Sanders invited prominent Muslim American political figures to speak about voting in the general election, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn; and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who is a visiting professor in the LSA Honors Program.
After being introduced by Sanders, Tlaib said participating in the upcoming election will be necessary to combat religious hate and persecution under the current administration.
“We have to make sure we outvote the hate and take them out,” Tlaib said. “We show them that you cannot do that to a whole faith like that. We can’t stand by and allow that to happen … I know when we’re going to show up in the polls, we’re showing up for our communities as well.”
Omar discussed what it means to her family to be American as a child of Muslim immigrants and reflected on her grandfather’s dreams of the United States.
“I remember my grandfather’s reasoning for wanting to come to the United States above any other country was that in America, eventually everyone becomes an American,” Omar said. “That idea that the United States itself is a country that is a welcoming country that absorbs its diverse community into one. A country that celebrates its diversity and uplifts it is one that is instilled in my heart.”
Omar also said voting is an important aspect of being American.
“Our issues, our existence, our dignity, our humanity is on the ballot,” Omar said. “So if we are to fight for what the American ideal is, what the American existence is, what the American experiment is –– it’s to fight to rid ourselves of the heathen bigotry that is being spread by the current leaders that we have in this country.”
El-Sayed talked about his experience growing up as a Muslim American, talking about the discrimination he faced.
“This is the way that racism operates,” El-Sayed said. “It has really nothing to do with any sense of actual ties to this country. It has everything to do with finding a way (to) otherize you and to exclude you and marginalize you. But that was the experience growing up as a Muslim American.”
El-Sayed also shared an anecdote from his time visiting family in Egypt. He reflected on Egypt’s lack of free speech and how his time spent overseas impacted his views on the importance of promoting civil liberties through voting.
“That ability to say what you want to say, to engage in the political process, to speak your mind –– something that we’re all doing here –– that itself is on the ballot,” El-Sayed said. “Nothing short of the democracy and all of the freedoms and the rights that come with it are on the ballot in this election.”
In reference to prominent civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, El-Sayed said the values of social justice made it possible for marginalized communities to demand their rights.
“When I think about the original Muslim Americans in this society, they didn’t fight for some Muslim identity, they fought for justice writ large for everyone,” El-Sayed said. “I think about the organizing principle for all of us and it’s not just about fighting for your own, it is also about fighting for the ideals that include all of us.”
Sanders, responding to a question from the audience about health care, emphasized that it is a human right no matter what a person’s circumstances are.
“Health care is a human right,” Sanders said. “It’s not a privilege, it’s not a job benefit. Everybody in this country is entitled to comprehensive health care whether you’re a zillionaire, whether you’re unemployed, whether you’re poor, whether you’re old, whether you’re young. This is not a radical idea that all of us are thinking about. This exists in almost every major country on earth.”
El-Sayed called on Muslim voters to ensure they make it to the polls in November.
“As we vote as a community, broadly, and I’m speaking to the Muslim community now, we have to recognize our ability to make our mark on our society,” El-Sayed said. “It’s about whether or not we are willing to put down for justice for everyone else and that is what is at stake in this election.”
Daily Staff Reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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