Hillary Clinton wasn’t the first choice of Dearborn’s Muslims. But thanks to Donald Trump’s escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric she’s quickly moving into that position in Michigan, a state Trump is hoping to put in play.
Interviews with Muslim and Arab-American leaders in Dearborn and the Detroit metro area — home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans — suggest that Democrats there are quickly making their peace with Clinton, spurred by concerns about Trump, even though many strongly preferred Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and helped him win the state.
“Both locally and nationally, probably [Sanders] was the favored candidate,” said Ismael Ahmed, a Dearborn-based member of the Arab American Institute’s board of directors, who is running for the state board of education. “But I think it’s a highly motivated community, as it’s moving forward, people are more and more accepting that the answer to stopping Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton. They’re going to vote for her.”
Shahid Tahir, chair of the Michigan Muslim Democratic caucus, agreed with that assessment. “People say, ‘God forbid, if he gets elected, I might move to Canada, even.’ There are concerns about his biased approach to minorities. All the ethnic communities are more comfortable with her.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t have reservations. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, favors a more muscular foreign policy than Sanders, and also offers more unqualified support for Israel than he does, putting her out of step with many Arab-Americans in Michigan (though she did win in some communities during the primary). Sanders, with his populist economic message, also did particularly well with younger Muslims and Arab-Americans in the Dearborn area, as he did nationally.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, noted that the Arab-American and Muslim communities in Michigan are not monolithic. But on the whole, he said, those voters in Michigan have shown “no popular support” for Trump but they’re not going to fall in line behind Clinton easily—and so far, he’s keeping the emphasis on local elections.
“The main focus is not really speaking about the presidential election,” Walid said. “A lot of our constituents will not vote for Trump but they’re also not exactly throwing a party about Hillary Clinton.”
But with Clinton having effectively sewn up the nomination, said Sami Khalidi, the president of the Dearborn Democratic Club, many in Michigan’s Muslim and Arab communities are beginning to focus on whom they see as the bigger threat: Trump, who this week reiterated his support for a temporary ban on Muslim migration. Concerns about his stances are helping Clinton shore up her base in a state Trump is hoping to make competitive.
“Trump is definitely one of the reasons why we all have to come together, with other groups of people that he has been attacking. Basically, he is spreading hate speech,” Khalidi said, going on to add, “There will be a lot of people coming out to vote in this election, and they’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton… she’s commander-in-chief-ready to run from the first day. We don’t see that Donald Trump can be commander-in-chief. If he is already prejudging that Muslims are not equal to him, then how can he meet with world leaders from the Islamic world?”
A representative for Trump didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Not everyone sees the race as a binary choice, arguing that Clinton can’t count on automatic support just because Trump has alienated the community. Osama Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News, said Clinton needs to earn the community’s vote by offering assurances on foreign policy—or risk their staying home.
“People who are going to go and vote for president from our community are most likely going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but it doesn’t mean she’s exciting the base of Arab-Americans and American Muslims to go out and vote for her,” he said, going on to add, “I’m not motivated enough to vote for Hillary Clinton. Even though I know what Trump is doing, I need Hillary Clinton to say more than a few words about xenophobia and discrimination against Muslims. I need to see some substance, [plans to] create some peace in the world.”
Clinton, who has met with Muslim community leaders in places including Minnesota and California, plans to continue making her case to the community—and will keep drawing contrasts with Trump, said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Clinton representative.
"Hillary Clinton will continue to reach out to the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities to discuss the issues that they care about most,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “She will also continue to speak out against Donald Trump's hateful and dangerous rhetoric on banning Muslims from the United States and will work to stop discrimination against the community once and for all."
Ahmed doubted voters from those communities would ultimately be willing to skip voting in the presidential this year.
“I don’t think Arab-Americans or Muslims will stay on the sidelines, not on this one. There’s just too much at stake,” he said. “You’re talking about a guy who’s talking about registering Muslims and Arab-Americans and keeping lists and placing security in our communities and all of that stuff. And it’s scary, to be blunt.”
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.