What We Know About Muslim American Politics Before The 2020 Election

Looking back on the last year is a difficult thing to do — in part because it was such a difficult year for everyone. The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the financial security of millions of Americans, and not surprisingly minorities were the hardest hit. Going into the 2020 election, this was a major topic for Muslim Americans. But so was foreign policy. And it might be in this latter area where then-President Trump missed his last opportunity to win the election.

Literal social security has always been more important to minorities than the socialized program of the same name. We all want to feel safe in our own homes. We all want to make a living. We all want the opportunity for happiness. And we all want to feel like our voices are heard among the masses. But the reality for Muslim Americans and other minority members of society is that this type of social security is much more difficult to grasp.

Muslim Americans have always been an important part of American politics even though they only account for a paltry percentage point of the overall population. Hispanic Americans and African Americans are always cherished for their numbers (and the importance that comes with numbers, since winning is always a game of numbers), but Muslim voices sometimes echo even louder.

Take for example Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. They are Democrats, and their left-leaning politics did not go unnoticed by the right, which demonized both of them. And their Muslim American followers were strong supporters of then-candidate Bernie Sanders. They supported him with a 39 percent following. Before winning, Biden trailed in Muslim American support.

Why did they position themselves behind Bernie so overwhelmingly?

It comes down to foreign policy. Specifically, it comes down to foreign policy where ethnic backgrounds or home countries are concerned. Conversations about immigration are important, but national security interests conflict with Muslim Americans’ identity politics. We have the War on Terror to blame for that.

A Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 90 percent of American Muslims are proud to identify as both Americans and Muslims. And this is why foreign policy is so important: it affects both identities. 

The GOP’s core identity in the early 2000s was driven by both the War on Terror and attacks on civil liberties in the United States. Both of these politically motivated actions resulted in renewed Muslim support for progressive groups — which is likely why they found Bernie Sanders such a alluring candidate.

More interesting is the social dynamic. A 2019 Institute for Social Policy and Understanding poll found that “83 percent of Muslims aged 50 and older vote for Democrats in contrast with 44 percent of their generational peers in the general public.” This is a stark contrast to the rest of society, where younger people generally grasp onto progressive policies while older people are more “stuck in the past,” so to speak. 

Most likely, these paradigms will continue to make it more difficult for the GOP to obtain power — which is why they’re so desperate to restrict voting only to a chosen few.

How Does Social Media Change Our Perception Of Muslim Americans?

We already know that social media has the power to radicalize those who use it regularly. For example, there is a widespread perception that African Americans are far more likely to be involved in drug-related crime than their white counterparts. But the opposite is true: African American kids are less likely to engage in substance abuse than Caucasian kids — even though they are more likely to grow up in an environment that makes procurement easier.

You already know that African American kids are far more likely to spend time in prison for related crimes, though. 

One major issue with social media is tunnel vision. We tend to surround ourselves mostly with people who are similar — meaning we don’t always see or hear viewpoints that contradict our own. Social media algorithms are more likely to show us profiles and posts based on what we’ve already watched before, which makes us all the more susceptible to radicalization. 

Once upon a time, watching a stream of Fox News posts on YouTube would be followed up by automatically played videos about conspiracy theories. When YouTube was heavily criticised for this algorithm, its shadowy overlords changed the equation so that automatically played videos were less likely to provide radical content.

Netflix recently released a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It shows how sites like Facebook and Twitter can promote misleading information over the truth, in turn leading to more partisan, unbending viewpoints.

Former Facebook platform operations manager Sandy Parakilas said, “We created a system that biases towards false information. Not because we want to, but because false information makes the companies more money than the truth. The truth is boring.”

This is a huge problem for minorities, who have been the targets of hate crimes more often in recent years. The conservative branch of politics has been positioned to believe that Black Lives Matter is the enemy of the police, which creates a conflict of interest — as conservatives have always seen police as allies. This problem is only getting worse.

Are Minorities Denied Social Security Disability Insurance More Than Caucasians?

Now more than ever, social security disability insurance (SSDI) is important — and the courts have yet to decide whether or not COVID victims qualify for benefits. That makes this an excellent time to ask the obvious question: are minorities denied SSDI benefits more often than their white counterparts? We already know that minorities are more likely to apply for and receive benefits. But where does systemic racism and xenophobia fit into the equation?

SSDI denials are common. In fact, up to 70 percent of all SSDI applications are denied. Most applicants then lawyer up and appeal the decision — and many of these cases are then approved. It can take more than a year to learn the results of the first application, which means every day that goes by is important to the person applying. That’s a lot of money they don’t have to make life easier.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), more than 40,000 employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) have charged the agency with discrimination. This is a big deal, in part because more than half of those employed for the SSA are labeled as minorities. 31 percent are African American, and 16 percent are Hispanic or Latino. Yet they receive top marks that are disproportionate to their white counterparts.

