Ex-Republican Muslims Explain Why They Left the Party Behind

"When I go to the Muslim community I don't feel like I'm totally embraced because I'm a Republican, and when I hang out with Republicans I don't feel like I fit in there."

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Aug 26 2016, 7:00pm

A mosque in Los Angeles. Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski​

According to the Council of Arab Islamic Relations (CAIR), about 70 percent of American Muslims voted for George W. Bush in 2000. Twelve years later, only 4 percent voted for Mitt Romney.

Those numbers underscore just how badly the Republican Party has estranged itself from what one of its natural constituencies. The industrious, fiscally conservative, family-oriented values of American conservatism should give the GOP a lot of in common with religious Muslims, but after the war on terror and more than a decade of having their faith demonized, not too many Muslims have decided to remain in the party of Bush. Donald Trump's call for a ban on Muslim immigration may have put an exclamation point on the trend, but the Muslim exodus from the GOP started a lot earlier than that.

VICE tracked down a handful of Muslims who once identified as Republican but have leaned Democratic in recent elections. Here's what they had to say about why they left the party—or why they feel the party left them.

Sarah Cochran

VICE: What's your background like?
Sarah Cochran: I was born and raised in the Kuwait by expat parents from India. As a child, I always looked forward to moving to America because it was the place I could finally belong. I was 18 when I arrived—four days before Saddam invaded. I ended up staying here because I couldn't go back, and there weren't any universities in Kuwait anyway. My dad ended up losing everything because of the invasion, so I worked a graveyard shift and put myself through community college.

After that I had an arranged marriage and moved to Texas with my new husband, and spent about ten years sitting at home and having kids. But I had a change of heart, got divorced, and applied to Georgetown's master's program in conflict resolution. As I was graduating, I got a job on [Republican] Ed Gillespie's campaign for Virginia's Senate seat. That's when my interest in politics started. I was in charge of his Muslim outreach. I worked really hard on that.

How did your parents vote?
My parents were both diehard Republicans; my dad even supported the party financially. I think he has gotten a little lost like I did, but he's still hardcore. But I've become very critical, obviously. My criticism goes back to the Bush days. Navigating that space with my dad, I noticed that it was kinda like a frat house: a little racist, a little cliquey. I was like, Well, this doesn't feel right. I think what's happening right now is emblematic of what's been happening for a while.

How has your relationship with the party changed since 9/11?
The party doesn't really appeal to us anymore. I stuck to my guns because think there's a congruence between Islamic values as Christian values, which the party is based on. But I draw the line when you start getting into the realm of injustice and racism. I do believe you can be magnanimous and a party for all people and still be conservative. When [Barack] Obama came along, it was the first time I voted for Democrat. At the end of the day, I want a leader who's going to make sound, intelligent decisions under pressure.

What was it like to give a lot to the Republicans, then start to feel ostracized by that same party?
When I first joined the Gillespie campaign, I felt like the oddball. But very, very quickly I made myself a part of the team. I think they just grew to respect my allegiance to the campaign.

I do feel alienated right now because he's running for governor next year, and he's throwing his weight behind Trump. I respect his decision because it's for the party, but I feel like this party is not supporting the right values and is trying to stay together like a club.

"It's really hard to be a Muslim, a Republican, a woman, and a mother. It's hard to be all those things at once."

How do you feel about the Trump campaign?
It causes me a lot of anxiety because I am a mother of four, so I worry about my children's safety and the opportunities they'll have when they come out of school. I never thought I'd have to worry about these things in this country considering where I've lived in the past, where you couldn't open your mouth. It's really hard to be a Muslim, a Republican, a woman, and a mother. It's hard to be all those things at once. When I go to the Muslim community, I don't feel like I'm totally embraced because I'm a Republican, and when I hang out with Republicans, I don't feel like I fit in there.

Have you decided who you're voting for this November?
I haven't. It'd be so disingenuous if I didn't vote, so I'm either going to have to make a really hardcore decision the day of. I have been YouTubing [Libertarian Party candidate] Gary Johnson a lot. None of them look like presidents to me. None of them. I'm scared, actually, I'm not sure what I'll do. If I vote for Hillary, it will be purely for the women power thing, because I don't agree with her on anything.

Tariq Malik

VICE: When did you come to America, and how long have you been voting Republican?
Tariq Malik
: I moved here from Pakistan when I was 17 years old. I'm 61 now, so it's been a long, long time.

Who was the first president you voted for?
The first president I voted for was Jimmy Carter, then I voted for [Ronald] Reagan, and then for Bush.

And then you started voting Democratic after that?
Yes. I supported John Kerry and then Obama. For a while, the Republicans had a pretty good agenda. They were fiscally conservative, Reagan did some immigration reforms, they were focused on the Constitution, they believed in smaller government—and those are good things in my opinion. But on the other hand, I think the Republican Party has kinda lost their own party.

