Report: Muslim Voters Fuel Bernie Sanders’ Upset Victory in Michigan

People listen to Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speak at a campaign rally at United Auto Workers Union Local 600 February 15, 2016 in Dearborn, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Michigan’s substantial Muslim population helped Sen. Bernie Sanders’ win his upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that Sanders is Jewish—albeit not a religious Jew—Michigan’s Muslim community overwhelmingly supported him over the Democratic favorite, Hillary Clinton. It apparently backed him because of his overt socialism and common-man appeal, as opposed to Clinton’s reputation as an elitist.

“He’s for people like us, people like me,” said Mussad, a 22-year-old living outside Detroit. “I got thousands of dollars of college debt, and he talks about making college affordable, giving me a fair shot. That resonates a lot with me, with young voters.”

“He’s not beholden to the financial industry” as Clinton is, the voter said.

The Free Press reported that in one precinct around Dearborn, Mich., which is more than 90 percent Arab-American Muslim, some followers of Islam mobilized to drum up support for Sanders. His Muslim supporters even distributed slips of paper in English and Arabic encouraging voters to support their candidate.

Sanders took Dearborn by a remarkable victory of 63 percent to Clinton’s 37 percent.

Still, many of the Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans in the city of almost 100,000 are not Muslims, but are Christian Arabs.

Sanders, who has been formally endorsed by Arab-American News, spoke to a packed theater on Monday and his audience included many Arab-American Muslims, including women wearing hijab, the Islamic headscarf, who sat behind him as he addressed the crowd. Sanders was introduced by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Earlier this week, Sanders released an Arabic-language radio ad aimed at Dearborn’s Arab voting population. Speaking in Arabic, the narrator denounces attacks on Islam by Republican candidates, and then features Sanders saying, “we have got to stand together to end all forms of racism.”

Muslim leaders reportedly feel let down by Clinton who failed to reach out more to the Muslim community, although she did defend Islam at a rally in Detroit.  Huma Abedin, a Muslim from Michigan, is reportedly one of Clinton’s “closest advisers.”

As has happened elsewhere in the nation, younger voters gravitated toward Sanders where the older set supported Hillary. Young Arab-Americans at Salina said they were concerned that Clinton was a hawk who supported the invasion of Iraq and is supporting war in Yemen.

“I’m a millennial, so the obvious choice would be Bernie Sanders,” said 26-year-old Zayd Sufyan of Dearborn, an Arab-American Muslim. “He’s for the minority, he’s noticing the youth, wants them to be able to go to school without paying too much for it.”

Last week in a sermon in Detroit, visiting Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and accused him of “brainwashing” people with “an agenda based on hatred and bigotry.” He also said U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rubio were bigots as well.

“Not only Muslims should be alarmed,” Qazwini said. “All these freedom-fighting democracy-loving people should be alarmed by the rise of a man like Donald Trump.”

Suehaila Amen, a young Arab-American advocate in Dearborn Heights said it distresses her to see that ignorance and discord have been given a platform. “Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are greatly affected by the way political campaign rhetoric within the GOP has created a climate of fear, dissonance, and has allowed for fascist, racist, and bigoted comments to become the social norm, especially through social media outlets, she said.

Others expressed hopes that Trump may eventually come around to seeing things their way.

Mohammad Said, a 66-year-old from Dearborn said he hopes Trump will become a Muslim: “If he knew our religion, he might become a Muslim. He knows Islam the wrong way. Islam never tells you to be a terrorist,” he said.

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