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What Role South Asian Community Can Play In US Election 2020?

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The pandemic has re-defined the year 2020 and American politics. Last year, the political pundits predicted 2020 to have the biggest voter turnout in the US’s history, but things have changed since then. This year the campaigning has been mostly online, including the debates, events, and fundraising. A large number of South Asians in the US can have a significant impact on the upcoming elections. Several South Asian organizations are supporting both Biden and Trump in the elections.

Nadeem Zaman has lived in the US for almost 30 years. He is the Director of the Association of Pakistani Americans and a senior campaign coordinator for a US Congress candidate in Texas. Zaman believes that President Donald Trump’s four-year presidency has raised concerns among some 5.4 million South Asians living in the US. “…Some of those concerns are racism and the continued rise in discrimination against South Asians…,” he told Naya Daur.

Zaman thinks that this trend tends to run the risk of being institutionalized and may negatively affect the community’s success triggered by equal opportunity guaranteed by the US constitution.

However, dissatisfaction with Trump does not mean that all of them support the Democratic Party – Joe Biden for President and Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants – for vice president.

Though the South-Asian community has historically leaned toward the democrats, Pakistani Americans have concerns regarding Biden’s foreign policy. According to JoeBiden.com, Biden as Senator, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as Vice President, has supported a strong friendship between India and the United States. According to the website, Biden also promises to address policies that are their (Indian American’s) priorities. These concerns and Kamala Harris’s nomination have been unsettling for some South Asian voters, predominantly Pakistani Americans, who think that she may be partial to India’s stand on the Kashmir issue because of her Indian heritage.

Zaman believes that Harris’ candidacy could further divide Muslim and non-Muslim South Asian voters.

It is significant to understand the source of Pakistani Americans’ apprehension. Since 1947 the two nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have had a history of territorial disputes over the Kashmir region and have accused each other of cross-border terrorism. Last year, the Indian government revoked article 370 of the Indian constitution, removing Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and the cross-border skirmish between the two countries has increased ever since. The ongoing tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India have struck a chord in America’s South Asian community.  American Pakistanis want someone in office who can help resolve this issue.

“Some perceive Kamala Harris as someone who will naturally incline toward India-friendly policies as opposed to Pakistan friendly policies, “Zaman told Naya Daur

Farheen Raza Abidi, a 37-year-old podcaster and member of the Muslim Women for Biden, said Harris’ nomination as a candidate with Indian lineage had left some Muslims in the South Asian community feeling divided over their Trump support.

Although, Harris does not identify herself as an Indian American and Hindu but as an African-American and a Baptist.

Talking to Naya Daur, Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and Professor of International Relations at the American University in Washington, DC, said that “this situation’s sociological factor cannot be overlooked.” People have their fears, but Harris can puncture them by inviting Pakistani Americans over a cup of tea in our tradition and recruit Pakistani community members on her team.

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Prof. Akbar Ahmed added that “Pakistanis in the 3rd generation are mature enough to see the community’s interest on the whole and majority will vote for Biden-Harris. He said that Harris’ political leaning wouldn’t matter because the State Department does not function that way. They will consider their interests in national security first.

Farheen Abidi, Nadeem Zaman, and many others in the South Asian community believe that many Pakistani Americans will still vote for the Democrats in the upcoming elections.  Abidi, who monitors South Asian voters in Texas, told Naya Daur that 70% of people are likely to vote for Biden, 20% for Trump, while the remaining 10% will not cast their ballots.

Experts back up this claim.

Kamran Bokhari is the Director of the Analytical division at the Center for Global Policy in the DC area and the national security and foreign policy specialist. Talking to Naya Daur, he said that Biden’s support in the South Asian community is because there is a national dislike for Trump. Voting for Biden does not mean that people like Biden; it’s just that people want a new president. They want to vote for Biden because ultimately they don’t want Trump in the White House, he added.

“…Pakistani American voters need to vote regardless of how the administration behaves toward their country of origin. US policy toward Pakistan is important but what happens here [in the US] is also important…,” Bokhari said.

Islamophobia on the rise?

Around 3.4 million Muslims are living in the US, many of whom are of South Asian origin.

