American Failure of “Lesser of Two Evils”

The pinnacle of identity politics rears its head when Kamala Harris is announced as Vice President. Attorney and Columnist Wajahat Ali exclaims, “[L]et me also enjoy the fact we’re going to have someone who knows her mirch and masala in the White House.”1 Elsewhere, Aman Ali, who once explained that “jihad means struggle” like “trying to get a girl’s number,” is reminding Muslims to thank the activism that managed to get Biden to drop the word InshaAllah in a political debate.2 This is the same Biden who is now facilitating a large sum of money to a foreign country while providing a paltry 20 trucks of humanitarian aid to an open-air prison facing genocide.

Wajahat Ali and Aman Ali are not the sole bearers of such discourse. They are symptoms of the same political class and allies whose rallying cry is characterized by a broader color palette.3 This class of activism has continuously pressured the community into overlooking moral concerns, such as voting for candidates who support pride parades and unrestricted access to abortion, because of foreign policy. Because of Palestine. But its only legacy will be how it was backwater engagement: failing and crumbling in full view of the Palestinians it has been unable to save.

Palestine was and remains the red line, but Biden and his allies have decided to draw “no red lines for Israel.”4 The political class has taken to writing think pieces and downtrodden essays about how their party, and by extension their wallets, will suffer if we retract our votes. The White House is “scrambling to repair relations” with Muslim and Arab constituents.5 The obvious solution to change policies to not serve genocidal dicta conveniently eludes them.

One attorney and political commentator even writes, “I know many people will not want to think about American political realities so soon after a terrorist attack, while Israel continues to pummel Gaza with air strikes, and Hamas continues to hold Israeli hostages. But, as a person who desperately wants to stop the antidemocratic tide of MAGA-style fascism in my own country, I cannot help but be concerned.”6

He is right. Most of us do not care about American political realities or “MAGA-style fascism” right now because our suffering pales in the face of brutal genocide. Where is the Democratic party’s love for labeling all things conservative as fascist in the brutal occupation of Palestine? What have these parties done for us? Perhaps there is a pragmatic justification for invoking votes. Surely, the Democratic party will reconsider its stance when faced with the prospect of losing. But maybe they will continue complicity in foreign slaughter, knowing many will begrudgingly hand over their votes anyway.

Our two-party system is a race to see who can be evil, but just fractionally less-so than the other to desperately clutch at moral straws. “The lesser of two evils” is a consistent call to entice the rest of the community into voting blue, no matter who the candidate is, one continued in every election post-9/11. Despite policies and initiatives that either contradict Islamic tenets or harm Muslims, the open vitriol towards Muslims from the Republican party has motivated the community to “stay true to the Blue” vote at any cost. While ideologically left-leaning Muslims support the Democratic party because they genuinely believe in the party’s platform, many observant Muslims used this line as a placeholder until a more viable, true-to-Islamic-principles option comes to light. Despite wishful thinking, this strategy has yielded little to no benefit to the Muslim community. Aside from the beneficiaries of White House Iftars, little has resulted from the alliance. General moral degradation of the nation, bolstered by liberal legislation, is the only substantial change we can point to. Benefits remain largely in the domain of solidified legal protections for accommodations at work and school, more awareness of anti-Islam sentiment, etc., but these are more the result of local grassroots work than of party alliance.

Support for Israel is famously the only bipartisan issue in American politics. Despite this, Muslims voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. While Palestine was not at the forefront of the 2020 election, America’s funding of the apartheid regime and contribution to the deaths of Palestinians has been a reality for decades. Muslims sacrificed their principles to put someone in office who has historically been an ardent promoter of Israel—for what? Largely inconsequential DEI initiatives that subsume Muslims into the same pronoun-wielding minority? Same violent foreign policies, cushioned negligibly?

Those who chastise Muslims for declaring their refusal to vote in the next election use the logic that Donald Trump or any Republican candidate will be detrimental to the country and that these Muslims are being selfish for being principled. The expression, “abstaining from voting is a vote for Trump,” has been called upon as well. While this makes almost no logical sense, the people calling to vote for Biden exempt themselves from metaphysical consequences.  We are still accountable for who we promote and support with our votes. If we are well aware of the promotion of genocide from both parties, why do we think it’s okay to support one in favor of the other, only to get some progressive policies on the table? Will we not be held accountable on the Day of Judgment? Will the hand we used to put these criminals into office not testify against us? Will our martyred Palestinian brothers and sisters not ask us why we enabled their slaughter? Is the small possibility of a beneficial policy worth it if it comes at the cost of Gaza?

