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Why all Americans need Muslim Americans to vote

American Muslims are part of the American story, and we all need our next president to be a leader who respects our nation’s diversity and will confront fascism. 

This combination image of two photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(RNS) — As we approach what is arguably the most critical election of our lifetime, it seems to be getting harder with each news cycle to focus on the implications of the moment. But I encourage us all to pause to reflect on the choice we’ll make on Nov. 3, and the importance of making the right one.

Last week’s first meeting between Joe Biden and Donald Trump as presidential candidates is now being dissected as a possible COVID spreader event. But let’s not forget that the 90-minute debate, if we can call it that, laid bare the ugliness that is the Trump presidency on a national and global stage.

At one point during the debate, Trump balked at condemning American fascism when he told the Proud Boys hate group to “stand back and stand by.” As a former national security official, a first-generation immigrant and an American, I was shocked and yet unsurprised. We cannot afford another four years of this dangerous and immoral presidency. It is incumbent upon voters this November to vote — not only to protect our democracy, but to preserve our decency as a nation.

Nobody feels this urgency as deeply as the Muslim American community. The outcome of this election will impact critical issues for us, both as Muslims and as Americans. One of the first actions that Trump took in office was to sign a deeply discriminatory executive order banning people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, many of whom were already employed in the United States, from coming into the U.S. We now face the possibility of another four years of the ban, which deepens Islamophobia, and increasing hate crimes.

The upcoming election is a referendum on whether these policies of the past four years should be punished, or rewarded.

Muslim Americans have been a part of this country since West African Muslims were brought as slaves within a few years of the first European settlers. Their story and that of generations of Muslims who followed them is part of the American story; we must resist those who seek to render us invisible. And we must elect a leader who respects our diversity as a nation and understands the strategic and moral imperative of confronting fascism. 

Joe Biden was not the first choice for many Muslim Americans and I am sympathetic to these sentiments. During the Democratic primaries, my organization, Emgage Action, endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders. But when we subsequently endorsed the former vice president, we were keen that it would not simply be a matter of picking the “lesser of two evils.” Our decision was based on a clear-eyed assessment of what Biden would do once in office, as well as how he would do it.

Muslims may not agree with Biden on all issues, and in fact, they rarely agree on all issues. But Muslim Americans will have a seat at the table in a Biden administration. Already, engagement with the Biden campaign has yielded results on issues critical to our community, including his commitment to ending Trump’s travel ban and the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program, strengthening hate crimes data collection and reporting, and ensuring that “watchlist” and “no-fly” list programs do not continue to adversely impact individuals or groups based on national origin, race, religion or ethnicity. 

As importantly, Biden has walked with us, joining us at our historic Million Muslim Votes summit to encourage communities of color to show up at the polls. 

These and many other commitments were made because of the active engagement of an increasingly active and civilly minded community.  That civic engagement is our duty, not only as Americans, but as moral actors: Neglecting that duty renders us complicit in the election of leaders who spread racism and Islamophobia. 

(Wa’el Alzayat is CEO of Emgage Action, a voter mobilization and advocacy organization seeking to empower Muslim American communities through civic engagement and political literacy. He was previously a foreign policy expert at the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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