The Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, has recently appointed Farooq Mitha, an American of South Asian heritage, as his director of outreach to the American Muslim community. The election is less than four months away. Normally, campaigning would have been in full swing at this time, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on it.
President Trump, who thrives in the presence of supporters, tried to jumpstart his campaign with a large rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event was a total dud. It took place in an arena with a capacity of about 20,000 – but only 6,200 attended.
The final stages of these campaigns are usually kicked off with the respective conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties, usually in late July or August. Due to the pandemic, the dates of these events remain fluid. Democrats have indicated their convention will likely take place virtually. Trump has announced the Republican convention will be in Florida. However, given the large spike in Covid cases there, that remains to be seen.
In these circumstances online campaigning has become even more critical. This also allows finer targeting of various voter segments. One of these segments, particularly for the Biden campaign are Muslim voters. While they are only 1-2 percent of the total population, their concentration in certain areas can make a difference in the results of those states.
The election of Donald Trump and his overtly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant stance has energized Muslim voters like never before, and not only as voters. In the 2018 midterm elections more than 100 Muslims ran for various public offices. Some of them won, while others learned the ropes and built name recognition. Two Muslim women – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who won seats in US House of representatives in 2018 – have been viciously attacked by Trump, who even said that “they should go back to where they came from.”
With this backdrop, Joe Biden has decided to reach out to the Muslim-American community. There are half a dozen states where capturing a large block of Muslim votes could make a difference. Joe Biden may be the first presidential candidate who has created a page on his official website dedicated to addressing issues important to Muslims.
At the same time Muslims in America are a very diverse group. They come from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds and hold diverse views on international affairs and domestic economy. Many are progressive and liberal while some others are not. However, having seen what one term of Muslim-hating Trump can do, most American Muslims are lining up behind Biden.
According to some surveys, about 80 percent of American Muslims now identify as Democrat or ‘Democrat leaning.’ Some two decades ago it was just the opposite in favour of Republicans.
There are two ways in America to influence the politics and direction of the country. Donate funds to a candidate, or volunteer time to help a campaign. Historically, Muslims have been lax on both fronts. Too often in the past, American Muslims have waited for a candidate to support their causes, before they would support the candidate. And, considering Muslims’ reputation for not voting in large numbers, no wonder Muslims have often been left waiting.
No candidate will be a perfect fit with 100 percent of the views and desires of any community. One has to pick whoever comes closest.
There’s a lot riding on this election for the country – and particularly for American Muslims. Win or lose, I hope American Muslims will be very active participants, and thus win a seat at the table to influence the direction of the country.