Over the past few months, we’ve seen nearly the entire Republican Party coalesce around the rhetoric that Donald Trump pioneered just a few months ago: one massive hyperventilation over immigration, trade, and above all, Islam. No matter how much they’ve disavowed Mr. Trump’s language — some of them haven’t at all — nearly every Republican governor and every candidate for president echoed Trump’s language on monitoring or excluding Syrian refugees after the Paris terrorist attacks. Most followed suit when it came to a religious test on domestic surveillance.
Since announcing his candidacy in June, Mr. Trump has claimed that Muslims celebrated 9/11 by the thousands in New York and New Jersey and that “Islam hates us.” Trump has used Islamophobic rhetoric to justify his policy proposals, which include a Muslim travel ban, a national registry to identify Muslim-Americans, and greater governmental surveillance on Muslims, including on mosques, in the style of the NYPD.
Trump’s language has found plenty of willing ears. According to a study from the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Republican voters support blunt statements about Islamic extremism. It’s no surprise that Trump’s message has gained a lot of traction among his party’s base.
While the motives behind Trump’s statements are dubious, the consequences are indubitable. In Virginia, a Muslim civil engineer was publicly shamed at a local government meeting, as the crowd accused him of being part of “an evil cult” and shouted that all Muslims are terrorists. In New York, a Muslim 6th grader had her hijab pulled off as fellow students called her “ISIS.” In Texas, an anti-Muslim group took to the streets and held an armed protest outside of a local mosque.
These are just a few of the 73 Islamophobic attacks that have occurred since the Paris Attacks on November 13th.
The correlation between Trump’s rhetoric and rising Islamophobia cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a YouGov/Economist survey, Republican voters who believe that Islam poses a direct threat to national security were more inclined to vote for Trump.
YouGov/the Economist’s findings are corroborated by a recent Pew survey, which showed that 4/10 Americans believe that some Muslims in America are “anti-American.”
Earlier this year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) conducted a survey to study the ways that recent Islamophobic rhetoric has affected Muslim voter registration. Looking at over 2,000 respondents in the six most heavily Muslim populated states, CAIR found that 74 percent of U.S. Muslims planned to vote in the November election, compared to the 69 percent of Muslims that indicated an interest in 2014.
Of the respondents to CAIR’s poll, 67 percent were inclined to vote for a Democrat, compared to 15 percent that identified as Republican. Compared to the 2014 results, newly-politically active Muslim voters skew heavily Democratic.
Pollsters also asked respondents to rank political issues in order of personal priority, and found that 30 percent of respondents believed that Islamophobia was the most important issue in 2016. Compare that to the same survey in 2014, which found that Islamophobia was the third most important issue for voters, behind healthcare and the economy. In fact, only 15 percent of respondents said that Islamophobia was the most important issue to them two years ago.
In 2016, the latter figure has doubled. Islamophobia was respondents’ primary concern, and reasonably so.
Muslim communities have responded to increased racism with civic engagement: In December, U.S. Islamic organizations including CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America announced that they were teaming up to encourage Muslims to register to vote, with the goal of registering one million new Muslim voters before the November election. As the Executive Director of the American Muslim Alliance put it: “we’re going to register our people and take our souls to the polls.”
Since that meeting in December, we have seen numerous Muslim voter drives all across the country. In Virginia, mosques hosted outreach events in inclement weather. In Georgia, mosques have disseminated emails about the registration process. In urban areas like Chicago and Detroit, mosques have emphasized the importance of voting.
If these organizations reach their goal of registering 1 million new voters, Trump’s rhetoric, and the rest of his party’s parroting of it, will grow even more politically detrimental for the Republican Party. And in future election cycles, increased numbers of voting Muslims may prove a powerful incentive against the type of racism we’ve seen so far this season.
But don’t bet on it: the Republican Party’s “autopsy” of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss assumed the same would be true of the increasing number of Latino voters in the U.S. — Donald Trump, safe to say, did not heed their advice.
Photo: Muslim Student Association (MSA) West President Bashar Subeh (R), 20, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, watches the Republican presidential debate with other students at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) office in Anaheim, California December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Redmond
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