Muslim and Arab Americans in Dearborn push 'Abandon Biden' campaign in battleground state

Residents of the 'Capital of Arab America' say President has deeply disappointed them

Inside the Arab American campaign to unseat US President Joe Biden in 2024

Inside the Arab American campaign to unseat US President Joe Biden in 2024
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Right before 1pm, dozens of men trickle into the Islamic Centre of Detroit, remove their shoes and enter the prayer room. A few minutes later, Imam Imran Salha arrives to convene afternoon prayers.

The young and outspoken Imam Salha joined the centre a year ago. His charisma and active social media presence has made him popular among Dearborn’s Arab and Muslim-American residents.

And he is now part of a community-led effort in Dearborn called “Abandon Biden” – a campaign aimed at punishing President Joe Biden and ensuring he loses his re-election bid due to his handling of the Israel-Gaza war.

“It was very organic in the way that it grew because the reality is, human beings can't just allow for something to happen to their loved ones without a response,” Imam Salha tells The National. He adds that at least 10 Palestinian families from among his congregation have lost relatives in Gaza.

Following an attack by Hamas on October 7, Israel launched a punishing military campaign on Gaza. Mr Biden has routinely expressed his solid support of Israel.

The Hamas attack killed nearly 1,140 people in Israel, according to Israeli authorities. In the more than four months of bombardments, about 28,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to local health authorities.

Throughout it all, Mr Biden has steadfastly refused to call for a ceasefire.

He has also bypassed Congress twice to approve emergency weapons sales to Israel and has questioned the number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza.

Dearborn’s Muslim and Arab-American residents, most of whom supported Mr Biden four years ago in their battleground state to vote out Donald Trump, now say not only will they not be voting for him this election – they want to ensure he loses.

“We can literally correlate his loss in the next election with what he did to the Palestinians,” Imam Salha says.

“This is our goal and we want it to be tied to his name, that he was a one-term president.”

Dearborn, the Capital of Arab America, is a sprawling suburb located on the outskirts of Detroit. The city, and with it the wider Wayne County, is home to the highest concentration of Arabs and people of Arab descent in the US.

Restaurants and shops with signs in Arabic and in English line both sides of the main street, and the city is home to the only Arab-American museum in the country. Dearborn has an Arab mayor and an Arab chief of police.

It also has an Arabic and English weekly newspaper, The Arab American News.

Osama Siblani, the paper’s publisher, says every edition since October 7 has featured events in Israel-Palestine on its cover.

A November issue ran with the headline: “Local Muslims and Arabs pledge to drive Biden out of office in 2024.”

But in addition to its stance on Israel and Palestine, Mr Siblani says, the Biden administration also did not keep other campaign promises, including reducing profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans at US borders and better representation in his cabinet.

None of the President's senior cabinet members are Arab American.

“They do not care about us. We don't count,” Mr Siblani told The National. “They took our votes and they gave us the middle finger – that's literally what they did.

“He promised us a seat at the table, [but] we don't even have a person in the building where the table is.”

In 2020, Mr Biden ran on a campaign promise to embrace diversity and overturn the legacy of his predecessor, Mr Trump, the former president who passed legislation banning citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

Muslim and Arab Americans, who make up about 5 per cent of Michigan voters, overwhelmingly voted for Mr Biden, helping him clinch victory in the critical battleground state. He won the state by 3 percentage points.

Mr Trump, who is likely to be the one to face Mr Biden again in November, has vowed to reintroduce his Muslim ban if re-elected.

“They are telling us, if you think Biden is genocidal, wait till you see Trump,” Amer Zahr, a comedian and political activist who has been at the forefront of the Abandon Biden campaign, says.

Campaign organisers say many voters plan on writing in their own messages on the ballot, and in the Democratic primaries in Michigan on February 27, will vote “uncommitted”.

Imam Salha contends that his community has been presented with a dilemma and that some Dearborn residents may vote for either candidate, out of a lack of better options.

“The goal is to abandon Biden – will people vote for Trump? I think some will,” he says. “Will some of them vote Democrat? Yes, that is a possibility.

“But we need to teach the authorities and those in power that we are not going to allow them to take us for granted to the extent that they will kill our people and we will just remain silent and maintain the status quo.”

Updated: February 19, 2024, 3:34 PM