U.S. ELECTIONS: Bernie Sanders and the Muslim voters

Bernie Sanders Hugs Muslim student and Vows to fight racism.

Kaleem Kawaja

The Democratic party primary elections that are now moving towards an end have thrown up surprises that no one thought were possible just six months ago.  Before polling began in 2016 in the primaries, the overall feeling among most Democrats was that the ideas of Senator Bernie Sanders were too far to the left and depicted a socialist mindset. In contrast Hillary Clinton represented a centrist platform of pragmatism that combined the virtues of capitalism and free enterprise with social justice for all.

Bernie Sanders Hugs Muslim student and Vows to fight racism.
Bernie Sanders Hugs Muslim student and Vows to fight racism.

In recent years three million American Muslims have felt harassed by many elements of the Republican Party and especially the significant numbers of the Tea Party elements in it.  They find the same cool shade in the Democratic Party from the scorching heat of Republican baiting that African-Americans have felt for five decades.

Thus in 2015 as media began its frequent discussions including the Presidential debates on the 2016 White House election; American Muslims became more interested in the Democratic Party candidates.  Capitalizing on the horrific terrorist crimes of ISIS in Syria & Iraq and the brazen attacks on civilians in Paris and San Bernardino the Republican Party candidates, especially front-runners Trump and Cruz, openly baited Muslims.  Trump went so far as to call for a ban on the entry of Muslims to US and the closure of many mosques.  Cruz called for the surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods.


Within the Democratic Party Muslims felt comfortable with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a known politician.  In contrast they looked upon the ideas propounded by Senator Sanders as far-fetched and impractical.  Also they felt worried by the socialist tag that Sanders frequently used for his suggestions early on. Indeed in 2015 most Democrats had similar negative perception of the Sanders campaign.

But as more debates occurred Americans began to see that Sanders was really after removing the heavy influence of the super- wealthy from the election and political process and for uplifting the lower middle-classes.  He was no communist out to wreck the free enterprise capitalist US economy.  Americans realized that in the last two decades the influence of the super rich, their super PACs and super delegates on the election process and the candidates has grown so much as to become a nauseating burden.

The credit for repeatedly insisting that there is a need to make this basic change in the US political process goes to Bernie Sanders. In the beginning most people looked upon it as the shrill cry of an underdog to Hillary trying to gain some traction in the public mind.  But with well thought repeated articulation of the subject Sanders did make it sink in the collective heads of American voters that he was pushing for a much needed political and electoral reform.  As 2016 and the primary election season dawned the old media tag of ‘socialism’ on the Sanders campaign changed to ‘political reform’.

Muslim supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Still the Hillary campaign was snug in feeling mainstream and thinking that the Sanders campaign was a fringe phenomenon.  However as the caucuses and primaries began in February 2016 Sanders started winning over Hillary in several of them albeit by small margins.  That brought credibility to the Sanders campaign.  Another key element of Sanders’ win in most states has been that he has received much support from states where population is mostly white and relatively better educated and from the young people.  In contrast Hillary has won in states where there is substantial African American, Hispanic and immigrant population with relatively lower educational levels.

Just as starting in early 2016 more Americans started taking the Sanders campaign more seriously so did American Muslims.  Just as many American youth became ardent champions of Sanders and his “Feel the Bern” campaign so did the young people in the Muslim community in US.  Along with ‘Americans for Bernie Sanders’ Face Book pages sprang up the ‘Muslims for Bernie Sanders’ Face Book pages. In the state of Maryland yet another “Maryland Muslims for Bernie Sanders’ Face Book page sprang up a couple of weeks before the Maryland state primary election in April.  Sanders’ campaign fliers were frequently distributed in the parking lots of a whole lot of mosques.  Keith Ellison, the first American-Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, endorsed senator Sanders for President.

Despite Hillary’s overwhelming lead in number of delegates over Sanders, the Sanders campaign has been very successful in making Hillary move towards more progressive pastures.  Even in matters dear to the Muslim community Bernie’s ‘sympathetic-to-Muslims’ campaign elements have made Hillary embrace them.  The most galling was the Hillary-Sanders debate just before the New York primary in which Sanders kept on insisting on the need to safeguard the human rights of Palestinians and literally forced Hillary to amend her strong pro-Israeli posture.

Now with a sizeable number of American Muslims supporting the Bernie Sanders campaign, it is a sign of a   new political maturity for the beleaguered American Muslim community.  They know that Hillary will probably be the Democratic Party Presidential nominee, yet they are willing to be in the camps of both candidates, the front runner Hillary and the underdog Sanders.


The writer located in metro Washington DC can be reached onkaleemkawaja@gmail.com


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