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Three Muslim Americans explain why they're voting for Donald Trump

After everything he's said and done to Muslims, some still find the president appealing
By Azad Essa in New York City

Yes, they exist. 

Despite everything he's said and done to Muslims, there are a large number of Muslim Americans who support President Donald Trump. 

Some say it is the economy and lower taxes, others say it the social and conservative values of the Republican Party. Others simply like Trump's charisma. 

Either way, as 3 November nears, support for Trump among Muslim Americans continues to emerge through cracks and crevices across the country, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

There are Pakistanis for Trump, Bangladeshis for Trump, and even if their online presence is in no way meaningful, their impact on the elections may be.

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Muslims make up about one percent of the US population. And though they are a minute proportion of overall voters, their concentration in a series of battleground states means they could actually swing the vote. 

"We know that several key swing states are home to higher-than-average Muslim populations and our data shows that American Muslims are registering to vote at the highest level in five years, so the potential exists," Erum Ikramullah, research project manager at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), told Middle East Eye.

"American Muslims, like other religious groups in America, are not a monolith. What our data support is that Muslims, like the general public, are not guided by their religiosity, but by their political views and opinions."

In early October, an ISPU poll found that while Muslims have repeatedly shown the least enthusiam for Trump, approval of the president's job performance among Muslims increased from 13 percent in 2018 to 16 percent in 2019 and 30 percent in 2020.

Ikramullah says their research shows that 14 percent of Muslims polled said Trump would be their candidate of choice for the 2020 election. Meanwhile, according to a survey released in late October by the Arab American Institute (AAI), 59 percent of those who identified as Arab said they were planning to cast their ballot for Joe Biden. Voters surveyed said they viewed Trump as "ineffective in addressing most issues of priority concern to their community".

But 35 percent said they would be voting for Trump.

Middle East Eye spoke to three Muslim Americans about their vehement support for Trump. We also fact checked their claims.

Sajid Tarrar, Maryland

"Trump has accomplished a lot in office for America. What he has achieved, his opponent [Joe Biden] could not achieve in 50 years. Trump's biggest achievement was a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, building a wall on the southern border where drugs and gangs are coming from, going after China for intellectual property theft, leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord and withdrawing from NAFTA.

"He is reforming American politics and democracy. He has also appointed conservative judges. 

"The list is huge, versus 50 years of the establishment.

"For Muslims, he has also done a lot. His first trip was to Saudi Arabia, he has done so much for the Middle East peace plan, he is an anti-war president. He was against the Iraq War and he is trying to bring the troops back from Afghanistan.

Sajid Tarrar is the co-chair of Muslims for Trump [photo supplied]
Sajid Tarrar is the co-chair of Muslims for Trump [Photo supplied]

"He has advanced freedom of religion in the country, too. America is prosperous and safe. Muslims are safe and happy here.

"On the Muslim ban, it is important to know that most of media coverage in America since 2016 is anti-Trump. This is how they twist [facts]. The Muslim ban was not his ideology. The list was created by Obama. Also the countries on the list had poorly run governments and documentation was hard to verify from those countries, too.

"The cages at the [Mexico-US] border were also created by Obama, too. When it comes to asylum seekers, of course those who align with American values and respect American values, are very welcome to come. But Donald Trump's job was to keep America safe. But a lot of people were coming here as asylum seekers but they came with different intentions. They had some terrorist intentions. This has been proven by intelligence.

"Trump has also condemned white supremacy many times. In a recent town hall he condemned white supremacy and he asked why the left-wing media, like CNN, would not condemn Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM).

"On Covid-19, the left wing has tried to politicise it because they have no leadership or agenda. They think if they talk more about Covid-19, he would disappear. But it's the other way around. Look how he came out of hospital and told America not to be afraid of Covid-19 and let us learn how to live with it. The whole world was not ready for Covid-19. And China should be held accountable." 

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Middle East Eye fact check:

Presidential nominee Joe Biden has been in public service for 47 years, including eight years as vice-president, but he has never been president, therefore it is unclear what Tarrar means when he accuses Biden of not having achieved anything during his time in government. 

Tarrar claims that Trump has done a lot for Muslims. 

However, Trump's history of vilifying Muslims pre-dates his run for the White House.

In 2011, he said America had "a Muslim problem". As president he signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban in early 2017, that included a travel ban on persons from seven Muslim-majority countries. He said the goal was to block out "radical Islamic terrorists" and that priority would be granted to Christians.

