Bernie Sanders won the important Michigan Primary Tuesday (March 8) and a big part of his victory can be directly attributed to support he received mainly from Muslim Americans and Arabs in Wayne County. But Donald Trump still carried the state with overwhelming support from Chaldeans, Middle East Christians. The two communities have been separated in their social lives as they are in their politics.
By Ray Hanania
Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate to reach out to the American Arab community with a direct message of support and that outreach may have given him the votes he needed to edge out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary.
He received support from two of the most influential Arab media in Michigan, although Republican Donald Trump received overwhelming support from Chaldeans, non-Arab Middle East Christians who do not identify with being Arabs.
Sanders was endorsed by the Arab American News, the only weekly newspaper serving American Arabs and Muslims, and is based in Dearborn.
The newspaper editorial declared:
“The Arab American News endorses Sanders. With the senator from Vermont, we have a historic opportunity to elect a principled politician who has remained true to his message from the days he was protesting with the civil rights movement to the day he proclaimed himself a democratic socialist on national television while running for president. …Sanders stands for racial justice and has unequivocally condemned Islamophobia.”
The editorial in the Arab American News, published by longtime Arab journalist Osama Siblani, is notable in that it challenged the false stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are “anti-Jewish” or “anti-Semitic.”
Sanders reached out directly to American Arabs and asked for their support, which is unusual in any presidential election. It rarely happens that a candidate with a strong chance of winning a party nomination has shown more respect to American Arabs.
Sanders also purchased advertising in Arabic on the only daily American Arab morning Show in the country, “US Arab Radio” which is hosted by Laila Alhusinni, a Syrian immigrant and one of the few Arab woman in broadcast media on WNZK AM 690 radio Monday through Friday at 8 am EST. The show is simulcast in Washington DC., Windsor Canada and in Ohio.
The radio advertisement, which was broadcast every morning in Arabic and English, declared:
“The Republican candidates attack Muslims because of their religious beliefs. Bernie Sanders aims to end the hate and racism that divide our society. When one of the Muslim students expressed her fears of the hate rhetoric being directed towards Muslim Americans, Bernie Sanders reaffirmed the concept of unity as one cohesive society. On March 8th, vote for the candidate who will stand up for all of us, Bernie Sanders.”
You can listen to the Ad by clicking here. Or use this widget to listen:
The radio ads are credited with bringing out Arab and Muslim votes for Sanders.
Chaldeans play major role for Trump
Trump won the support of the equally influential The Chaldean Detroit Times published by Amir Denha mainly because he is perceived as the toughest candidate against radical religious extremists in the Middle East like al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS). Denha said Chaldeans, who number more than 200,000 in Michigan with populations also in San Diego and Chicago.
“The Chaldean community is supporting Donald Trump all the way. All the way. Trump will be toughest with al-Qaeda and ISIS. Trump is also going to make us all say ‘Merry Christmas,’ not ‘Happy Holidays’,” said Denha, who immigrated to America from Iraq in 1967.
“Trump represents that American Dream. He is a successful businessman. He is speaking against politicians who are not doing a good job. Trump’s message has resonated with the Chaldean community not just here but across America. He spoke out against how the war is being fought against ISIS and in Iraq and we believe he cares about us and he will bring ideas to defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda.”
Denha said that Trump is misunderstood by most people from the Middle East and in America.
“He is not against Mexicans and he is not against Muslims. He is an American and he cares about America. So do Chaldeans. We are American and we love America,” Denha said. “But the biggest issue is that Donald Trump is the only one with new ideas about protecting this country.”
In the elections on Tuesday, March 8, Sanders defeated Democratic Party stalwart Hillary Clinton decisively and against the polling predictions, 49.8 percent to 48.3 percent in unofficial vote tallies. Sanders received 592,415 votes winning 65 delegates and Clinton received 573,861 winning 58 delegates. He won heavily in Arab areas of Dearborn.
In the Republican primary, Donald Trump received 36.5 percent of the vote compared to a weak showing by Texas Senator Ted Cruz who received only 24.9 percent barely beating 3rd place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich who had 34.3 percent of the vote.
Much of the focus of the Muslim and Arab Muslim community has been against Trump because of his comments that he would suspend Muslim immigration into America until this country can develop a plan to distinguish between the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful and seeking a new life in this country and the small percentage who are using this country as a staging ground for violence and terrorism in support of radical Islamic groups like al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS).
