Do Muslims have to be Democrats now?

Wajahat Ali

AMERICAN Muslims face a choice: vote Democratic, or vote themselves off the island. That’s how Haroon Moghul, the author of the coming memoir “How to Be a Muslim,” put it to me this month — and how many of my fellow American Muslim voters feel. As Republicans have embraced an extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim platform, has the Democratic Party emerged as our only viable political home?
Sabir Ibrahim, a Pakistani-American lawyer from the San Francisco Bay Area, is sceptical. Even though he “held his nose and voted for Hillary Clinton,” he perceives hostility from progressives toward socially conservative sensibilities. As an example, he cited liberals’ derision earlier this year when a news report noted that Vice President Mike Pence once said that he avoids dining alone with women who aren’t his wife — something some practicing Muslim men do, too. The liberal ridicule, according to Mr. Ibrahim, results from a narrow-minded dogmatism that demands across-the-board acquiescence to a certain set of cultural values.
Nearly every person I talked to warned that Democrats couldn’t take the Muslim vote for granted. Even though there are only about three million of us, we live in critical battleground states. (In Florida, Muslim voters helped push George W. Bush to victory in 2000.) Many Muslims believe that any embrace from the Democratic Party today is just another pity invite given by the popular kids to the freaks and geeks so they can continue using us for homework, eating our mothers’ tandoori chicken and wielding us as a club to beat up Republicans.
Muslims, among the most diverse religious community in America, still seem to exist in two bland flavours: the angry progressive or the angry religious fundamentalist. From many Republicans, I am asked, “Why aren’t you condemning extremism?” or “What are you doing to fight the IS?” as if I can magically uncover militants using my extremist spidey sense. In liberal circles, I am apparently only a safe, useful Muslim until they find out I don’t drink alcohol and I do take my religion seriously. I’ve heard: “Oh, you pray? I thought you were progressive” — a comment that seems to assume I’m against women’s rights, democracy, marriage equality and deodorant just because I fast during Ramazan.
During the 2016 primary, it did seem to me that Democrats were actually slobbering over Muslims, including those who are practicing and traditional. At one event, Bernie Sanders invited a young woman in a hijab to the stage and promised to fight against “all forms of racism.” The Democratic convention featured the Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan. This embrace of Muslims has continued since the election. Hasan Minhaj recently received a standing ovation at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after his blistering roast of Mr. Trump. Progressives are rallying behind Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American in Brooklyn who was one of the organizers of the Women’s March.
It was just nine years ago that workers for the Obama campaign in Detroit prevented two women in hijabs from sitting behind the candidate, where they might appear in photographs. Two months before the 2008 election, I was invited to a fund-raising event in Silicon Valley attended by Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I asked him why the Democrats weren’t openly embracing Muslim voters. “Why? The elections are just two months away,” he said.
Even though there’s still an unpleasant edge beneath the Democrats’ courting of Muslim voters, it’s not as if the Republicans will be getting our votes back anytime soon. That leaves Democrats — or neither party. Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, noted that data shows that many Muslims favoured neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump.
Both progressives and Muslim communities still need to question their own bubbles and orthodoxies. Some practicing Muslims, like their Republican and progressive counterparts, are unwilling to open their tent, fearing that if they accept everyone, then everything will fall apart. One positive thing emerging from this political moment is that our respective communities are forced to confront issues like racism, sexism and anti-Muslim bigotry that have always existed but have been hidden under toothless slogans promoting progress. Now we have to actually do the hard work to achieve it. The writer is a playwright and lawyer.
— Courtesy: The New York Times

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