The race for the presidency in the U.S. has begun and Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign seems to be going strong. Though it's unclear whether he will actually score the Democratic nomination, Sanders has earned the support of the Muslim community — back in 2016 and again in 2020.
Islamophobia - as we witnessed in 2016 - garnered Republican candidates more votes; Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric has been quite popular among his supporters who have been encouraged to tell Muslims to "go back to their countries" because their leader indirectly (and sometimes directly) does the same thing.
But this rhetoric also pushed many Muslim-Americans and their supporters to the ballot box. In a 2016 survey, just ahead of the elections at the time, about 74 percent of Muslim-Americans said they will cast a vote, with many citing Islamophobia as the reason behind their decision.
Four years ago, the Jewish U.S. senator's message of inclusiveness resonated with people across the Arab world. #Yo2Bernie, #Muslims4Bernie, and #InshallahBernie were signals of hope among Muslim-Americans in the U.S. Though Sanders' campaign did not prove successful (in terms of a spot in the White House) back in 2016, his loyalty to the Muslim community has been clear as day for quite some time. As such, the Muslim, and Arab community as a whole, have been firm supporters of Sanders as well. That support has manifested itself in the 2020 presidential race so far.
For starters, Sanders has been outspoken on Palestinian rights, a rarity for U.S. presidential candidates. His refusal to attend Israeli lobby group AIPAC's (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference in March 2016 sent a clear message that he would not join the long list of American presidents who have been complacent at best, and complicit at worst, with the right-wing politics of Israel. His decision to do the same thing in 2020 is evidence that his stance is as solid as a compact brick.
On Sunday, the Democratic presidential hopeful said he would be skipping the upcoming AIPAC conference, yet again. Sanders has said that the conference provided a platform for other leaders to discredit Palestinians. Sanders' insistence on a two-state solution is revolutionary for a U.S. presidential candidate who also happens to be Jewish.
The U.S.' current president attempted to work on a "peace plan" between the two states, but it was obvious how one-sided the deal actually was. Hence the name #PeaceSham was born to disapprove of Trump's failed plan. Unlike Trump, Sanders actually cares for the rights of Palestinians.
"As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region," Sanders wrote in a series of tweets recently.
Sanders has previously condemned the aggression the Israeli military has demonstrated against Palestinian protestors. Speaking about the situation in Gaza, Sanders said the Israeli government's actions have only made things worse. "While Israel withdrew its forces from within Gaza in 2005 its continuing control of Gaza's air, sea, northern, southern, and eastern borders … have made the humanitarian crisis there even worse," he said, according to The Intercept.
In a tweet about the 2018 protests, Sanders called the killing of Palestinian demonstrators "tragic." "It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response," he said.
Sanders has worked hard to earn the support of the Muslim community. His opposition to the U.S.-led 2003 Iraq War is one of his most talked-about stances.
"I not only voted against that war; I helped lead the effort against that war," the senator from Vermont said in the opening moments of the Democratic debate in Iowa back in January.
But it's not just his views on foreign affairs that landed him a place on the Muslim community's good side. His 2020 campaign is calling for a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights that will guarantee all "our people the right to the basic necessities of life — and guarantees those rights regardless of Americans' income, race, religion, gender, country of origin or sexual orientation."
Centering his campaign on equality in all its forms is what Sanders promises Americans living in the U.S. and that includes Muslim-Americans. Politicians sometimes say what they want people to hear, but with Sanders, his commitment to equality and fair treatment has been demonstrated in the past.
Muslims in the U.S. come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; African-American Muslims and South Asians make up a quarter of the Muslim-American population each, Arab-American Muslims make up 22 percent, and Latino Muslims have been growing in number. According to LA Times, Muslims are clustered in urban areas with heavy populations in Michigan and Pennsylvania (two states that were key in Trump's 2016 win). But Muslims are also present in states such as Texas, New Jersey, Florida, California, and Illinois.
Sanders is fighting for their equal treatment. We know because he's been fighting against Islamophobia. We know because he has been inclusive of Muslims.
For his 2020 campaign, Sanders appointed Pakistani Faiz Shakir as his campaign manager, becoming the first major presidential candidate to appoint a Muslim in that role. Among his representatives (surrogates) are two Muslim-Americans: Women's March organizer Linda Sarsour and comedian Amer Zahr.
His fight against Islamophobia hasn't just started; it's been ongoing for a while now. During the 2016 campaign, Sanders passionately stood up for the Muslim community and opposed then-candidate Trump's offensive remarks about Muslims. In December 2015, when Trump reiterated the debunked story that Muslims in New Jersey had cheered the 9/11 attack, Sanders called Trump a "pathological liar."
That same year, Sanders shared an emotional moment with a Muslim college student who asked him to stand up to Islamophobia.
He invited her up to the stage and cited his own background as the grandson of Holocaust victims, telling her, "There is a lot of anger being generated, hatred being generated, against Muslims in this country. … If we stand for anything, we have got to stand together and end all forms of racism."
Two months after that, Sanders attended a roundtable event at the Masjid Muhammad mosque in Washington, D.C. He then appealed to Arabs in the U.S. by tweeting out a graphic of his campaign in Arabic.
"America becomes a greater nation when we stand together and say no to racism, hatred, and bigotry," the translated message reads.
"Not me, us"
In 2019, Sanders was one of only two Democratic presidential candidates to address the Islamic Society of North America Convention, the largest annual gathering of Muslim-Americans in the country.
The Jewish candidate is one of the few who have made repeated efforts to reach out to the Muslim community. He was also the first presidential candidate to visit a Los Angeles mosque following the New Zealand shootings last year. What did Trump do? He tweeted a now-deleted link to Breitbart — a far-right "news" site. Breitbart is infamously known for publishing vile anti-Muslim content.
The support he's garnered from Muslim-Americans cannot be credited to one thing he said or one thing he did. It is his continuous and genuine effort that has earned him the trust of Muslims in America.
"Some politicians think just visiting a mosque or speaking to Muslims once is enough. Bernie is doing more, and making us feel like we are in the campaign," said Fayaz Nawabi, a delegate for the California Democratic Party who runs the Facebook page "Muslims for Bernie 2020."
Without a doubt, Senator Sanders has a long battle ahead of him if he wishes to become the Democratic candidate for President. Recent polls indicate that he has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in November.
If elected to arguably the most powerful position in the world, we hope he would fulfill his promises to his electorate and to the Arab region. That is a matter that remains to be seen. But #InshallahBernie won't let us down.