Ironically, Trump’s two Republican rivals, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have received less criticism from the American Muslim community even though they have been move vicious against a core foundation of the American Arab community and the Arab World, independence for Palestine. Cruz and Rubio have called all Palestinians terrorists, murderers and haters of Israel.
Despite that, Trump received the largest majority of votes, 40.82 percent of 53,954 votes, in Wayne County, outside of Detroit. Kasich received 27.72 percent or 36,634 votes. Cruz, who like Rubio has been vocally anti-Arab and even went so far as to insult Middle East Christians, received only 18.28 percent of the vote or 24,162 votes. Rubio, who delivered blistering and racist condemnations of Palestinians, received a negligible 8.38 percent of the vote or only 11,076 votes.
Most likely, most Shi’ite and Muslim Arab voters cast their votes in the Democratic primary for Sanders over Clinton. In that race, Clinton slightly edged out Sanders with 49.35 percent of the vote or 73,703 votes, to Sanders who received 48.51 percent of the vote or 72,451.
In Dearborn, the highly respected Press & Guide Newspaper reported that Donald Trump received 3,196 votes outpacing Kasich who ran second with 2,447 votes. Clinton lost to Sanders who received 7,258 votes compared to only 4,837 votes for Clinton.
The complexities of the Arab community often are overlooked by pundits and analysts. The “Arab” community or “Muslim” community are often referenced interchangeably, and inaccurately. The majority of World Muslims, about 78 percent, are non-Arab, mainly African American and Asian, such as Pakistani and Afghani.
Of the estimated 7 million Muslims in America, the percentage is almost the same, although American politicians have tried to prevent the U.S. Census from counting Arabs and Muslims. (The inability to accurately identify the census numbers for Arabs and Muslims undermines their empowerment. Federal funding is often based on Census counts and if you are not counted, you are marginalized and ignored.)
Of the estimated 4.5 million Arabs in America, only about 40 percent are Muslim Arab and the vast majority are Arab Christians, nearly 60 percent.
In Wayne County, in areas near Dearborn like Sterling Heights, the largest Middle East community is often mistakenly described as Arabs, but they are not. Chaldeans make up the largest segment of Christians from the Middle East but they do not consider themselves “Arab.” Most come from Iraq and they are part of a large segment of the Middle East’s non-Arab Christian minority that also includes Assyrians and Phoenicians (Lebanese Christians).
It’s a topic that many Arabs dislike and avoid discussing. And most Americans are uneducated about the fundamentals of the Middle East and the topic becomes a political football. Most Americans inaccurately view all of the people from the Middle East as being “Muslim.”
The Reality of the Election
When it comes to the issue of Palestine, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the most progressive, even more so than Hillary Clinton. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are racistly anti-Palestinian. So when it comes to the issue of Palestine, there are only two choices, a clear mandate for justice from Bernie Sanders, which is why Sanders received more support among Arabs and especially Muslims, and Trump who despite his rhetoric about Muslims, has said he would be “neutral” in the issue of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Trump is supportive of neutrality in the Israel-Palestine conflict in part because he has been targeted by Sheldon Adelson, the publisher of Israel’s largest newspaper, and who donates more money in American presidential elections than any other individual in America. Adelson’s allies and PACs are backing Ted Cruz, and have supported Rubio and even backed Mitt Romney, who came out and attacked Trump personally recently.
But many people believe that even if Sanders receives the majority votes in America, he won’t win the Democratic Party nomination. The Democratic Party selects its president based not on pledged delegates selected in the Democratic Primary elections, but on the choices of Super Delegates that are unpledged and selected by the Democratic Party leadership. Super Delegates are free to vote anyway they want and can easily swing a pledged delegate vote for Bernie Sanders to a Super Delegate vote for Hillary Clinton, the ultimate Democratic establishment insider.
American Arabs and Muslims often vote overwhelming for the best candidate based on issues rather than on the best candidate who can win the election who is closest to their views.
For example, a popular candidate among American Arabs was the brilliant consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Nader ran in four presidential elections in 1996, 200, 2004 and 2008. But the number of votes he received were so negligible he often was excluded from the presidential debates. In 2000, Nader received only 2.78 percent of the votes cast, but in the other three elections he received less than 1 percent of the votes cast.
The Nader vote was a good example of voting for principle rather than making your vote impact the election choice.
Many Arabs support Sanders but the media analysts believe that the final contest may come down to Hillary Clinton as the Democrat and Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. In that race, Trump would be fairer on the issue of Palestine, although his comments about Muslims need to be addressed and changed.
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