How Hard is it for an Arab or Muslim American to Run for Office?
By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
The misconceptions and challenges that nearly all Muslim-Americans face in their daily lives affect you no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Whether you’re a student or a professional, as an Arab or Muslim-American, you’re constantly subjected to defend yourself against the bias around Muslims and Arabs in society. Democrat Abdul El-Sayed shows that it’s especially tough when politics are involved and his campaign shows just how hard it is to run for office as an Arab or Muslim-American.
Since introducing his campaign for the Michigan gubernatorial election, El-Sayed sparked some controversy out of others based off of his Muslim-American background. Specifically, Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck has constantly voiced his beliefs that El-Sayed is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, that he is apart of what he said was a “civilizational jihad.”
However, not only has El-Sayed been accused of these ties with the brotherhood, but anyone in his campaign who refuses to comment has been accused as well. Whichever way you choose to respond, it’s a lose-lose situation. If you answer to these comments, you risk further speculation resulting in a spiral of accusations, and on the other hand, if you choose to ignore such comments, there is still just as much scrutiny if not more.
El-Sayed is not the only one, Virginia Del. David Ramadan has been refuting accusations of being a tool of terrorism since he first ran for office back in 2011. The same goes for 2018 Michigan Congressional District candidate Fayrouz Saad and Deedra Abboud, 2018 US Senate Candidate. In Abboud’s case, she faces discrimination despite the fact that she’s not even Arab American. However, she’s singled out for being a converted Muslim who is married to an Arab American. This goes to show the extent of discrimination that these candidates face. All highly qualified candidates were overlooked because of ongoing theories of them being apart of the Muslim Brotherhood or infiltrating the U.S. government.
The misconceptions behind Muslim-Americans and the Islamic faith has become not only an unfortunately popular mindset but a political strategy as well. Robert McCaw, manager of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expresses that “If you’re a Muslim seeking elected office, the opposition’s go-to move in their playbook is to somehow associate them as being tied to terrorism.”
The process of running for office as an Arab or Muslim American is harder than usual because fighting for issues that arguably many people also want to fight for is overshadowed by the misconceptions behind being an Arab or a Muslim. Wajahat Ali, a Muslim-American writer explains how anti-Muslim comments have become the main focal point of El-Sayed’s campaign. “It has become mainstreamed because this type of popular anti-Muslim bigotry and talking points are not being spouted off from the gutter margins of the internet but from the White House itself.”
Because El-Sayed was apart of the Muslim Student Association during his undergraduate career, or because his father had a role on CAIR, he’s seen as being tied to terrorism. El-Sayed has actually shown that he is on the complete opposite end, being a believer in the separation of church and state and supporter of the LGBTQ community. But like McCaw mentions, there is a political strategy behind this process, making running for office, in this case, more difficult. American Muslims are usually engaged in such civil society organizations, especially when younger and in college. The idea on the other end is to connect such organizations to terrorist groups or the Muslim Brotherhood.
El-Sayed currently has dealt with such accusations by sticking to his own game plan, focusing on the issues rather than the politics. Most of the limelight has been aimed at the political drama between Colbeck and El-Sayed, which steers away from the progressive and beneficial policies El-Sayed is running for. The El-Sayed campaign is all about raising the minimum wage, reforming the criminal justice system, eliminating the gender pay gap, making college tuition affordable, and fighting inequality on all forms.
The election of Donald Trump, the popularity of anti-Muslim bigotry, media outlets, the Islamophobia network, and the general misconceptions overall have become factors to what makes the process of running for office as an Arab or Muslim-American so complex.
However, what people need to understand is that these candidates aren’t running on behalf of the Muslim community, but they’re running to serve the entire community as a whole. The process may be challenging, but the election of an Arab or Muslim-American in office would give our communities what others might be missing—progression and diversity.