Once GOP stalwarts, Muslim voters turned left in politics over 20-year shift in NJ. Here’s why
Sherine El-Abd, a longtime Republican activist in New Jersey, said she was “not blind” to anti-Muslim comments made by President Donald Trump. But as a Muslim, she doesn’t feel compelled to walk away from the GOP, a party that she says represents her values.
“The Republican Party has focused on family values. That’s Islam. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bigots. They exist in both parties,” said El-Abd, of Clifton, a former president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women.
But El-Abd and other Republicans have a growing challenge: how to rekindle Muslim loyalty to a political party that many feel has alienated them. Twenty years ago, Muslims in Americaleaned heavily Republican, drawn by the GOP’s conservative social and economic profile. Today, most identify as Democrats and are largely united in opposition to anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies pushed by members of the GOP — exemplified by Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
In 2000, about 70% of Muslim Americans cast their vote for Republican George W. Bush for president. Next week, 71% are expected to vote for Joe Biden, according to a September poll by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Muslim Americans broke with the party as they decried the war in Iraq and threats to civil liberties after 9/11 — a rift that has deepened amid rising Islamophobia in recent years.https://e125f4683703bcb1ac5d84a1fa90b581.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Muslims number about 3.5 million in the United States, or about 1% of the population. Still, they are concentrated in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where their votes can affect elections.
Today, Biden is courting Muslim communities. He has held virtual town halls with leading Muslim organizations and pledged to include members of the religion “in every level” of his administration. He has vowed to “end the Muslim ban on Day One in office,” a reference to Trump’s executive orders blocking immigrants or visitors from some Muslim-majority nations.
In New Jersey, Muslim Americans have held Biden fundraisers and online forums and organized weekly phone-banking events to urge people to vote for the Democrat. A week ago, Biden’s daughter, Ashley, joined Sadaf Jaffer, the mayor of Montgomery Township in Somerset County, in an online event to rally support.
“The community has had direct engagements with Joe Biden,” said Jaffer, 37, one in a growing group of Muslim Democrats serving elected office in New Jersey. “At a very high level, they want to engage the community and want to express respect, and that means a lot.”
In 2004, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, an active member of the Republican Party, became the first Pakistani-American to serve as mayor of a municipality in the U.S. His town, Basking Ridge, was mostly Republican at the time, and the GOP provided a way into local politics. But a rise in anti-Muslim speech over the years troubled him.
“We saw Republicans denigrate President Obama,” Chaudry said, recalling that Obama, a Christian, was falsely said to be a Muslim, with critics insinuating he was un-American or a threat to mainstream, white Americans.
“We even saw Republicans coming out and saying Muslims should not be elected to public office,” said the 78-year-old, a former economist at AT&T who now teaches at Raritan Valley Community College.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
At home, Chaudry faced fierce community opposition to a 2012 mosque proposal and dealt with hateful flyers, social media posts and vandalism. Five years later, a judge ordered the town to pay a $3.25 million settlement in a religious discrimination lawsuit over the mosque denial.
Chaudry, a former Bush supporter, said he voted for Democrats in the last three presidential elections. He believes the climate under Trump has emboldened people to express or act on their biases.
Along with his restrictions on travel into the U.S., Trump has claimed that “Islam hates us” and retweeted anti-Muslim videos. He has spread the lie that thousands of Muslim peoplewere cheering in Jersey City on 9/11.
Chaudry believes Biden will set a better tone. “To imagine another four years of this administration is just unthinkable,” he said.
Discrimination ‘on a daily basis’
Muslim Americans are a diverse group representing different races and nationalities. But they share similar values, beliefs and concerns, said Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“American Muslims by and large want to end things like the Muslim ban. They want to end religious discrimination, racial and religious profiling and bias crimes. These are things that we tackle on a daily basis,” he said.
In CAIR’s national poll of 846 Muslim voters, 71% said they planned to vote for Biden, while 18% said they would back Trump. In the poll, 19% identified as Republicans and 66% as Democrats.
The shift in political allegiance has been precipitous. Many Muslim Americans do share conservative Republican values, supporting lower taxes and traditional family structures and opposing abortion. But many also care deeply about immigration policies, racial justice, health care and student loan debt, Maksut said.https://e125f4683703bcb1ac5d84a1fa90b581.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
In the CAIR poll, 42% said they were liberal-leaning on social issues, while 34% considered themselves conservative; 42% said they were fiscally conservative, and 37% said they were liberal on economic issues.
The change in attitudes has also been reflected in leadership. In recent years, four Muslims have been elected to Congress, all Democrats. In New Jersey, Muslim Democrats also serve as mayors and council members.
Swayed by economy, values
El-Abd, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1965, said many Muslim Americans continue to support Trump because of his focus on the economy. Others believe his claim that he wants to end U.S. wars, she said.
“The majority of Muslims are doing economically well,” said El-Abd, 74, a retired elections superintendent. “They care about education and property taxes and income tax.”
But some of them have been turned off by the president’s personal scandals, said Jimmy Small, president of the Muslim League of Voters of New Jersey, a nonpartisan group that encourages civic and political participation.
“People feel that the value system of the current president is in opposition to family values, with his three wives and his finances being called into question,” he said.
Muslims say they intend to vote for Biden despite misgivings over foreign policy, including his early support for the Iraq War, controversial drone bombing campaigns during the Obama administration and his support for unconditional aid to Israel, regardless of disputes over the country’s human rights record or settlement expansions.
But many feel Trump’s foreign policy has been worse for Muslims, citing his disregard for Palestinian rights, the expansion of drone strikes and his cancellation of a nuclear agreement with Iran.https://e125f4683703bcb1ac5d84a1fa90b581.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
For Azra Baig, a South Brunswick resident active with Muslims for Biden, this election is about ending the hate and divisiveness that she feels have spiked under the president’s leadership.
“I just feel like it’s not the America I was born and raised in,” said Baig, 48, a registered nurse. “What has happened to our compassion and our unity? It’s just been a very frustrating four years.”
Hannan Adely is an education and diversity reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
News article https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2020/10/29/nj-muslims-say-they-back-biden-culminating-long-drift-gop/6043225002/?fbclid=IwAR3nmVmbpNn6eRg7wVgfY27M8sPz1grv1vfm0cPCaSI1M5IVY06EXbSJCfU