When systemic discrimination is so pervasive inside the agency, it’s hard to imagine what it might look like outside, especially since most applicants are minority figures. Much of the problem stems from the gutted protections during the Trump administration.

President Richard Couture of the AFGE Council said, “This pattern of systemic discrimination against Social Security employees is undeniable — and in fact the agency acknowledges that it exists — yet the agency has done nothing to rectify the problem or make the employees whole for their losses.”

AFGE National President Everett Kelley said, “The agency’s refusal to come to the table and settle this long standing issue continues a pattern of mistreatment against employees and their union representatives by this administration. This is the same administration that has taken action to decimate federal unions, gut workers’ due process rights and merit systems protections, prohibit agencies from educating employees about systemic discrimination in the workplace, and allow workers to be hired or fired at will.”

Even while this blatant discrimination eats away at the SSA from within, there was a plan last year to make it even more difficult to apply for benefits — which would undoubtedly affect minority applicants disproportionately. This was done by creating a new category of recipient called “medical improvement likely.” It would have paved the way for additional reviews after a set time period elapsed. 

Critics say it was most definitely not designed to reduce or eliminate fraud inside the SSA. They say that most people who receive benefits never return to work — and those who do return to work almost always suffer from a significant reduction in income because of the disability in question. And why should those benefits be stolen from the minorities who rely on them to survive?

What Effect Do Cameras Have On Our Perception Of Hate?

We’ve mentioned one statistic over and over: since Donald Trump decided to run for president in 2015, the number of hate crimes has increased consistently. His anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric quite literally resulted in the murder of American citizens. But how much of that increase in crime is the result of an actual increase as opposed to an increase in the number of cameras at our disposal?

These days, everything we do or say is on camera. Even six years ago, we can argue that was the case. But that might not be true. Along with the rise in hate crimes, there has been a proportional rise in activism meant to protect these targeted groups. And that means there are more people with their camera phones at the ready. 

When Nahla Ebaid and her husband were on vacation in March, a maskless woman came into the Fort Lauderdale Walgreens where they were shopping, was asked to mask up, and immediately turned toward them to excuse her own poor behavior. 

Ebaid said, “She looked at us and she said ‘I wish I am from your country so I don’t have to wear the mask.’ So, we said, ‘Which country is that? We’re from New York.’”

It was at that point that the woman began ranting about Muslims living in America. Of course, the entire exchange was captured on Ebaid’s smartphone and inevitable 911 calls and police body cameras.

The perpetrator, Luba Bozanich, later said, “I don’t like what I saw, but I’m human. When this guy said what he said to me I said what I said to him and I got angry. I felt very angry, and I told him off.”

Ebaid and her family declined to press charges. Ebaid used the incident to tell all Muslim American women: “Wear your hijab, don’t be scared to wear your hijab.”

Events like these have become common all over the world. We live in a time where behavior like this is recorded from every angle — and it’s harder for people to get away with it. But of course it also changes our perception of such events and makes them seem more common.

Could The Far-Right Target Muslim Americans?

Technically, the far-right has always targeted Muslim Americans. Hate crimes have peaked after several historical events involving terrorism, not the least of which is 9/11. Although these crimes are unacceptable — we do understand them. Radical Muslims give the rest a bad name and an undeserved reputation. Regardless of how much we contribute to our country, it seems like we gain no ground.

After the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, some extremism experts believe that hate crimes targeting Muslim Americans will rise again. According to Executive Director of Western States Center Eric Ward, this is especially true after the recent mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

Ward said, “We are likely now to see a rise in targeting of Muslim Americans who are simply trying to do what the rest of us are trying to do in this moment: survive a global pandemic, live, love, work and worship free from fear and bigotry.”

He added, “I have seen individuals and these far-right leaders and figures reposition Islam as if it is a racial category rather than a religious belief. And this is quite concerning to me because it seems to mirror how anti-Semitism has taken root in the United States.”

Anyone victim to a hate crime or actively targeted by white supremacist groups should contact a personal injury lawyer for a consultation to determine if criminal charges or civil litigation is an appropriate response (https://www.socalinjurylawyers.com/). Legal help might not be the perfect solution to the problem, but it’s one of the few personal remedies available to Muslim Americans and other minorities.

Currently, civil rights groups are actively raising money for the Boulder victims and their families. National nonprofit organization Celebrate Mercy raised over $25,000 and does the same whenever there is a mass shooting. 

When vandals struck a Jewish cemetery in 2017, Celebrate Mercy managed to scrounge together a whopping $100,000 for the victims. Member Tarek El-Massidi said, “We are tired of being grouped along with the crazies, they scare us just as much as any American. We need the administration to talk about the three million Muslim Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness just like everyone else here in America.”

