Conventional wisdom says Donald Trump enjoys little to no support from Muslim Americans. Critics cite his supposed desire to impose a blanket ban on Muslims from entering the country and allege that he has fanned the flames of Islamophobia. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has worked to solidify support from Muslim pressure groups, some with troubling ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. A March poll of Muslims in Super Tuesday states by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) showed Hillary with 46% support in that community against Donald Trump’s 11%.
However, the Trump campaign is not abandoning the Muslim vote to the Democrats. Campaign adviser Dr. Walid Phares has been spearheading an effort to reach out to leading members of the Muslim community — and finding more support than expected. John Hajjar, a co-chair of Middle East Americans for Democracy, said that “Phares has been at the forefront of helping these communities in their outreach in the US, at the UN and in the region. Obviously he was criticized by the usual suspects, Muslim Brotherhood and Iran regime but the silent majority backs him.”
Shirin Qudosi, a pro-Trump liberal Muslim from Pakistan, believes that the Trump campaign can attract support by “refining his message on national security and foreign policy – the two most pressing issues for Muslim Americans.” She believes that there is a “thriving subculture of moderate Muslims” who could be convinced of Trump’s potential as president. She recommends that the candidate “get to know” this receptive community, for example by visiting the reformist Women’s Mosque of America. “A speech isn’t necessary, but humility is,” Ms. Qudosi said. “Beyond the showmanship of the campaign, I think Trump has that within him, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
Trump has fought back against charges that he is anti-Muslim when he is in fact sounding the alarm on Islamic extremism. On May 11, he floated the idea of a presidential commission on Muslim radicalism and terrorism, possibly chaired by former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani. Kurdish American activist Faridoun Abbas said that “to counter the Jihadi terrorists, a Trump Administration needs to be able to distinguish between the general Muslim community and the radical Islamists. That is not possible now under the current Administration because [President Obama] rejected the use of ideological tools. If Trump moves in that direction, I and many among our communities would support him in the Presidential elections and after he is elected.”
“Most U.S. Muslims who are secular and not linked to America’s mosque and Muslim Brotherhood network would be more than happy to see a halt to Islamists coming to America to spread the doctrine of Sharia and Jihad that they escaped back home,” observes Pakistan-born Canadian Tarek Fatah. “They would back Donald Trump’s initiative if the GOP presidential candidate clarified that his proposal was to ensure Islamists were shut out, not all Muslims.”
American Muslims “want to vote on merit,” said Mike Ghouse, Executive Director of the American Muslim Institution in Washington, D.C., in an open letter to Trump. “They prefer to be independent and support the candidate who puts America first, which ultimately benefits everyone.” Ghouse believes that Trump has “a very real chance to be the next president” and suggests he have “an American Muslim girl sing our national Anthem” at one of his rallies. “You can flip the world with that; it will send a clear signal to the world that you are not against Muslims, but against those that are radicals.”
Mustafa Geha, a Lebanese Shia based in Sweden, said that he recognizes that the temporary immigration ban “is a suggestion until the US can determine how to stop the Jihadi terrorists,” and that the vetting “should be of the Jihadists of all backgrounds, Salafi and Khomeinists.” He adds that “what we need from a Trump Administration is to work with moderates in the Middle East to free themselves from terrorists such as ISIS and Hezbollah.”
The United States needs to have effective means of stopping extremists at the border, but Mideast refugees are only a symptom of instability. Dr Yahya el Basha, a Detroit-based Syrian Sunni leader, says that “if a Trump Administration would address the root causes” of Middle Eastern terrorism “and help establishing a free and secure zone away from ISIS and Hezbollah, Muslim Americans would back him fully.” He added that a “Trump decisive move to stop the war in Syria would be seen as strategic and brave by our community.” Sheikh Sami Khoury, a former President of the Lebanese diaspora, said that “millions of Lebanese around the world support Trump’s agenda of defeating terrorism.”
A commitment to creating stability in the Middle East would be a welcome development to Muslim Americans disappointed with the current administration’s record. President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo was intended to be a historic opening to the Muslim world, to promote peace and prosperity, and improve America’s image in the region. Instead, it kicked off an era of instability and violence, harming American friends like Israel, alienating strategic partners like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and encouraging extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. The Middle East and North Africa are in far worse shape today than when Mr. Obama took office. Hillary Clinton – who as Secretary of State helped create the problem – has no credible Middle East strategy, leaving Donald Trump an opening to restore the U.S. as a stable, reliable partner.
“Many in the region have been reaching out to us asking for reassurances that a Trump foreign policy would be different from the Obama/Clinton policies,” says Trump advisor Walid Phares. “Opinion makers from the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan, and civil society representatives from Syria, Iraq and Iran told us they look favorably on a Trump presidency, as long as there is a hope to see change in US policy.” Another Lebanese American, Atef Harb, co-Chair of the American Mideast Coalition for Trump, is confident that “a very large segment of Middle East Americans, Muslims, Christians and Yazidis are moving closer to Donald Trump. The Middle East Christians and Yazidis are horrified because of what happened to their communities in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Muslim Americans from Syria, Egypt and Libya are shocked with Obama/Clinton policies in the region. Many are struggling with the idea of a ban on people coming from overseas. But they do understand that this is an idea that was declared by Trump to force a debate on the issue. Middle East Americans wants Trump to stop the Jihadists from coming to this country after what they endured from them in their mother countries.”
There is also a natural community of interests between Trump and members of the Iranian American community, many of whom strongly oppose the current Islamic regime. Trump has been a consistent critic of the Obama administration’s flawed nuclear agreement with Tehran and of the Mullahs in general. Alex Agahi, national board member of the Iranian American Republicans a founder of the Iranian American Conservative Party, said that “we will continue to show our utmost support and call on all Middle Eastern Americans to support Trump” and expects Trump as president to “put pressure on the Iranian regime and reinstate tougher sanctions.” His group also supports a temporary immigration ban “until we can find a way to detect fanatics as it is written in immigration law.”
Iranian American political analyst Slater Bakhtavar, author of “Iran: The Green Movement,” believes that “Trump can draw moderate Muslims closer by recognizing the plight of the educated young masses. It’s time the United States stand by those we contend would assist us across the world. We have to put our interests first and in the case of the vast majority of countries, and especially in Iran we should provide technological assistance for those demonstrating for democracy and freedom.”
So the Muslims who support Donald Trump tend to be those who oppose Islamic extremism, are against Iranian expansionism, and support a strong American role in the Middle East. And those supporting Hillary Clinton? Not so much.
James S. Robbins is a USA Today columnist and author of Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism and the New American Identity.