- Linda Sarsour
director of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change, and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York.
- Mohamed Elibiary
homeland security expert who has advised the U.S. government on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism issues. He also identifies as a “proud Texas Muslim Republican” who has been involved with the GOP for over 20 years.
In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan, some media commentators have expressed shock Arab-American and Muslim voters in the state voted overwhelmingly for the Vermont senator. In Dearborn, which has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, Sanders won about 60 percent of the vote. We speak to Linda Sarsour and Mohamed Elibiary.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Linda Sarsour, I’d like to change gears a little bit to talk about the Democratic race and especially what happened in Michigan recently in the primary, the surprise win of Bernie Sanders. And Michigan has a large Muslim community. And your sense of what happened there and how the Muslim community responded to the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?
LINDA SARSOUR: I think that Michigan sent a very loud and clear message, is never to underestimate the Arab-American and the American Muslim vote. Bernie Sanders—there was not even one poll out there that said Bernie was anywhere near winning Michigan, and he came out, and he won big. I think that is credit to the civic participation of the American Muslim community. I mean, Dearborn, the most highly concentrated Arab-American community in the country, came out in full force for Bernie Sanders. And I have hope in Illinois, I have hope in Florida. And I think that the party establishment is scratching their heads, saying, “Maybe this is a community we need to pay attention to.” And guess who started paying attention to us. Bernie Sanders.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Bernie Sanders at a rally at George Mason University in Virginia. After a student named Remaz Abdelgader started questioning him about Islamophobia, Sanders invited her on the stage, gave her a hug, then allowed her to speak from the podium.
REMAZ ABDELGADER: As an American Muslim student who aspires to change the world, currently majoring in—an international conflict analysis and resolution major, and I hope to be a human rights attorney. Hearing the rhetoric that’s going on in the media makes me sick, because I, as an individual, am constantly trying to raise awareness and make sure that everyone is treated equally in this country. So, president—to the next president of the United States, what do you think about that?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This is what I think. This is—this is what I think. Let me be very personal here, if I might. I’m Jewish. My father’s family died in concentration camps. I will do everything that I can to rid this country of the ugly stain of racism, which has existed for far too many years.
AMY GOODMAN: Linda Sarsour? And as you said—I mean, he was talking there in Virginia, but Dearborn, the largest Arab-American population in the country, voted overwhelmingly for a Jewish democratic socialist.
LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, it broke down stereotypes that I think should never have existed, that the Arab-American Muslim community wouldn’t actually vote for the first Jewish president of the United States. And he’s carrying the Muslim vote across the country. I think in New York, we might surprise—you know, maybe we won’t take it, but we’ll surprise the establishment. And I’ll tell you, it’s not just in Virginia. He was in Tampa. He allowed Muslims to be surrogates and speak at a large rally with about 10,000 people. He’s been meeting with people from multiple segments of the Muslim community. He is making—he’s finally saying, “You’re part of this—our community. You’re part of our nation. I want to hear what you have to say.” That’s all we’re asking for.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Elibiary, your response to this kind of Arab-American support for Bernie Sanders?
MOHAMED ELIBIARY: Well, my response, as a Republican, is, obviously, I’m a little disappointed, because I would rather have the Arab Americans voting as they—that community was doing, what, 12 years ago or so, more towards the Republican Party. But it’s not really just their fault. I think the Republican Party, during the previous reign of Michael Steele—I went through the surrogate training program at the RNC. There was a big effort to try to expand the base, to grow the party, bring in a lot of diversity and inclusion. And I saw a lot of outreach in the Arab-American, Muslim American community back then. But today, there’s a whole different case. Right now, the campaigns themselves are actually the ones leading. We have a party in name only, so to speak. Most of what’s generally called establishment party structures across the country in the GOP are not in a position to really do anything. They’re just kind of sitting on their hands and waiting for this big food fight to end at the national level between the presidential campaigns. And the Arab-American community does not really have an opportunity to plug into these campaigns at the moment—or so far, at least.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned that—you mentioned that 12 years ago there was a big difference. You’re obviously referring to the period of George W. Bush as president. What was different then in terms of how the Republican Party approached the Arab-American or Muslim community that you’re not seeing now in your—in the Republican Party leadership?
MOHAMED ELIBIARY: I would say that the base wasn’t thinking for itself. We didn’t have the internal revolutionary fervor that we’ve got today in 2016 back in the 2000 campaign. Back then, we did not have as much of, you know, the manufacturing loss, the small-town economic collapses that have happened around the country, a lot of rural counties. We didn’t have large government programs that—at least to our base in the Republican Party. You look at Obamacare. We look a lot of other things. And the sense in the GOP base is that these are overreaches by the federal government. They’re centralization solutions, while people would like to see a lot more localized. If we honestly had in this country a little bit faster of an economic growth, instead of a 2 percent, make it 3 percent or 4 percent, I honestly think that a lot of this anger will defuse, and the GOP itself would go back to the days of George Bush in the 2000 campaign.