The Colorado Muslim Leadership Council is a group of Muslim American-dominated organizations in Colorado. In response to the Boulder shootings, it stated: “Our hearts are heavy as we stand with the survivors of violence. We will continue to remember and grieve for the innocent victims of this horrific and senseless crime.”

The council’s leadership said that the shooter deserved to be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.”

Those interested in donating to victims should address the Colorado State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police or the Colorado Healing Fund. Other groups include the aforementioned Celebrate Mercy and the Community Foundation of Boulder County.

Muslim Man Sues United States Government

Muslim American Ahmad Chebli is 32 years old and resides in Michigan — and is suing the United States government. According to Chebli, he was approached by an FBI agent who attempted to recruit his help to track other Muslim Americans who might wish to attack or betray the United States. The agent was apparently interested in his Lebanese ethnicity and language skills. Chebli denied each request.

According to the lawsuit Chebli filed, he was wrongly placed on a no-fly list because of these interactions. The American Civil Liberties Union represents his interests.

This isn’t the first time that a Muslim American citizen has been placed on a restricted or no-fly list simply for refusing to help the FBI. A 2020 Supreme Court case resulted in a ruling that allowed three other men to sue the FBI after the same thing happened to them — and notably, the verdict was unanimous.

Director of ACLU National Security Project Hina Shamsi said, “The no-fly list is a particularly problematic part of a vast watchlisting system that can unfairly stigmatize people as terrorism suspects. Ahmad’s story and what happened to him shows how the government uses the no-fly list abusively, especially against Muslims in violation of due process and in Ahmad’s case, also in violation of the First Amendment and his religious freedom rights.”

After the meeting with FBI agents, Chebli became fearful for retaliation and put his family on a plane to Lebanon. What followed was nothing short of harassment. The FBI routinely asked for more information on his beliefs and whereabouts.

Chebli wrote, “It’s hard to fully describe my inner turmoil after that meeting. As a Muslim in America, I know from firsthand experience that our government too often views us with discriminatory suspicion. But it’s different when FBI agents sit across a table from you, with all the power of the government behind them, accusing you of things you have never done and would never do. I was scared, and I was especially scared for my family’s safety.”

Are Attacks On Minorities Declining During Biden’s First Term

Beginning in 2015, attacks on minorities rose in proportion to the rhetoric spilling from then-candidate Donald Trump’s mouth. They escalated even further when he began to cry foul, suggesting that the results of the 2020 election were tampered with, and he had actually won. Of course, none of that was true — but it had real life consequences for those of us who look or think differently than the masses. Are hate crimes falling now that Biden is in office?

It’s probably too soon to tell.

We’re not even three months into Biden’s term, and there aren’t many statistics related to hate crimes available for public consumption. Most of the attention is on Asian American hate right now — and most of that hate is the result of Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric over the past 12 months.

Biden has gone on record stating that the anti-Asian sentiments must stop: “Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones at stake. They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated, and harassed. They’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed… The conversation we had today with the AAPI leaders, and that we’re hearing all across the country, is that hate and violence often hide in plain sight.”

He added, “And it’s often with silence. That’s been true throughout our history, but that has to change — because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”

The Equality Act passed through the House of Representatives barely a month ago, but has gone nowhere in the Senate — in part because legislators are focusing on infrastructure law, which probably won’t pass in its current form either. Stalemates in the Senate don’t occur just because of Republicans. Moderate Democrats are stalling negotiations as well.

Biden has acted to reinstate a mandate to protect Asian Americans from bias and hate, fund programs to fight domestic violence and sexual assault, establish aCOVID-19 task force to address equity concerns, and establish an initiative to address violence against Asian Americans. That’s all well and good, but where are the protections for everyone else? Other minorities have suffered blame for the last six years as well — simply for “being.”

If you’ve ever been the victim of a hate crime, you know the feelings of vulnerability that result. The floodgates open to unleash a cataclysm of anger and depression for those people who would do nothing to help. 

The best most of us can do is seek financial compensation by hiring a personal injury attorney (https://koonz.com/). But even then, minority individuals are less likely to acquire a positive outcome when compared to prominent Caucasian figures in this country. The bias runs very deep, even within our own court system.

Sri Lanka Decision To Permit Burials Relief To Muslim Community

The Sri Lankan reaction to the coronavirus pandemic was heavy-handed to say the least. The country’s government took no chances, mandating that all deceased victims of COVID-19 would be cremated, no matter the religious affiliation. In February, the government finally reversed its earlier decision and allowed deceased victims to be buried. This has resulted in a collective sigh of relief from those whose religious beliefs do not allow cremation — Muslims especially.

But Sri Lankan officials stand by their earlier decisions not to authorize burials. They clarified that the virus and disease were not well known at the time, and that scientists were not sure what would cause or relax its spread.

