By Imam Mansoor Sabree
Over the past couple of years, Muslim Americans have been experiencing a wave of Islamophobic abuse throughout the U.S. In a relatively short period of time, we have gone from isolated cases of Islamophobic attacks to the full blown mainstreaming of a nationwide Islamophobic discourse that threatens our social fabric.
Islamophobic attacks against Muslims have increased dramatically since the terrorist attacks in Paris, Orlando, and San Bernardino and have been exasperated to a whole new level by the rise of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But as Muslim Americans, it is our duty to respond to these challenges actively and robustly.
The rise of Trump is a terribly unfortunate state of affairs. Traditionally the United States has been peerless at coming together when under attack — the country has always risen above bigoted impulses and united under one banner when faced with any kind of danger, as was shown in exemplary fashion after 9/11.
Trump’s rise, however, fundamentally threatens that sense of unity and cohesiveness at a time when it is needed the most; he promotes division and demagoguery when the country needs unity and leadership. And, the GOP has set a dangerous precedent by not rejecting Trump’s rhetoric. In the process they have tacitly made it clear that such kind of bigotry and racism is now acceptable in broader American society.
As Muslim Americans we find ourselves on a precipice; we are staring straight at a future of fear, anxiety, hate and bigotry — a future where our voice faces a threat, a future where our children are almost certain to live a life of fear and rejection.
Earlier this year, President Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore where he condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from the GOP. The president acknowledged the sense of fear that many Muslims feel throughout the country; the racist verbal abuse and the physical assaults against mostly vulnerable Muslims.
As Muslims we can act to change that trajectory of fear and hate right in its tracks. We must respond to bigotry with the highest American ideals, with values that have been so aptly personified by so many great Americans – being active, positive and superior to the bigotry that we face. Over the decades in our community, Muhammad Ali has personified those magnificent ideals throughout his life, and it is precisely that spirit of Ali that we should all seek to emulate in all aspects of our social lives.
Muslim Americans need to understand the difference we are capable of making in this challenging election. If Muslims show up in force on Election Day, there is a real chance that we can make a transformative difference on the election result. There is a large contingency of our Muslim communities who live in competitive swing states, and their vote will be critical in ensuring a Clinton victory.
Muslim Americans should remember the 2000 presidential elections where George Bush won by a mere 537 votes in the Florida recount. That was the difference between a Bush presidency and an Al Gore presidency, and the tragedy was that the Muslim population in Florida simply did not show up enough to vote. Had Muslims engaged in that election, America may have had an Al Gore presidency. It is a lesson that Muslim Americans must never forget.
Fast forward to 2016, and we find ourselves in a similar situation – once more in the shadow of the 2000 presidential contest – where the contest is tight and Muslims are in all the right places to make a difference to the end result.
Being active and shrewd in a democratic process is critical to get our voices heard and avoid past mistakes. In the current climate of hate and bigotry against Muslims, that means turning up to vote for Hillary Clinton – being decisive, active and united. Today, there are many Muslims who fundamentally dislike Hillary Clinton; they supported Bernie Sanders and were aggrieved by Clinton’s nomination, and as a result they are now throwing their support behind Jill Stein.
But this is frankly a waste of our democratic vote. The reality is that voting for Jill Stein is to vote for Donald Trump. Many Muslims live in swing states, and if we vote for Stein instead of Clinton, we empower Trump. Even Muslims who live in Democratic strongholds should be under no illusion of the danger that comes with backing Stein – this is the harsh reality of this contest.
Muslims have to be realistic and shrewd, whatever animosity we may hold against Hillary Clinton. Only a vote for her would prevent the destruction of a Trump presidency – fighting against bigotry in whatever form it may take should be the communal spirit that we always aspire to acquire.
We should be under no doubt about what a Trump presidency means. There are many Muslims who are indifferent to the prospect of a Trump presidency because they think he would ultimately prove to be harmless, but that is an ill-spirited view of our place in society. A Trump presidency would unleash a new divisive public discourse that is predicated on hate, fear, distrust, misogyny and xenophobia.
It would all but normalize a heinous Islamophobic discourse, which is already at dangerous levels, and it would embolden outright racist groups in the country in a manner that has not been witnessed for decades. As Muslims, we must understand the power we can exercise. It is critical for us and for our futures that we show up in force on 8th November and vote for Hillary Clinton.
Imam Mansoor Sabree is the former Director and Imam of the Atlanta Masijd of Al-Islam, Atlanta’s oldest and largest indigenous Muslim community in the U.S.A. He is a grassroots community leader focused civic engagement in the American Muslim community. He is currently the regional director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).