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Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden on November 3d

posted on: Oct 28, 2020

Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden on November 3d
Jill Biden visits Shatila Bakery in Dearborn, MI on behalf of her husband, Joe Biden’s candidacy for the presidency, Photo credit: Detroit Free Press

By: John Mason/ Arab America Contributing Writer

Jill Biden visited Dearborn, Michigan last week to make a case for her husband Joe’s bid for the presidency. She made the visit in part to make up for earlier presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s absence in Michigan in the runup to the 2016 election, in which 10,000 popular votes would have kept Michigan from giving up its electoral votes. We will discuss the importance of Ms. Biden’s visit, as well as the part Dearborn’s Muslims are playing in countering Trump.

2016 Hillary Clinton’s loss of about 10,000 Votes meant the loss of all 16 of Michigan’s Electoral Votes

In 2016 We the Clinton campaign in Michigan lost the primary to Bernie Sanders, signaling that she had a problem. More telling, Sanders won the Arab American majority by 2:1. According to The Independent newspaper, the Hillary campaign reported, “We were never able to get Hillary herself in front of the Arab community to listen to them. She went to Detroit, but never came to see this community – even though she was nearby.” Thus, that same newspaper suggested that “A Trump presidency could have been avoided if Clinton had only listened to American Arabs.” While such a statement may have some basis in fact, it is a bit exaggerated. Less arguable is the premise that had Clinton taken Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, Trump might not have won the national election.

The Clinton campaign of Dearborn, including many in the Arab American community, was not happy with her absence. The Independent, again, quoted the campaign, “If only Hillary had thought about the Arabs. They might have brought her a lot closer to the presidency if she’d taken the trouble of going to the largest Arab community in America, the predominantly Lebanese-Iraqi city of Dearborn, Michigan. Its streets are lined with Lebanese restaurants and cedar tree flags and they are proud Americans but – against the best advice of her own regional organizing director in the city – Hillary Clinton didn’t bother with them.” That message made it quite clear how the Arab community felt about Clinton’s part in the Democratic party’s loss of Michigan.

It is theorized by some political pundits that Hillary was wary of visiting Dearborn due to pressures from the pro-Israeli lobby, and fears of raising questions on Palestine and Israel. Another prevailing opinion was that Trump’s anti-Muslim stance would result in the Arab-American vote going to Hillary, despite the fact that they would have liked to hear directly from her. This pattern of Hillary’s to avoid key constituents fit with her ignoring white working-class and African American voters. Furthermore, Bernie Sanders’ primary victory in Michigan was another clue that his votes might not translate in the general election to Hillary. Indeed, there were a considerable number of Arab Americans in and around Dearborn who were registered for the general election, but who were no-shows for Hillary.

Has the Lesson from 2016 been learned? Jill Biden tells Dearborn’s Arab Americans They’ll have a “Seat at the Table

Just a few days ago, Jill Biden, as if correcting for Hillary’s absence in 2016, visited Dearborn. Wife of the presidential candidate, Joe Biden, Jill, according to the Detroit Free Press, “praised the contributions of Arab-Americans in a Tuesday appearance in Dearborn, saying they will have a ‘seat at the table’ in a Joe Biden presidency.” She spoke to a group of mostly Arab Americans in the parking lot of a popular café, Shatila Bakery. Founded by Lebanese immigrants famous for its Arab sweets and pastries, the Bakery is a gathering place for Arab Americans.  In addition to Dearborn, Jill stopped off in Detroit, Madison Heights, and Saginaw, key places to rein in the Arab American and non-Arab Muslim vote in this key region. For example, Dearborn itself is almost 50% Arab American, the highest percentage of Arabs in American cities.

Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden on November 3d
Dearborn Mosque Muslim and Christian Arab Americans comprise about 50% of Dearborn’s population Photo credit, Agence France-Presse

Jill Biden told the crowd in Dearborn, “Joe Biden will be a president for all Americans.” She told them that her husband will work towards ending the pandemic and “restoring our values as a nation of immigrants and defending the civil rights of all Americans, including the Arab American community that has contributed so much to our nation.” It is worth quoting how Jill Biden characterized the place of The Shatila Bakery in the community: “This bakery embodies the American dream that so many immigrants have when they come to our country. With hard work and grit, the Shatila family has been a staple of Dearborn, one that not only creates jobs but also brings joy to people around the world.” How better to describe the place of different ethnic groupings contributions to the mosaic that define our country?

Another point about Dearborn that makes it a good candidate for Biden votes is the high rate of coronavirus that has afflicted it.  Joe Biden has expressed a particular interest in helping small businesses as comprise Dearborn, to regenerate old jobs and create new ones that pay well. Ms. Biden emphasized the role that Arab Americans can play in supporting her husband in his campaign for the presidency, suggesting, “But he can’t do it without you. Your community matters to this campaign. Right now, there are so many who would tell us that our nation is hopelessly divided, that our differences are irreconcilable, that our communities are fractured beyond repair…. But you can make a difference.”

Dearborn Muslim Americans joining arms to Defeat Trump

Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden on November 3d
Imam Hassan Qazwini, head of the Islamic Institute of America, in Dearborn Heights, wants his members as advocates for a Biden presidency Photo credit Adobe

Dearborn, part of suburban Detroit, has a significant Arab Muslim population, most of whom are moving towards Joe Biden as their candidate. They are represented in the U.S. Congress by Rashida Tlaib for Michigan’s 13th congressional district.  She is the first woman of Palestinian descent to serve in Congress. According to the news service, Agence France-Presse, “In Dearborn, … Muslim voters lean decidedly towards the Democrats. And while Joe Biden wasn’t the first choice for many here, widespread opposition to President Donald Trump is bringing voters into his camp.” In this context, the news service interviewed an important figure in Dearborn, an Arab Muslim Imam, Hassan Qazwini, head of the Islamic Institute of America, located in Dearborn Heights. He immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq in 1992.

Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden on November 3d
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Michigan’s 13th congressional district Photo credit ABC News

Imam Qazwini was initially a Sanders’ supporter, in part because of Sander’s unequivocal support for Palestinians. Now he has shifted his support to Biden. Since, as a cleric, he cannot promote one candidate against another, he personally finds Biden to be a “sincere candidate.” Qazwini averred that “Trump’s record has been bad enough that Muslims are probably more motivated to go vote this time than any other previous election.” Understanding the consequences of not voting, The Iman further stated, “even if Biden isn’t a ‘perfect choice’, he’s likely to win among Arab-Americans.”

Jill Biden’ visit to Detroit, Dearborn, and other parts of western Michigan, where there is a concentration of Arab Americans, along with husband Joe Biden’s recent favorable comments about Islam, including his quoting the Qur’an, is aimed at drawing on the vote of a segment of the American population that Trump disdains. This approach seems reasonable, given the Democrats’ earlier loss of Michigan’s electoral votes because of a sliver of popular votes. The Arab American vote could make all of the difference on November 3d.

References

“A Trump presidency could have been avoided if Clinton had only listened to American Arabs,”The Independent, 10/17/2020

“In Dearborn, Jill Biden tells Arab-Americans they will have ‘seat at the table’,” Detroit Free Press, 11/20/2020

“In Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim Americans are mobilizing to defeat Trump,” Agence France-Presse, 10/15/2020

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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