Many American Muslims consider themselves with little choice but to support Democratic candidate Joe Biden after favourite Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders conceded defeat in the democratic race for presidential nomination.
Sanders had garnered American Muslim support unlike any other candidate, with many appreciating the effort Sanders had put into cultivating the American Muslim vote, when Democratic candidates are often seen as taking Muslim votes for granted. While other Democratic presidential candidates have visited mosques on the campaign trail this year or have liaised with Muslim groups, Sanders is seen to have done it first, better, and bigger; having built on relationships established in his previous prudential campaign, explained Youssef Chouhoud, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University.
For example, Sanders appointed a Muslim campaign manager, had high profile American Muslim activists such as Linda Sarsour campaigning on his behalf, visited a Los Angeles mosque to commemorate the victims of the New Zealand terrorist massacre, and headlined the Islamic Society last month, where he promised to overturn President Trump’s ‘Muslim’ travel ban, and marking the first time a presidential candidate addressed the largest and most prominent Muslim gathering in the country.
There has been, in the midst of the options available, a wider discussion about the priorities of American Muslim voters when selecting a candidate. Adham Sahloul andl Shadi Hamid, writing in the LawFare, discuss the importance of foreign policy in understanding Muslim voters’ preferences in the primaries, citing a post-2016 election survey of Muslim voters, which found that Muslim voters prioritized the economy above all, but then foreign policy and national security mattered at least as much as health care, immigration and education policies. They explain that for American Muslims, foreign policy “is about basic national security but also an extension of identity politics”, due to the “war on terror” securitising and therefore shifting American Muslims into a foreign policy problem in itself. They suggest that this may be behind the popularity of Sanders, who despite identifying as a Zionist and opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, “is relatively consistent in his criticism of decades of irresponsible foreign policy in the Middle East.”
But after Sander’s failure to gain wider democratic support, many no longer have the choice of being quite so selective. Emgage PAC, the first and largest Muslim American federal policial action committee, announced that it is now endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden for president, having previously endorsed Sanders. Though many however may choose not to concede quite so quickly to the inevitable, given Biden’s support for the Iraq War, the Patriot Act in 2001 which curtailed civil liberties. But also, his stance on domestic issues beyond national security, for example the “tough on crimes” 1994 punitive Crime Bill, which created a lasting negative effects for the country’s poor. Indeed Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayet warns against over emphasising foreign policy as the most important policy factor over anything else, mentioning the real and personal concerns of American Muslim voters on social justice, criminal justice reform, student debt relief and affordable healthcare. However, with current President Donald Trump as the only other available option, the choice is seen for many as straightforward, or not much of a choice at all.