When it comes to choosing between Joe Biden or Donald Trump, and their approaches to the American Muslim community, it’s not even close.
The Biden campaign has demonstrated a strong commitment to American Muslim communities, causes, and concerns. The vice president and Dr. Jill Biden have spoken to our audiences and institutions, including at the historic Million Muslim Votes Summit that Emgage Action hosted. Joe Biden has a dedicated senior advisor for Muslim outreach and many who share our faith are proudly serving on his campaign. They have engaged our diverse communities in the U.S. and elevated the issues we care about. This is a level of engagement our sitting president will never and can never match.
I am the CEO of Emgage Action, an organization that is dedicated to the political empowerment of America’s dynamic, vital and growing Muslim community. We run year-long get out the vote operations in states with significant Muslim populations, including Florida, Michigan, Virginia and Texas, and advocate on issues that matter to Muslim voters, from combating Islamophobia to fixing our broken immigration system. Our political action committee, Emgage PAC, also supports candidates who value our diversity as a nation and are committed to equality and justice. We know that, in this present moment, our community is uniquely situated to help determine who wins the White House and perhaps the Senate.
Even as we strive to increase our community’s engagement with elected leadership, we are conscious of the diversity we aim to better represent.
Just because you don’t agree on everything doesn’t mean you disagree on everything. And even when you disagree, what is the alternative to engagement — sitting on the sidelines?
It should not be surprising, but it often still is: American Muslims are a diverse bunch. A third of American Muslims are Black, while Americans of Arab or South Asian descent make up the majority of the rest. We are immigrants and U.S.-born, professionals and laborers, and conservatives and liberals. Naturally, this diversity means that we care about many issues and may hold differing opinions on how best to tackle them. This diversity of lived experiences and opinions is actually healthy for our communities and is healthy for our democracy.
Where we are united, however, is in our rejection of the type of politics and public discourse that has emanated from this White House. The future of our community, and no less our country, depends on us putting all our weight behind the Biden-Harris ticket. That is not because these candidates track where our community is on every issue — even the issues our community overwhelmingly agrees on.
But just because you don’t agree on everything doesn’t mean you disagree on everything. And even when you disagree, what is the alternative to engagement — sitting on the sidelines?
Letting ideas become laws without being in the room where they’re debated and drafted?
By choosing the path of engagement, we guarantee that American Muslim voices are included in the process and are active players in the decisions that govern our lives. By choosing the path of engagement, we make it more likely that our concerns and perspectives are heard and incorporated. By choosing the path of engagement, we protect our community from institutionalized harm and cultural marginalization.
Indeed, to reject the path of engagement is to empower Donald Trump. This is, whether we like it or not, a clear binary. Vote for Biden-Harris — or help Trump stay in power. The consequences for our country and our fellow Americans are alarming enough. The implications for our minority communities, most of whom are people of color, would be catastrophic.
Since first declaring his intention to run for president, Donald Trump has built his campaign and eventually presidency on well-documented Islamophobia. He has trafficked in conspiracy theories about Islam, appointed Islamophobes to his administration and made the banning of people based on their faith the de facto law of the land. Accompanying his presidency has been a catastrophic rise in hate crimes against Muslims and other religious minorities and the emboldening of White supremacy.
The most effective way to make change is by having our numbers counted and noted. In fact, it’s not just the most effective way. It’s the only way.
But there is good news. Rather than cowering and hiding, American Muslims have stepped up their civic engagement. Emgage’s work, alongside that of other like-minded partners, means we can more fully realize the civic capacity and political significance of American Muslims. For though we are small in number, we are often significant in potential.
We know American Muslims can make a decisive difference. We are present in significant numbers in battleground states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Furthermore, we live in large numbers in contested suburban counties, which turned ever bluer in 2018.
At a time when many polls are tightening, and margins of victory are very slim, widespread Muslim mobilization is critical to this election’s outcome. And it may be decisive. For our country and for our community. The most effective way to make change is by having our numbers counted and noted. In fact, it’s not just the most effective way.
It’s the only way.
There will, of course, always be voices from the sidelines saying it can’t be done, looking for reasons to despair instead of sources of hope. Sitting this election out over internal communal disagreements, or because we don’t see eye-to-eye with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on every issue, is downright and outright dangerous. We should do everything in our power so we can soon engage a Biden administration on the issues where we disagree, rather than risk another four years with an administration that wants to make us disappear.
– Wa’el Alzayat is CEO of Emgage Action and former senior policy adviser to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power