Arab and Muslim Americans are taking Midterms by storm - and that's a good thing

Arab and Muslim Americans are taking Midterms by storm - and that's a good thing
Comment: For record numbers of Arab and Muslim candidates, the Midterms are a chance to prove their worth as politicians, and stand up to Trump's bigotry, writes Marcus Montgomery.
7 min read
02 Nov, 2018
Over 90 percent of Arab Americans voted in 2016 [Getty]
Every two years pundits and politicos use the same old cliché about US elections being "the most important" choices of a lifetime. 

But, with a surge in political mobilisation among Arab and Muslim Americans, these groups are more active that at any point in at least a generation.

Over the last three years, one study found the percentage of Muslim Americans that voted grew consistently at about seven percent.

Another report by the Arab America Institute (AAI) found that over 90 percent of Arab Americans voted in 2016 and that the community consistently votes at a higher-than-average rate. Most amazing of all, nearly 100 candidates for local, state, and federal government office across the country are Muslim American; that is magnitudes more than the dozen or so Muslims who ran for office just two years prior.

Now President Donald Trump's most ardent supporters find prospects of Arab and Muslim Americans - alongside pretty much any non-white Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) male - taking elected office terrifying.

Listen to
the white nationalists walking the campus of the University of Virginia or the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and one sentiment is crystal clear: These white men loathe the idea of losing their historical hold on power in the United States.

Demographic shifts already disadvantage their hold on societal influence, so political power is the last bastion of strength this particular group has; that is why they feel exceedingly marginalised and discriminated against. But, rather than symbolising the downturn of American exceptionalism, these midterm elections have the potential to illuminate the progress that Arab and Muslim communities are making, specifically, but also the progress the United States is making towards a more inclusive and progressive society.

Midterms 2018 is a chance to give Arab and Muslim Americans a voice

For these two communities - both of which has suffered bigotry, discrimination, and violence consistently since 11 September 2001, but even more so since Donald Trump's rise to power - the November midterms offer them a chance to send people to public office that share their values, outlooks on life, and ultimately speak on their behalf.

Only two members of Congress are Muslim, and neither are women. Of the 
handful of Arab American members of Congress, few are Democrats, though the larger population of Arab Americans identify with that party.

Nearly 100 candidates for local, state and federal government office across the country are Muslim American

Make no mistake, perhaps at no point since September 11 have Arab and Muslim Americans needed their voices heard in Washington, as much as they do now. President Trump campaigned on radical plans to ban Muslims from entering the country and cheered past American law enforcement and national security acts that overwhelmingly targeted minorities in this country.

Since taking office, he made good on his pledge to ban Muslims - albeit in a watered-down fashion - and he has repeatedly made changes to immigration practices that hurt Arab and Muslim immigrants.

These are non-wartime measures, but it doesn't take an alarmist to ponder what moves his administration might take if there was some September 11
th-like tragedy again - Guantanamo Bay and the PATRIOT Act are already chilling reminders of what the United States will do to these communities.

The current GOP-held Congress has been complicit in the president's demonising Arab and Muslim Americans.

Some pay lip service to standing up against the president's bigotry - 
some embrace it - but few have stood up to Trump in any meaningful way; no one proposed legislative fixes to the White House's decision to bar the most vulnerable Arab and Muslim refugees from entering the United States and the only member of Congress who challenged Mr Trump on issues like torture is no longer with us.

Read more: Palestinian, Muslim, woman - American. Inside Rashida Tlaib's historic run for Congress

If Republican lawmakers are not going to have Arab and Muslim Americans' best interests in mind, it is only logical that the millions of individuals in this community send to Washington people that will safeguard their liberties.

Finally, for the Arab and Muslim communities specifically, these midterm elections offer them the opportunity to normalise civic engagement within the broader US political system.

In states like Michigan, Minnesota, California, New York, Texas, and Florida, Arab and Muslim communities have already proven to be successful and self-made business owners and public servants, but once more Arabs and Muslims make it to Capitol Hill - and more importantly govern well from Washington - then the broader population will not fear and demonise these communities.

It is a lengthy process, no doubt - consider that 
the preeminent demonisation of African American governance preceded the first post-Reconstruction era black senator by half a century and the first black president by nine decades - but laying the groundwork now is crucial for Arab and Muslim communities in the future.

As soon-to-be Congresswoman 
Rashida Tlaib said, candidates like herself expose their communities to the country "in a…pivotal way, an impactful way, through public service". This is especially important for the Muslim American community because, statistics show that this community will be the second-largest religious group in the country in just over two decades.

These white men loathe the idea of losing their historical hold on power in the United States

Think about the birther movement for a second and wonder if Americans right now would ever vote for a Muslim president.

If Muslim Americans get involved now and prove they are just as American and just as capable, politically, then by 2040 - when their numbers will surpass the Jewish community, and there will be a presidential election - then perhaps they can have their own Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

Arab and Muslim integration into the political system is good for the whole

While the midterms are important for the Arab and Muslim American communities specifically, their enfranchisement is necessarily good for the state of US democracy in general.

In a time when the country's wealth disparity is sky-high, as is the opportunity gap between white and minority communities, the government under which all Americans live needs to actually represent those Americans. 

As former President Barack Obama noted, Americans should vote so the "face of politics" changes so "it looks [their] own". A responsible and accountable government - or a "government of the people, by the people, for the people," in the words of President Abraham Lincoln - must look like and share the very same experiences as its people.

The only way to ensure that Arab and Muslim communities are enmeshed in the fabric of the American democratic experiment is if they mobilise politically and find success on the ballot.

Decades after John F. Kennedy was elected president, Catholic Americans moved from electoral pariahs to fixtures in the legislative and judicial branches of the US government.

Popular mobilisation efforts by figures such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. put in motion mechanisms that have resulted 
Hispanic and African American representation in Washington at an all-time high. To really have proportional representation in every sense of the word, Arab and Muslim Americans must mobilise politically, most importantly on 6 November.

Finally, if Washington is as diverse as the constituents it serves, the foundation of US democracy is stronger.

One study shows that greater diversity can lead to a lessening of bigotry like Islamophobia, which itself leads to 
greater intolerance of authoritarianism and militarism.

If the findings of this study are true, then greater Arab and Muslim representation can perhaps help curb President Trump's authoritarian tendencies and rein in US belligerency in the Arab and Muslim world (e.g., 
strikes on mosques in Syria, full-throated support for the brutal Saudi campaign in Yemen, etc.).

For minority communities in the United States, the 2018 midterm elections may truly be the most important of their lifetime. Arab and Muslim communities have the chance to stand up to President Trump and his sycophants in the Republican Party to pushback against the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that seems to ooze from Washington.

Marcus Montgomery is a Junior Analyst for Congressional Affairs at Arab Center Washington DC.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.