Tarrar insinuated that the Muslim ban was a distortion created by the anti-Trump media. However it was Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, who was among the first to describe it as a "Muslim ban".

Though Giuliani tried to explain the ban was "based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country", he also admitted that Trump had also called it a "Muslim ban".

Tarrar also asserted that tougher laws on immigration were an attempt to prevent "terror attacks". However, several reports show that most convicted terrorists were born in the US. Earlier this week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, concluded that white supremacist groups were responsible for 67 percent of "terrorist plots and attacks" in the first eight months of 2020.

Tarrar's point about Trump-engineered "peace deals in the Middle East" is also false, given that the widely touted "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians and the brokered deals between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain fundamentally erase Palestinians from the equation.

Tarrar is correct that Obama built the cages at the southern border, but children were not systematically separated from their parents as they were for some time under the Trump administration.

Erum Ikramullah, ISPU research project manager, told MEE that research shows Trump supporters in the Muslim community are similar to Trump supporters in the wider general public.

"Those who select Trump - whether Muslim or from the general public - are more likely to be white, Republican, to hold the economy as their most important policy priority. Additionally, they are more likely to be opposed to building coalitions with BLM and more likely to favour coalition-building on religious liberty issues and to endorse anti-Muslim tropes."

According to ISPU, nearly two-thirds of Muslims (65 percent) express support for activists in their faith community to build coalitions with Black Lives Matter (BLM), compared with 54 percent of Jews, 42 percent of Catholics, 37 percent of Protestants, 30 percent of white Evangelicals, and 44 percent of the general public.

Under Trump, more than 220,000 Americans have died from the Covid-19 pandemic, a majority of whom were people of colour and minorities, making Covid-19 a fundamentally legitimate election issue.

According to a Pew poll, just 24 percent of Trump supporters think Covid-19 is an important election issue, mirroring the president's approach to the virus.

Saba Ahmed, Washington DC

"Donald Trump has been a great president for Muslims worldwide. He has ended wars and brought troops home from fighting endless wars in Muslim countries. Drone strikes in Pakistan have been eliminated. His foreign policies have strengthened America and regained our respect in the world.

"I support the Republican Party which is represented by President Trump because they value life, traditional family values, business, trade, etc.

"Democrats don't have good policies either domestic or foreign, they are actually in direct conflict with Islamic conservative principles and values. 

Saba Ahmed is President of Republican Muslim Coalition [photo supplied]
Saba Ahmed is president of the Republican Muslim Coalition [Photo supplied]

"Donald Trump has helped the US economy since taking office. I would like to see him continue to be the president of the United States and make the American economy stronger.

"President Trump may not be perfect, but he is not a career politician and I expect him to continue working for the American people and give his best.  

"It was never a 'Muslim' ban. It actually bans Venezuela and few other non-Muslim countries. It was a national security policy started under the Obama administration to restrict immigration from certain high risk countries.

"Every country has the right to know who enters and leaves our country. Law and order must be maintained if we are to have a good checks-and-balances system. Some of his policies which resulted in children being separated from their parents at the border were abhorrent and I strongly oppose them. As for his support for Israel, it is no less than Obama and Biden’s approach to Israel.

"Trump has emboldened many law-abiding citizens, who have been a silent majority. While there may be a sector of white supremacists, we must actively get involved with the Trump campaign and administration to change such views. 

"Yes, America has become great again and we hope that the next four years will bring continued prosperity to our great nation.

"President Trump is a businessman who understands the tax laws and uses them to his benefit. It is no different than Jeff Bezos [owner of Amazon] or other billionaires paying zero taxes. There will be a smooth transition to the next administration, but we expect him to retain the White House easily this November.

"President Trump has been great for Pakistan. His foreign policies are commendable and the fact that he has almost eliminated the US troop presence in South Asia and ended drone strikes is awesome. Many Pakistani Americans support Trump and his efforts for Pakistan. Under Obama, drone strikes killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people every day from 2008–2016. For that reason alone, we are grateful to President Trump for not killing innocent Pakistanis as collateral damage."  

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Middle East Eye fact check:

Contrary to Ahmed's claims, Trump did not end American wars in the Middle East nor did he bring home all the troops as he'd promised. There hasn't been a new intervention under his watch, a novelty for American presidents, but as the NYT notes: "Mr Trump has deployed thousands of additional soldiers to the Persian Gulf in response to growing tensions with Iran, which some analysts warn could spill into a hot war if he is re-elected. He has also done little to scale down major American military bases in places like Qatar and Bahrain."

