Muslim running for U.S. Senate insulted online for religion
There weren’t a ton of people commenting on U.S. Senate hopeful Deedra Abboud’s campaign Facebook page before last week.
Then Abboud, a littleknown candidate in Arizona’s 2018 Democratic primary, posted a short tribute to the Founding Fathers, religious freedom and the separation of church and state — and the flood gates opened.
“Sorry no room for Muslims in our government,” wrote Chris Siemers.
“Towel headed piece of [expletive],” wrote Brian Zappa.
Abboud, a liberal 45year-old attorney and firsttime political candidate, might be a long shot in redstate Arizona. But the fact that Abboud, who converted to Islam in her 20s, also wears a visual marker of her faith — a headscarf — might also have just landed her unlikely campaign in the national spotlight.
“Now, I’m more on radar. More people know that I’m out there,” Abboud said in an interview Wednesday, noting a silver lining to the larger “ugliness” that she said the online attacks had exposed.
Originally from Little Rock, Ark., Abboud moved to Arizona as a young adult in the late ’90s, and spent most of her career since then doing advocacy work, including as the founding director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Arizona chapter, before attending law school and working as an immigration and estate law attorney.
Her campaign’s Facebook page is filled with posts on her policy positions in favor of environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, health-care access and a higher minimum wage. But it wasn’t until last week, amid the onslaught of xenophobic and racist insults that other people started to respond to her policy prescriptions as well.
Many of the negative commenters assumed that Abboud is a Middle Eastern immigrant, which she is not.
“I’d have to say I agree,” Desiree Miller wrote in response to a post about raising the minimum wage.
“Do you really think that the corporation is going to willingly double their payroll without passing that cost on to the consumer?” wrote Aaron Kuhne.
Running for political office as a Muslim in 2017 — when nonprofit watchdog groups are recording dramatic spikes in anti-Muslim rhetoric and harassment across the country — can seem fraught or exceedingly stressful.
President Donald Trump has painted Islam as a religion at odds with American values and Muslim immigrants as part of a potential “Trojan horse” plot aiming to attack or destroy the United States from within.
Such political rhetoric has fueled noticeable spikes in hate crimes, as well as “hate incidents” — typically verbal attacks like insults plastered on a Facebook page or hurled in the aisle of a grocery store that don’t rise to the level of a crime — said Brian Levin, a criminologist and hate crimes expert at California State University at San Bernardino.
“When political leaders are perceived to make intolerant statements with respect to Islam or pursue political policies that may appear intolerant, we see a correlation in hate crimes over the short term,” Levin said.