Newton's Third Law of Motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” doesn’t just apply to physics; it also applies to politics in the time of Donald Trump. Every time Trump serves up a bigoted slab of red meat, it does two things: it animates Trump’s base, and it animates people who reject it. For example, on Friday, Trump announced he was expanding his Muslim ban (aka Travel ban) to include additional Muslim majority nations. This is red meat for his base who overwhelmingly supported his 2016 campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the United Sates. The reaction to Trump ‘s January 2017 executive order implementing a partial Muslim ban was protests nationwide.
Iowa is no different. In the days before the 2016 election, we saw the dark side to Trump’s call for a Muslim ban as a Waterloo, Iowa, mosque was defaced with the word “Trump” in red spray paint. And just days after Trump won, a Muslim family who had immigrated five years before to Iowa from Sudan found a letter taped to the front door of their home that read, “You can all go home now. We don’t want (a racial epithet) and terrorists here. #Trump.”
The Iowa Muslim community, which makes up about 1 percent of the three million residents of the Hawkeye state, had a choice to make after the 2016 election: hide in the shadows and hope to weather the Trump storm or step out into the sunshine and get more involved in politics in an effort to defeat Trump and any other politician who spews anti-Muslim bigotry.
Well, the Iowa Muslim community choose to became more active than ever. In fact, come Monday’s Iowa Democratic caucus, for the first time in state history mosques will be official caucus locations.
Elvir Klempic, a Democratic and Muslim activist, explained that in the past, caucuses had been held at schools, churches and community centers, but this year the Iowa Democratic party invited others to apply to expand the number of caucus locations in an effort to increase participation. That led Klempic and a few others in the community to petition that mosques to be included as caucus sites. The Democratic party agreed and this Monday five different mosques in the Des Moines area will be official satellite caucus locations.
Klempic, who immigrated to the United States as a child from Bosnia, explained that in past years turnout in the Muslim community was not been great, in part since many—while now U.S. citizens--are immigrants from countries that don’t hold elections. Adding to the confusion was the unique way of voting in Iowa. “What is a ‘caucus’?!” is a question asked to Klempic by many in the community. But by holding a caucus at the mosques they attend, complete with translators who speak their native language, Klempic’s hope is that it will inspire even more to vote. And so far he has seen the most interest ever from the Muslim community in the 2020 campaigns, from volunteering to even working on campaign staffs.
Dr. Ayah Bilbeisi, a dentist in the Des Moines area, also has seen a spike in activism from Muslims, which she attributes to Trump’s demonization of not just Muslims but other minority groups as well. Bilbeisi is confident that more Muslims will vote Monday than in the past given the mosques being caucus locations since it sends a message that “our voices matter.”
So what are the key issues of concern to the Muslim community? Unsurprisingly, they're the ones for all Democratic voters, from healthcare to the need for wage growth to addressing climate change. But there are some unique issues for this community that includes African-Americans, South Asian, Arabs and a big Bosnian community in the Des Moines area.
Mohamed Ali, a graduate student studying political science at Iowa State University, highlighted the ongoing harassment of Muslim Americans at the border and at the airports simply because of their faith. Ali, who has often been subject to such profiling, noted that “a good citizen with zero criminal records and excellent reputation in the community needs to be treated equally like any other good citizen.” (We just learned that Trump’s CBP was targeting U.S. citizens of Iranian heritage crossing the border for extra screening simply because of their heritage.)
And Trump’s Muslim ban was also flagged as a key issue for Muslim Americans. This ban has a real-world impact by unjustly separating families, including grandparents who want to visit their American grandchildren. Ali believes that Trump’s expanded ban “will inspire even more Muslims to get into politics to counter this policy.”
The big question of course is who are the Iowa Muslims supporting in Monday’s Democratic caucus? As Klempic explained, the support is divided between Joe Biden, Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders. Klempic himself is supporting Biden for a very unique reason. As a child in Bosnia facing a genocide by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian military, he recalls Biden giving a speech in 1995 in the Senate in support of sending troops to stop the massacre of Bosnians. (The U.S. did send troops.) As Klempic remarked, “we were on the other side of the world facing genocide, there was someone out there fighting for us, and that person was Joe Biden.”
Klempic can’t predict who will win the caucus Monday—especially given that same day voter registration is permitted-- but he’s certain of two things. First, there will be a record turnout of Democratic voters. Second, more Muslims than ever will participate. And both of these are in reaction to Trump, once again proving Newton’s Third Law of Motion.