Our creed tells us our actions do have consequences. Regardless of whether we believe other benefits will come by compromising on all the issues of the Democratic party, we will be held accountable for every Muslim killed, every desecration of the sacred, and every policy that violates Islamic principles.

Additionally, to those who perceive the Right to potentially be more friendly to Islam and the Muslim pursuit of religious freedom, make no mistake: the vitriol and hate toward our people are still very present. Many right-wing figures, who as recently as last month called for an alliance with Muslims on the basis of opposing progressive gender ideology, now slander the Prophet (saw).7 Most clamor to express their overt Zionism, or covertly support the annihilation of the people of Gaza. American conservatism is a failed project; the ‘traditional values’ they call for are the liberal mores of the 20th century. Loyalty to a foreign nation supersedes their sense of honor for their co-religionists being massacred in Palestine. They parade around women like trophies, make a mockery of the sacred, and use the same progressive barometer that they otherwise oppose domestically, to justify genocide.

Trust in the entire political party binary was overdue for a collapse. The sacrifices made in getting Muslims into higher positions of power at every cost were a disastrous failure and we will have nothing to do with their selfish aims. We will not vote in upcoming national elections. The question remains: then what? 

There are other options that the Muslim communities and others sickened by catastrophic American politics often identify as viable. The first is hijra, or migrating. Other than the obvious question of where, it implicates the permissibility of whether living in a non-Muslim land in the first place, and is of scholarly purview. It also does not address the problem of what we do now.

The second option is third-party politics. While many democracies predominantly feature a two-party system, political scientists argue that the existence of third parties allows individuals to vote for candidates whose platforms more closely align with their beliefs. Political scientists like Maurice Duverger (d. 2014), in looking at what conditions give rise to dominating two-party systems, have argued that a multi-party system can offer more diverse choices. But we see the same problems as above: Western hegemony sets the bounds of ‘diverse choices.’ Is the choice between two evils substantially improved by the introduction of a third lesser evil? Additionally, a third-party is not likely to succeed. Structural changes, such as electoral system reform or changes to ballot access laws, would be necessary, for a plausible shot at winning.

The third, and most feasible immediate option will be to focus on the local level, which has a more immediate and tangible impact on daily life. Issues like education, public safety, infrastructure, certain types of tax, and zoning decisions are decided at the local level, for example. By participating in these elections, Muslims can directly influence the policies and decisions that affect the community. Consider the recent case of the majority-Muslim council in Hamtramck, Michigan, which passed a ban on flying any “religious, ethnic, racial, political, or sexual orientation group flags” on public and city property in June, and in doing so was able to rightly remove pride flags as an assumed stance imposed on everyone. While this may seem small, it is an example of tangible impact. Local candidates are typically more accessible and accountable to their constituents and are more likely to be aware of and responsive to local concerns. This means a vote or challenge in local elections can have a more direct and personalized influence on the behavior of elected officials. In the age of the internet and social media, we often neglect upfront engagement: participation in town hall meetings, open forums, and the like.

It would behoove us as a community to develop individuals to take on these local positions; individuals with a strong grounding in the Islamic tradition coupled with an uncompromising nature would do well for our community in these less glamorous political offices. Jumping directly into these larger roles often comes with the expectation of compromise, whereas these positions, which are often not party affiliated, would be an arena to enact change without the pull to fold on our sacred principles.

If there are a thousand like-minded individuals, connected to traditional circles of ‘ilm and engaging with credible scholars, on the local level, our beliefs are more accurately represented. 

One of the divides in the Muslim community is that those with political aspirations are usually those with the least Islamic qualifications; and those righteous and studied avoid such interaction, for good reason, altogether. This standard of engagement should not only be in the political space, but every institution of influence: medicine, business, technology, and the like. What we need is a class of Muslims who have, at minimum, properly studied their fard al-ayn, and are seasoned and strategic thinkers.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

  3. To their credit, Wajahat Ali has been vocal on the war crimes being committed in Palestine, and Aman Ali has previously vocalized support for the Palestinian people.[]
  6. Biden’s Israel-Palestine Policy Could Cost Him the Election, The Nation,[]
Farhana Khan

Farhana Khan is based out of North America. She is interested in the Islamic sciences and medical ethics.

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