Last week, President Donald Trump extended his travel ban to include six new countries — Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, and Kyrgyzstan. Unsurprisingly, like the seven countries affected by the original 2017 ban, all six have significant Muslim populations. Two years ago, Foreign Policy obtained a copy of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) draft report that recommended increasing surveillance not only of Muslims attempting to enter the United States, but also of Muslim immigrants who are already legal residents, identifying risk factors such as “having national origins in the Middle East, South Asia, or Africa.”
It’s no secret that the Trump administration is openly hostile to immigrants, minorities, and Muslims in America and abroad. But while the Democratic Party has been quick to speak out against Trump’s most egregious acts of xenophobia and racism, the party’s leaders have gone along with Trump on key “national security” legislation that has come under fire from Muslim Americans. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, for example, have continued to speak platitudes in defense of Muslims while approving Trump’s sanctions on Iran, which have proven devastating to average Iranians, and extending the PATRIOT Act, infamously used to surveil mass numbers of Muslim Americans.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, most Muslim Americans lean toward the Democratic Party, but they’re also twice as likely as other Americans to lean toward neither political party. Significant shares of Muslim Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, are critical of the way both parties treat Muslims. While Muslims are under attack by the Trump administration and face deepening bigotry, discrimination, and racial profiling, the Democratic Party has taken Muslim voters for granted or not even considered them at all.
But this is not true of one candidate in the Democratic presidential primary campaign: Bernie Sanders, who has consistently stood on the side of Muslims and immigrants.
Bernie’s record and policies not only show respect and solidarity with Muslims in America — from his criticism of the “Orwellian” surveillance of Muslim citizens to his visiting of mosques for conversations with interfaith leaders — but also those abroad, as he has voted consistently against wars and economic sanctions in the Middle East, and spoken out against the “cultural genocide” of the Uighur Muslim minority in China who are suffering in mass concentration camps. A few days before the news broke of the Trump administration adding six more countries to the travel ban, Sanders tweeted that his “first executive orders will be to reverse every single thing President Trump has done to demonize and harm immigrants, including his racist and disgusting Muslim ban.”
Bernie has long condemned Donald Trump’s bigotry and attacks on Muslims; opposed “war on terror” policies that have affected the safety, well-being, and civil rights of Muslims, people of color, and activists; and stood up to defend the two Muslim women in Congress, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (who have in turn endorsed his campaign).
While some Democratic candidates like Joe Biden prefer to disingenuously use Muslims in campaign ads to try to show diversity among his supporters — a big step forward, though, from when Barack Obama’s campaign barred two Muslim women from sitting behind a podium at a 2008 rally in Detroit, lest their hijabs show on TV or in photographs with the candidate — Muslim Americans aren’t buying it. According to a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) report published on Monday ahead of the Iowa caucus, Muslim-American voters support Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden by 13 percent. At this year’s Iowa caucus, mosques served as caucus sites for the first time in the state’s history; at one of the five mosques on Monday night, nearly all of the votes went for Bernie.
And just last week, Bernie received endorsements from the Muslim Caucus of America and Iowa’s sole Muslim state representative, Ako Abdul-Samad. Following the endorsement from the Muslim Caucus, which was founded in 2017 to amplify the voices of Muslims in the Democratic Party, Bernie responded:
Muslim Americans for generations have been part of the fabric of our American family. While Donald Trump has attempted to demonize the Muslim community, our movement is working to bring Muslims and people of all backgrounds together to create an economy, justice system, and political system that are rooted in human rights for all.
In addition, Bernie hired former ThinkProgress editor in chief Faiz Shakir as his campaign manager, making him the both the first Muslim and first Pakistani American to hold such a position for a major presidential campaign. He has also been actively campaigning to win Muslim votes as part of his larger campaign for solidarity between people of all races, religions, sexual and gender identities, and nationalities.
Bernie was one of the only two presidential candidates last September to attend the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention, one of the largest gatherings of Muslim Americans in the country. Despite The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah also headlining as a speaker, it was the Jewish senator from Vermont who drew the biggest crowd, drawing applause as he spoke of the need to “stand together in the struggle for justice and human rights.”
Unlike other Democratic presidential candidates, who tailor their message to pander to whichever constituency group they’re speaking to on the campaign trail, Bernie, from the very opening of his speech, spoke to the Muslim crowd on the same issues that he always talks about, the ones that affect everyone regardless of religion or race: health care, the climate crisis, and widespread income inequality.
When talking about Muslim Americans, the mainstream media typically frames their political concerns in terms of foreign policy, Palestine, and civil rights. And while Bernie has voted against the Iraq War and US involvement in the Yemen war, gone further than any other presidential candidate in stating his support for the rights of Palestinians, and has a long history of fighting for civil rights, these aren’t the only issues of concern for Muslim Americans.
A significant number of Muslims in the United States experience economic insecurity, particularly under- and unemployment. Muslims are “three times as likely as other Americans to be without a job and looking for work” and more likely than other Americans to make less than $30,000 a year.
Not only do many Muslims have economic struggles, but a significant number of them also consider working for justice and equality and protecting the environment a core part of their religious identity. Bernie’s federal jobs program and Green New Deal would guarantee stable jobs so that no one in this country is unable to provide for themselves or their family, while also working toward building a more sustainable infrastructure and energy system to mitigate the disasters of the climate crisis — a platform that directly addresses the everyday concerns of many Muslim Americans.
According to that same demographic study, most Muslim Americans also prefer an expansion of government social services. This is especially true among those who are also immigrants, people who often face additional barriers and discrimination. Bernie’s platform is notable for its universal programs, from his Workplace Democracy Plan to his Housing for All platform to Medicare for All, that aren’t means-tested and would provide better living and working conditions for all.
Muslims, though overall constituting a small portion of the US population, have long been neglected by those in office or seeking it. But now we have two Muslim women in Congress — leftists, at that — and a Jewish presidential candidate energizing Muslims with his policies of tuition-free public college, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal. Muslims are working on Bernie’s campaign at the highest levels, they’re canvassing for him, and they’re praying for him. And for good reason: Bernie is the strongest candidate for Muslims at home and abroad.