Trump’s language. Muslim Americans have more freedom to exercise their rights and freedom here, than even their home countries and they should use it to their advantage”, he says, He was of the opinion that Trump was morally corrupt and an incompetent president, and with a president like that, it makes little difference who is in majority in the congress.
Nabila Baptiste, also a daughter of immigrants, is the deputy executive director of the New Jersey State Democratic Committee (NJDSC) and doing her part to galvanize support for Biden-Harris, through the 19 chapters of the South Asians for Biden, spread across the US. She is convinced that the Trump camp is falling short on issues.
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It is not until Obama became the president, that there was an inclusive tone in the White House. But it was really Bernie Sander’s presidential campaigns that truly energized not just the Muslim voters, but also other marginalized communities. Other Democratic presidential hopefuls have visited mosques on the campaign trail over the last two years, or spoken to Muslim groups, but Sanders went further, naming a Muslim as his campaign manager and visiting Muslim communities. With Sanders out of the race, many in the community plan on still backing Biden, even though he wasn’t their first choice.
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Compiled and Curated by Maham Abbasi & Humra Kidwai