What's it been like watching the Donald Trump campaign?
He's just fear-mongering, which is not good for the tenor of our nation. One of the reasons I got my citizenship and stayed here is because I like the whole concept of America. I want to be part of it, I want to contribute to it. I run businesses and help people, and I think a lot of people are like me—Muslims, non-Muslims, whatever. At some point, everybody came here, and that's what makes this country. That's what we're so proud of. I consider myself an American who's loyal to this country as much as anyone else. To talk about segregation by faith—I'm not that religious myself—that's against the Constitution. A presidential candidate creating those differences isn't true to the country.

What does the Republican Party have to do to win your vote back?
I think they have to connect to the people. They have to go back to their original concepts of fiscal conservatism and put more emphasis on domestic agenda because we need to take care of our own people first. I like the idea of empowering state governments, so they can handle their own affairs. Those are all still part of the party, but they've been put on the back burner to issues that are more politically charged.

Ashraf Abou Elezz

VICE: What's your background with Islam? Did you grow up in it?
Ashraf Abou Elezz:
I'm a Muslim by birth, I was born in Egypt in 1960 and raised there. In 1991 I moved to the States.

Were your parents conservative?
Growing up in Egypt, it was a socialist one-party system. My mother had some liberal ideas, and my father was a judge and didn't have strong views on politics at the time. They were both opposing the dictatorship, but not actively opposing it.

Who was the first president you voted for in America?
I got my citizenship in 2001, which was right after George W. Bush was elected. I was leaning more Republican at the time as I was getting my citizenship, because I found some of the moral aspects of the Republican Party were more consistent with my viewpoints. But after the war in Iraq, I changed my affiliation. My first registration as a voter was Republican but that switched very quickly.

"Right now, for Arabs and Muslims and minorities, to support the Republican Party is like cockroaches supporting Raid"

What do you think of this campaign?
Regardless of what [Donald Trump] says or what he is, as a person he's not qualified to be a president. First, he doesn't have the expertise in politics. While he may be a smart businessman, as a person, he's not smart enough. The comments he's making are showing he's very superficial in the way he thinks. My main concern with Donald Trump is that professionally—as a professional politician—he's not qualified. Maybe I like my barber very much, but I'm not going to him to get my gallbladder removed. My surgeon might not be the most morally acceptable person, but at least he does have the education and the training to do the job.

Do you know who you'll be voting for this election?
Right now, I think I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton. She's not my number-one choice, but she's the only alternative I can see that's capable of being president for the next four years.

Nasser Beydoun

VICE: What's your background?
Nasser Beydoun:
I was born in Beirut, my parents came to America when I was five years old. I was raised in Detroit, went to college in San Diego, lived in Qatar for five years. I used to run the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce, and now I'm chairman of the Arab-American Civil Rights League.

How long have you vote Republican?
I've voted Republican in every presidential election except 2004, when I voted for Kerry.

What first drew you to the Republican Party?
I liked the Republican's centrist worldview when it came to foreign policy, and I liked their fiscal conservatism. I like giving people the opportunity to move forward.

How did the party start to lose you?
My disillusionment started with the second Iraq war because I had a gut feeling that it was based on lies. And obviously since then we've learned that that was a war we never should've had.

You voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012—those were both pretty centrist candidates. What do you think has happened to the party that's made it so radical?
I think it started with the Tea Party, which was made up of uneducated white folks scared of losing their privilege. A lot of the pent-up racism in the United States was drawn out. Trump delivered a message that a lot of people wanted to hear but were afraid of saying it themselves. And also, Congress had a lot to do with it, with their "no-to-everything" policy they had with Obama. Anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian. Everything that was "anti" started to embody the Republican Party.

When you hear Donald Trump talk about things like banning Muslims from entering the country, do you get scared?
First of all, I don't think he believes a lot of the things he says. He's pandering to the 12 million ignorant Americans who support him. Trump doesn't scare me; it's the education system that allows him to exist that scares me.

Do you think the Republican Party realizes it could be doing a better job to reach that community?
The Muslim community is conservative, it's family-oriented, it's highly educated, and fiscally responsible. It's very easy to reach out to the Muslims. But I think the Republican Party is going to be humiliated by Trump, and once they go through their autopsy, they'll realize if they continue their racist ideology they're just going to become the Whigs of modern times.

What does the Republican Party have to do to win your vote back?
On a local level, we have a great relationship with our Republican governor [of Michigan] Rick Snyder, but on a national level, I don't think they're ever going to be able to come out of the hole that Donald Trump has dug for them. Right now, for Arabs and Muslims and minorities, to support the Republican Party is like cockroaches supporting Raid.

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