It wasn’t long ago that American Muslims leaned Republican, with many who hold conservative views on issues like abortion and same sex marriage. In 2000, President George W. Bush was elected with substantial Muslim-American support (42 percent nationally to former Vice President Al Gore’s 31 percent, according to a 2001 Zogby survey).
“It’s the young people feeling like the way to respond to the political environment is shifting from being defensive to very proactive and empowering,” said Linda Sarsour, a leader of the Women’s March. “Many Muslim Americans are just tired of saying ‘we’re Americans just like you,'” said Sarsour.
Others say it’s out of necessity. The Council on American Islamic Relations documented 300 hate crimes against Muslims in 2017 — a 15 percent increase from the previous year.
Emgage, a nonprofit that promotes Muslim political engagement, polled registered Muslim voters after the 2016 election and found that 53 percent felt “less safe.”
The Arab community in Dearborn is diverse, where the largest ethnic populations are Lebanese, Yemeni and Iraqi.
They have different concerns, cultures and cuisines, but this much they agree on: Trump’s behavior has laid bare the bias and discrimination they’ve seen for decades. “Maybe this country needed a shock. This is the shock therapy,” said Alsadah.
Many have stories like Tlaib, a state legislator who in 2011 was asked by a male legislator for her birth certificate during a committee hearing. “I felt like he was dehumanizing me,” she said. “What was more painful was no one called him out on it,” she said.
Siblani, sitting in his office off Ford Road, Dearborn’s main drag, flips through his cell calling contacts to ask if they are “on the (terror) list.”
“Are you on the list? No, I’m off,” says a voice on the other end. Siblani implores another man to speak with a reporter: “I can’t, it will affect all my businesses. I cannot go public with it. Let me call my lawyer,” the voice says, hanging up.
None of them know “what they’ve done,” to get on the list says Siblani. A single trip to a Middle Eastern country can be the trigger, he says, describing door-to-door escorts and missed flights as the norm. “It’s humiliating” and “you never get off unless you sue,” said Siblani.
“I’m not saying people should not be questioned, I’m saying there should be an end game. Give me a chance to clear myself or tell me why my name is on the list,” adds Siblani, who is not on the list.
In her Detroit law office, Tlaib, says many Muslims have lived with anxiety since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001. “I remember this overwhelming feeling of ‘Oh my God, are they going to come after us?’”
Then came Trump’s election, which prompted a “moment of darkness, fear and stillness” by American Muslims, she said. It wasn’t until the travel ban that there was “an eruption” and “all of a sudden people were starting to run for office,” said Tlaib.
There’s a resurgence in Muslims running for office nationally, with 29 in ongoing campaigns across 13 states and many of them already clearing primaries en route to the general election. With at least 105 American Muslims having filed papers this year, it’s a record since 2000, according to Jetpac.
It at least in part signifies the return to civic participation of a population that’s avoided an unwelcome spotlight since the Sept. 11 terror attacks that complicated the lives of millions of American Muslims across the nation. While the hijackers came from and were financed by Saudi backers the entire Muslim community suffered nonetheless.
“They stayed away like we are a disease. How can you partner with someone who doesn’t want to partner?” said Siblani.
“The reason the Arabs are going into the Democratic Party is because they have no choice,” said Siblani, who says President Obama ignored the community and began the restriction of visas.
“Now the question (for Democrats) is ‘Are you standing with me because of what I have been suffering from or are you standing with me because you are standing against Trump?” asked Siblani.