Michigan's Arab Americans helped deliver Biden's victory, now he must return the favour

Michigan's Arab Americans helped deliver Biden's victory, now he must return the favour
Comment: Biden's campaign understood that Arab and Muslim voting blocs are essential for victory, his future administration should govern accordingly, write Khaled A. Beydoun and Abed Ayoub.
5 min read
In 2016, Hillary Clinton made the mistake of neglecting Michigan on the campaign trail [Getty]
Joe Biden took Michigan, flipping a state and a presidential election thanks to unprecedented support from the state's network of Arab and Muslim voters. Support for Biden was driven by young and first-time voters, who braved the threat of the pandemic to rid the White House of a president that fed on their vulnerability for four long years. 

This was my first time voting," shares Zeinab, an Iraqi woman well into her sixties, "But I had no choice."

As an Arab and Muslim resident of the westside of Detroit, she and many Arab and Muslim voters felt compelled to vote for Joe Biden - the Democratic presidential candidate who needed Michigan, the midwestern swing state, to win.

"I know so many young people whose lives were ruined by his immigration policies, including the Muslim Ban," she continues, hours after registering her first vote, "cut off from their families and their futures. I had to vote for them."

Zeinab, and large swaths of Arab and Muslim voters in Dearborn and across the United States were moved to the ballot box in significant numbers by the injuries inflicted by Trump, and courtship by a Biden campaign that made serious attempts to include the two sidelined populations.

These voters delivered Wayne County to Joe Biden and flipped Michigan blue for the president-elect. The victory shook the political map in favour of the Democrat, and widened Biden's path toward the presidency that was declared a nail-biting four days later.

These communities deserve a degree of political priority that has always evaded them in the White House

Given the role Arab and Muslim voters played in handing Michigan to Biden, these maligned communities - which have endured enhanced levels of state animus and popular backlash over the last four years - deserve expanded attention from the forthcoming Biden administration, and a degree of political priority that has always evaded them in the White House.

Support was strongest in Dearborn, the centre of Arab American life, and firm Biden country. He won with a resounding 69 percent of votes, nearly matching the community's support for Barack Obama in 2008. And despite concern that the community might tilt toward Trump, the groundwork laid by the Bernie Sanders campaign in Dearborn and neighbouring Detroit, Hamtramck, and other nearby Arab and Muslim communities, proved decisive.

Young voters not only turned out for Biden in staggering numbers, but also organised their families and communities to reject the culture of anti-Muslim bigotry cultivated by the Trump administration.

To win Wayne County, these elections illustrate, you have to win over Muslim, and Arab voters, which also includes a sizeable Arab (and Chaldean) Christian voting base. Or at least, a sizable portion of these diverse voting populations that are more interrelated voting networks than monolithic blocs.

Read more: Young Arab American voters aren't the monolithic bloc the US thinks they are

The importance of Michigan today and moving ahead, should alert other presidential candidates and hopefuls to do the same. Kamala Harris visited Dearborn a week before the election, righting the wrong of a Clinton campaign that bypassed Arab and Muslim communities that turned Michigan for Sanders during the Democratic primary, and ultimately for Trump.

At this juncture, the Biden administration must evolve this heightened level of campaign outreach with genuine political attention, and elevate the issues of concern for Arab and Muslim Americans from the margins and into the centre.

Biden had to overcome an established atmosphere of skepticism and opposition to earn votes from Arab and Muslim communities. Coating the campaign was popular mistrust of Biden, whose governing history is riddled with aggression in the Mideast and support for policies that ravaged Black and indigent, Muslim and marginalised populations in the United States.

For a robust sliver of Michigan's Arab and Muslim voters, the shadow of "the better of two bad options" loomed over this election, but ultimately, did not stop record-setting support for the candidate who swore to combat the hate and Islamophobia of his opponent.

The Biden administration must evolve this heightened level of campaign outreach with genuine political attention

But Arab and Michigan voters did their part. Mobilising, en masse, helping deliver a crucial swing state to the Biden campaign. Announcing again, and more convincingly than ever before, that the Arab and Muslim voting blocs are more than merely important, but essential for winning one of the most coveted states, and critical counties in the country.

"If you want to win Michigan, you got to go through Wayne County. And to go through Wayne County, you need to win Arabs Muslims and Christians, non-Arab Muslims, Chaldeans and others from our part of the world," shares Yousef A., a Yemeni American college student who voted for Biden.

The Biden campaign understood this, investing into the Arab and Muslim communities to correct the neglect of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, and build on the proven path Bernie Sanders paved toward winning Michigan that year, and winning the hearts and mind of Arab and Muslim American voters.

After receiving massive support from these embattled communities, who delivered one of the most coveted states in the presidential race to his campaign, President-Elect Biden must give back in policy - not pandering - that mends the wounds inflicted by four years of Trump and decades of executive animus and apathy. Or else, face the prospect of losing Michigan - and a second term perhaps - in four years.

Abed Ayoub is the Legal Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and is based out of Washington, DC.  He is a native of Dearborn, Michigan.

Follow him on Twitter: @aayoub

Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, and author of the critically acclaimed book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear.

Follow him on Twitter: @khaledbeydoun

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