Former MP M.M Zuhair said, “Understandably, the medical experts were not very clear [earlier]. But, subsequent investigations and reports, including by the WHO, said very clearly that burials will not necessarily lead to the spread of COVID-19.”

Zuhair continued, “They were under tremendous psychological pressure of getting infected with COVID-19 as they were worried about the consequences. I am sure many would have avoided normal treatment if they were suspected cases due to the fear that they may be cremated in case they fall victim to COVID. Now the restoration of burials will facilitate the burial of Muslims and others who wish to be buried, and take away the people’s fear to seek treatment if they are suspected of having contracted the virus.”

Even so, officials acknowledge that the more likely reason that coronavirus burial restrictions were lifted was because of the Muslim reaction to cremation — and not because of new information, regardless of the fact that the new information does seem to give the “okay” to those seeking to bury friends and family who succumbed to COVID-19. 

Others believe that the Pakistani Prime Minister’s recent visit also influenced the decision to scrap the cremation mandate.

Should Coronavirus Debts Be Forgiven?

Although the coronavirus pandemic has certainly shifted our focus for the better part of a year, few of us will have forgotten the important conversations we were having before it started. Namely, the question of whether or not we should forgive student loans as the costs of room, board, and tuition all climb sky high. Others are asking whether or not we should forgive all debt in the face of coronavirus — and believe it or not, Muslim Americans are the first ones answering “yes.”

The reason isn’t just based on the semantics of morality or how to live ethically in today’s complex world. It’s based on religion. And it isn’t just a Muslim thing, either.

The Torah explains: “There shall be no needy among you — therefore I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land.”

According to the Prophet Muhammad, debts were unacceptable — and those in debt should be forgiven as an important way to experience Allah’s forgiveness. 

A group of religious leaders from different faiths in America — Hatem Bazian, Joanna Lawrence Shenk, Laura Rumpf, and Zarina Kiziloglu — wrote a request for fellow Americans and their leaders to consider forgiving the debts brought about because of coronavirus: “As leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in the Bay Area, we call upon state leaders to support all renters and small landlords devastated during the pandemic. Lawmakers took a good first step by extending the statewide eviction moratorium to June 30 and by providing some rental assistance with the passage of Senate Bill 91, but more is needed.”

They added, “Californians are currently more than $3.7 billion behind on rent because of work closures and job loss during the pandemic. The latest federal stimulus package gave California $2.6 billion for rental assistance, but that won’t cover every struggling renter or small landlord.”

The four leaders acknowledged that the debt will only grow between now and the time another stimulus is passed in the Senate — or if, rather — and that lawmakers need to work faster to help those in need.

California’s population was one of the earliest and hardest hit in the United States, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of businesses closing down due to bankruptcy. Maybe we should all fight a little harder to see our debts forgiven in these trying times — or maybe we should simply talk about the benefits of bankruptcy and visit an attorney, in which case we can visit website right now.

The issues experienced by both renters and landlords are compounded by debt collection agencies, who have pounced at opportunities provided by those in need.

Legislative director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Christine Hines, said, “The pandemic didn’t change how abusive debt collectors are, it just shows that they are capable of doing even more harm to vulnerable consumers than we thought.”

According to the United States Labor Department, unemployment was 13.3 percent nearly a year ago. The rate should continue falling as the crisis subsides — but that won’t make the debts people owe go away anytime soon.

What It Means To Be Muslim And Gay In Malaysia

Malaysia is known for its tough laws based on religious beliefs. There has been an Islamic ban on “gay sex” (described as “against the order of nature”) for a long time — but one anonymous Malaysian man in his 30s filed a lawsuit against Selangor after he was arrested there for copulating with a man. However, he denies the event transpired, which means we don’t have any reason to assume his sexuality one way or another. 

The important thing to consider is what the man’s victory in court means for other gay Muslims living in Malaysia.

Numan Afifi is the founder of the Palangi Campaign, an unaffiliated LGBT+ rights organization. Afifi said, “This is historic. This is monumental for LGBT+ rights in Malaysia…We want to live in dignity without fear of prosecution. Of course Section 377 is still there — it’s not the end but this is a beginning.”

The Malaysian top court ruled that the ban on sexual intercourse between consenting adults is unconstitutional and provided authorities with no real power to enforce. It was a unanimous decision.

Although the hope is that Selangor state would remove the clause banning sexual intercourse “against the order of nature,” the law remains in place throughout Malaysia, and gay men could still be incarcerated for up to twenty years if charged and convicted. The law is an old facet of British rule. 

The legal challenge was mounted after eleven men were arrested in one home, not for having sexual intercourse with the other men, but for being under suspicion of attempting such. It was a private residence in 2019.

Five of the eleven men pleaded guilty rather than fight the charges in court and face public scrutiny. They were incarcerated, caned, and fined. The brutal punishments for private activities led to an outpouring of support from the LGBT+ community and an outcry from human rights activities around the world.