Trump has also not ended drone attacks as claimed by Ahmed.

The number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has reduced significantly, but elsewhere, in Somalia and Yemen, they have been shrouded in further secrecy.

Though Obama was known as the drone president, drone strikes between 2008-2016 did not kill "hundreds of thousands of people" as claimed by Ahmed. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 563 drone strikes in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen during Obama's two terms in office. The Centre for Foreign Relations said Obama had authorised 542 drones strikes that "killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians". 

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism concluded that between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in those countries.

In 2019, Trump ended a rule that required US intelligence officials to publish the number of civilians killed in drone strikes outside of war zones. His government also eased restrictions and oversight on the export of drones and gave the military and CIA more authority to conduct strikes.

According to Foreign Policy: "Under US President Donald Trump, however, an already opaque and murderous set of rules has become even more widely applied, and ever less accountable." 

Ahmed says there are many thousands of Muslim Trump supporters around the country, but neither Tarrar, Ahmed, nor the Trump campaign were able to provide MEE with a specific number.

Farhana Shifa, Arizona

"President Trump is the most pro-life of all presidents. He also signed an executive order [guaranteeing] freedom of religion; he is also responsible for the current peace deal with the Muslim countries with Israel.

"He is bringing harmony between Muslims, Christians and Jews and all kinds of religions. So as a Muslim, it is a glorified position being an American, to see my president take care of this. Not only this, there aren't any wars and nor are there any terror attacks. So this means he is capable of taking care of such things. I feel more secure as a Muslim.

Farhana Shifa is also co-chair of Muslims for Trump [Photo supplied]
Farhana Shifa is co-chair of Muslims for Trump [Photo supplied]

"There was a lot of misunderstandings about Muslims in the last few decades and a lot of stereotypes about Muslims. The Democrats tried to show that they care by talking about these issues; even in this election Biden has quoted the Prophet Muhammad, without understanding Islam. 

"They support abortion and infanticide, after all. 

"Biden was in politics for 47 years and he never supported immigrants. Now, just to be president, he is saying he cares. To think that everything will be dreamy and flowery when he is president for immigrants is a mistake. I would rather go someone who can do things rather than someone just offers 'hope'.

"President Trump, instead, has focused on harmony and security.

"People need to understand who is benefiting their faith and their livelihood and not because of what they are hearing in the media. 

"Trump did make some hurtful comments, but these happened way back, and we got through past that. So his comments as a candidate are redundant.

"After he became president, we have seen his actions speak louder than words.

"He has enhanced the situation for women, for all women. I think many Muslims prefer the Democrats, because they prefer the handouts that they promise."

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Middle East Eye fact check:

Abortion is a major issue in the US, and for some Muslims, especially Republican supporters, it is no different.

Former vice-president Biden has expressed support for a women's choice to have an abortion. While President Trump has espoused opposition to abortion, several observers, including conservatives and pro-life advocates, note he is not particularly committed to the issue, pointing to a mixed record as president.

One conservative observer noted that Trump's response to Covid-19, including repeatedly lying to the American public about the Covid-19 pandemic, demonstrated that while "it's entirely fair to call him nominally anti-abortion. It's not credible to call him pro-life. And the distinction matters".

Shifa says most of Trump's derogatory comments about Muslims were before his presidency, but Trump has repeatedly vilified Muslims doing his presidency, too. And he continues to do so.

Trump reminded his base about his Muslim ban on October 29, 2020 [Twitter]
Trump reminded his base about his Muslim ban on October 29, 2020 [Twitter]

Though much attention has been given to Trump's comments about Muslims and the different iterations of his administration's Muslim ban, it is also true that both the Republican and Democratic parties have demonstrated an intolerance and fear of Muslims.

On Biden's record on immigration, Shifa is correct that, under the Obama and Biden administration, three million undocumented people were deported from the US. Biden has since described it as a "big mistake". 

On Shifa's assertion that Trump has been good for women, most agree that Trump's policies have harmed women in several ways. The Centre for American Progress described his administration as utilising "every tool in its arsenal to chip away at women's health, employment, economic security, and rights overall". 

For instance, Trump and the White House repeatedly claim they are committed to women's rights, but his administration's decision to defund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), undermined projects involving family planning and reproductive services in more than 150 countries around the globe.

Though it is true that the administration signed an executive order promoting religious freedom, it is also true that, under Trump, hate crimes and vitriol towards undocumented migrants and Muslims, as well as Jews, have seen record highs.

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