- 03 Nov - 09 Nov, 2018
MUSLIMS ENTER AMERICAN POLITICS
- 10 Nov - 16 Nov, 2018
- A Letter From America
It’s not hyperbole to say that the American elections held November 6 might well turn out to have been the most momentous elections of my lifetime. The obvious thing for me to do in this space would be to point out how very complex and flawed the electoral system is, and how dangerously ambiguous the aftermath is likely to be. The Guardian reporter Gary Younge has written that the results “will be consequential” but the process “will not be democratic.” He’s right, for various procedural and historical reasons.
In a New York Review of Books piece on “Trump’s Midterm Mayhem,” the veteran political writer Elizabeth Drew writes: “Elections are supposed to be our way of peacefully resolving our differences. But one seemingly inescapable outcome this time around is that, thanks to the hard fights and the president’s heavy participation in them, this midterm election will leave an already riven country even more divided than before.” She’s right too. Many writers have pointed out how members of racial and religious minority groups are among those most excluded from and victimized by what we call the political process, and that many minorities are quite brazenly kept from exercising their right to vote by nefarious tactics concocted by scheming Republicans. They’re right, too.
There will be plenty of ugliness still to come in a country that is, at best, only just starting to come to terms with its very ugly history. And yet, as I lay awake in the wee hours wondering how to write about these elections for my Pakistani readers, I found myself feeling rebuked for wallowing in pessimism by some very encouraging voices among my fellow Americans.
Prominent among those, and offering real leadership that all of us badly need, are Muslim leaders and organizations. And the October 27 murder of eleven elderly Jews at prayer by a white supremacist in the city of Pittsburgh provided, by the very nature of its tragedy, an opportunity for just such leadership: A Muslim charity called Celebrate Mercy launched a “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue” fundraising drive for the Jewish victims and quickly raised more than $200,000.
“I think this ought to be a turning point,” Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C. told the Jewish magazine The Forward. “It’s been evident to thoughtful people for a long time that a Jewish-Muslim partnership – not a dialogue, a partnership – is necessary. During this period of heightened chauvinistic, ethnic nationalism on the part of a group that explicitly defines itself as white and Christian and excludes therefore not only people of color, but also Jews and Muslims, there’s a need to defend the broader American identity. … On a religious and political front it’s Jews and Muslims that are the biggest targets.”
“There are so many people within both communities who are constantly looking for ways to build up divisions,” Albert Fox Cahn, legal director of the New York chapter of the important civil rights group the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The Forward. “But I think that the clear reality that we see in the moments that count most is that the vast majority of Americans of every faith want to come together in the face of this violence and show that we are one community. We are one family that will constantly stand up for each other and defend each other.”
Fox Cahn, who is Jewish, added: “On a personal level it’s been incredibly moving to see CAIR colleagues from around the country reaching out to me personally, and how many people have been so quick to turn to their neighbors from other faith communities. We’re doing this work every day, but it’s in these moments when it’s most crucial.”
Almost needless to say, Trump himself has been quite deliberately making matters worse, with aggressive gambits like announcing the deployment of up to 15,000 troops on the border with Mexico and threatening to issue an executive order rescinding birthright citizenship – the principle that anyone born in the United States is a citizen – which has been settled constitutional law for 150 years.
Trump’s sick genius is that he “has made the inconceivable possible,” as the writer Masha Gessen put it in The New Yorker. “Most legal scholars appear to agree that the Fourteenth Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] cannot be changed in the way that Trump proposes, but his vow has already elevated previously marginal arguments – they are now positions to be considered. If the president follows through with an executive order, what may have seemed like legal nonsense yesterday will have to be weighed by the courts. We have seen this mainstreaming of previously unimaginable ideas many times in the last two years: a ban on Muslims entering the country, the border wall, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, and more.”
Trump’s purpose, Gessen rightly notes, is “to shut Americans whom he perceives as other out of the political system.” But there are heartening signs that he and his Republican enablers may have overplayed their hand by unleashing a peaceable but assertive backlash. “It’s precisely the bigotry and hate that has been directed toward Islam – including in remarks and tweets by President Trump – that has motivated so many Muslims to enter the political arena, where they now stand poised to advance policies that directly reflect their faith and also benefit all of their constituents,” observes the New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali (who is Pakistani-American).
A record number of Muslim candidates are running for office in America this year. “A majority of Muslim candidates are not running with their religion on their sleeves, but instead as Democrats promoting unabashedly progressive platforms,” writes Ali. He quotes Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American woman running for Congress for the state of Minnesota: “It is part of my Islamic teaching to make sure we are charitable. A huge part of the Islamic faith is that you can’t sleep with a full belly if your neighbors and those around you aren’t sleeping with a full belly.” •
- 27 Oct - 02 Nov, 2018
- 20 Oct - 26 Oct, 2018
- 13 Oct - 19 Oct, 2018
- 06 Oct - 12 Oct, 2018
- 29 Sep - 05 Oct, 2018
- 22 Sep - 28 Sep, 2018
- 15 Sep - 21 Sep, 2018
- 08 Sep - 14 Sep, 2018