Naseer Mohammad, a Bangladeshi American Muslim community activist, told Naya Daur, he is worried about growing Islamophobia in the US and banning of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries that may continue to intensify under the next Trump administration. Mohammad came to the US 34 years ago.

Naya Daur asked Mohammad, besides addressing the rise in Islamophobia and stereotyping Muslims, what are his expectations from the next president of the United States? Mohammad said, “Most of us [Bangladeshi Americans] are small business owners. We have grocery stores and cab services, and we work hard. We are concerned about immigration laws, job situations, income levels, healthcare, and our community’s future.

Mohammad’s concerns resonate with most immigrants.

According to the University of Southern California (USC), the world’s leading private research university, Trump’s tweets, public statements, and his administration’s actions have impacted Muslims’ lives in the US during the last four years.

An article published by USC points out Trump’s false claims that after the 9/11 attack, the Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the attacks. The report also says that Trump said he’d implement a database to track Muslims. On another occasion, President Donald Trump also stated, unequivocally, that “Islam hates us.”

Many Bangladeshi Americans still remember the first time Trump won the elections, and the “Muslim Ban” was imposed by the Trump administration a few months later through an executive order.

“He called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” a Bangladeshi American Babu Bhai told Naya Daur; he fears that if Trump wins again, things will worsen for Muslims.

“We worry for our kids who have Muslim names. Hate has become routine. [They] look down upon us, and we wonder what we have to change to become a part of America,” Mohammad added to the conversation.

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To bring an inclusive America back, the Bangladeshi American voters are deciding to vote for the Democrats.

Dr. Arjumand Hashmi is a Republican, a Pakistani American, and two times elected former Mayor of Paris, TX. He told Naya Daur when asked about the Bangladeshi American community’s agitation regarding Trump’s possible second term and potential sanctions on Muslim countries. “One cannot alleviate the concern of the Bangladeshi American voters; if Trump wins, that might very well happen.” Dr. Hashmi added that just because he is a Republican, it does not mean that he supports all of the party’s policies.

“…there are hardliners on both sides, be it democrats or republicans. I believe we should vote as Americans regardless of what our country of origin is,” Dr. Hashmi said.

Trump’s Supporters in the South Asian Community

Speaking to Naya Daur, some South Asian community members praised Trump as a symbol of change.

Sajid Tarar, a Pakistani American who founded ‘Muslims for Trump’, told us that South Asian Muslim support has increased for Trump since 2016 “because Trump has proven himself over the last four years.”

Any poll or survey could not back his statement.

He also added that though his work has met criticism from fellow Pakistanis, he still thinks Trump will win both the electoral and popular vote this time since the silent majority’s support has doubled from 2016.

“Our (US) history has seen 40 years of incompetent administrations. Now is the time to change that,” Samir Patel, an Indian American physician, told Naya Daur.

When asked about how Trump’s economic policies have benefited the South Asians, Patel said that he does not consider himself “South Asian” or as someone who plays “Identity politics.” Hence, as an American, he views Trump as successful in his last four years as a president because he has ‘unapologetically’ taken a stance on illegal immigration, decreased corporate tax rates, and established fair trade policies with China.

Even though Dr. Patel says that many South Asians, particularly Indian Americans, are pro-Trump, the polls suggest otherwise. According to The Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS), 72% of registered Indian American voters are planning on voting for Biden, while 22% said they would vote for Trump.

Covid Crisis, Racism, and the divide in the South Asian Voters

Many South Asians seem divided on how the Trump administration handled the Covid crisis, Black Lives Matter movement, racial violence, and other issues faced by the Americans.

Some praised Trump’s role as a “cheerleader” who has shown the world not to be afraid during the Pandemic. In contrast, many recovering from the virus themselves or having lost their loved ones called him dangerous and irresponsible in handling the crisis.

South Asian Republicans think that racism does not exist in America and is merely a weapon that the Democrats use against the Republicans. Democrats, on the other hand, believe that not only racism exists, but Islamophobia equates to racism.

Some South Asian Democrats joke that they want their leader to use ‘coherent sentences.’ The undecided ones say that they don’t want to deal with the community’s backlash by choosing one over the other. They think they will sit this one out. Only time will tell where the South Asian voters take this election.

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