On social media, a friend recently tagged all their contacts on every Jill Stein post urging us to cast our votes for the Green party candidate. “Don’t settle for Clinton when Jill Stein genuinely shares many of our values.”
Another called on all Muslims to abstain from voting altogether, making the case that it is morally wrong for Muslims to support any candidate who indelibly contradicts our core ethics.
Others are simply throwing their hands up in a pessimistic kind of apathy, “Whether or not we vote, the outcome will be terrible, so why get involved?”
Not About Us, Without Us
American Muslims have seen a huge increase in engagement this year, perhaps in response to the spotlighting of Muslims and Islam throughout much of the presidential campaigns.
Spurred by a sense of urgency, the movement seeking to encourage Muslims to show up at the polls has seen some success by affirming that “this election won’t be about us, without us.”
The “Lesser Of Two Evils” Is Still Evil
Should Muslims vote for a third party candidate, not vote at all, or vote for one of the top two candidates? Not all Muslims are yet convinced they should participate claiming, “The lesser of two evils is still an evil.”
World-renowned classical scholar Ibn ul-Qayyim provides insight on this with these 4 categories:
- Evil is removed and replaced with something better
- Evil is reduced even if it is not completely removed
- Evil is replaced with a similar one
- An evil is replaced by a greater evil
He explains that Islam mandates the first two categories, the third is a matter of scholarly deduction (based on the circumstances), and the fourth is prohibited. He saw evil in degrees and understood that the greater one must be avoided at all costs when one of them is inevitable.
A Tale Of Two Evils
Conscientious American Muslims don’t want to be accomplices to wrongdoing and fear that voting for either candidate is implicit approval for every one of their positions.
On one hand, Clinton is seen as a hawkish advocate of military intervention. We look in horror at the unbridled downward spirals produced in places such as Libya and Iraq, and the thousands of civilian casualties - which suggest her judgment on the outcomes of intervention is flawed. Accusations of dishonesty and greed seem to follow her relentlessly.
Although displaying some level of concern for Muslims, by highlighting the patriotism of Humayun Khan, and by disavowing the Islamophobia spreading throughout the country - American Muslims have trouble believing her concerns are genuine.
Although Clinton rejects the term “Islamic Terrorism” to avoid “offending our allies” or alienating Americans who could be “our eyes and ears on the front lines of the war on terror”- she offers an equally distasteful alternative: “Radical Jihadist Terror” in its place. No less offensive, this label also hijacks a term - Jihad, which is rich in meaning and sacred - and fuses it with an indisputably horrific term: terrorism. Using either term validates the terrorists’ MO, while mischaracterizing the religion of 1.6 billion human beings.
On the other hand, Donald Trump pits Americans against one another, lacks intimate knowledge of government, suggests religious tests in contrast to our constitution, and insults large portions of our population. Even experts are unimpressed with his foreign policy ideas. Millions heard him proclaim, “I think Islam hates us” and he insists that terrorism - which the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide condemn as un-Islamic - is in fact “Islamic.”
Frighteningly draconian statements like, “bomb the hell out of them”, “in the good old days, he’d be brought out on a stretcher”, his promises to “pay the legal fees” of his supporters who “rough up” protesters, and his proclamation that he “could stand on 5th Ave and shoot somebody and not lose any voters” - only embolden his base.
A long history of demeaning and objectifying women completes the picture of this unwholesome character.
Struggling to be presidential, his behavior on the campaign trail displays reckless unpredictability. While he brags about the size of his hands - many worry about allowing them anywhere near the nuclear codes. Our country could be at the cusp of taking a terribly dark turn.
The Company They Keep
More insight can be gained by looking at the individuals surrounding each candidate. Clinton is supported by Barack and Michele Obama, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Colin Powell, - all people with decent favorability ratings.
Meanwhile, Trump is having difficulty garnering support amongst his own party - some even say his nomination has incited a civil war within the Republican Party. His inability to unite the leaders within his party may be a preview of what’s to come for the nation.
Why Choose “The Lesser of Two Evils” When There’s a Better Third Party Option?
Among American Muslims, some are inclined to choose a third party candidate that appears to have a virtuous character and more palatable positions on issues like foreign aid, military interventionism, economics and healthcare.
This late in the race, third parties are simply not viable - polling at under 10%. Voting third party may be a vote of principle - but not a vote of effective results. Polls can be wrong - but it is highly unlikely that anyone down more than 90 points will wind up a winner. This year, a third party vote is a wasted vote.
Bi-Partisan Consensus on Contentious Policy Issues
For Muslims, the idea of condoning many of the political policies or particular behaviors of these candidates is unthinkable. However, when faced with two bad choices, where one of them is inevitable, the Muslim is mandated to repel the greater evil by choosing the lesser one. Casting a vote merely means doing our individual part to prevent “the greater of two evils” from gaining the presidency.
Voting based on individual policies is to succumb to a kind of tunnel vision - a pro-lifer may vote for a candidate who opposes abortion, but may end up voting for someone who will destroy thousands of innocent lives through strife and reckless war.
There are certain constants in American politics that are unlikely to change much regardless of who is in the White House. Choosing based on distaste for policies that have bipartisan support and are likely to endure - ignores the other variables in the election where change is possible.
Voting for Nobody is Voting for Somebody
Everyone’s performance or lack thereof in an election has an impact. Voting for nobody is a passive vote for somebody. The absence of votes for one is leverage for another.
How will non-voters feel if the candidate they knew to be the “greater evil” wins - and that the their votes could have prevented it?
The primaries clearly show us the effect of low voter turnout - with only 28.5% of eligible voters voting- we ended up with the two most unfavorable candidates in history. Low voter turnout or third-party votes could lead us to end up with the worst possible president in history - an unacceptable category 4.