Meet the Muslim-American backing Trump

Trump, popular for his Islamophobic comments, has a backer who is a Muslim, Arab and an immigrant as well.

Kamal Nawash
Nawash believes Trump stands out because of his bold and independent approach [Chris Sheridan/Al Jazeera]

Everything about Kamal Nawash indicates he would be Donald Trump’s least-likely backer: Muslim, Arab and an immigrant.

But ask the Washington DC lawyer about the presumptive Republican nominee – who has threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the country – and he sounds like he pulled a page right out of the Trump playbook.

“He’s [Trump] telling people that are used to being bosses, ‘f— you, I’ve been a boss all my life and I’m going to be a boss even over you,” says Nawash, 46, referring to the candidate’s approach to the political establishment.

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The story of Nawash is about as American as they come. Born in the Occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem to Palestinian parents, his father wanted a better life for his children.

“One big thing for him wasn’t really money,” says Nawash, now a father of two children himself.

“It was to get us a good education.”

Nawash’s father chose the United States. More specifically, he chose New Orleans, Louisiana.

Nawash was nine-year-old when his parents brought their five children to the US. A sixth sibling would be born in America.

American dream

The family opened a grocery store in a poor neighbourhood, a very common thing for many new immigrants to do at the time.

“The crime was much higher but the profits were much higher,” recalls Nawash, who worked there as a stock boy and butcher.

Decades later, he is living the American dream. Nawash is an immigration lawyer who runs his own practice that sits just a half block from K street in Washington DC, one of the most prestigious postal codes in the United States.

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It’s an area where the powerful converge – attorneys, politicians and lobbyists – to craft legislation, discuss policy or advocate on behalf of multibillion dollar clients.

Not surprisingly, given where he works, he is obsessed with politics. That’s what brought him to Washington 20 years ago after a life-changing family trip.

And in this election cycle, Nawash has found his candidate.

“I respect people who understand how to make a deal,” Nawash says of Trump, a former reality show host and property mogul.

A demonstrator reacts during a protest against Trump, outside the Trump Tower building in Midtown Manhattan in New York [Reuters]
A demonstrator reacts during a protest against Trump, outside the Trump Tower building in Midtown Manhattan in New York [Reuters]

“Most of these other politicians don’t know how to make a deal.”

Nawash has been a card-carrying Republican since 1988, attracted to the party by President Ronald Reagan whose smaller government, pull-up-your-bootstraps message resonated with him.

Anti-war sentiments

But the US-led Iraq War, launched by former US President George W Bush following the 9/11 terror attacks, made him uncomfortable.

“I just thought it was wrong all around,” he says of the military campaign.

“That didn’t shake my belief in the party, but afterwards I started questioning our party leaders.”

So did the rest of the country, adds Nawash, who blames the Republican establishment’s myopic view of that conflict for the rise and eventual election of Barack Obama to the country’s highest office in 2008.

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So, last year, when candidate Trump echoed those anti-war sentiments – bucking the Republican view that the Iraq War was justified – and openly criticised Bush, Nawash felt the party had found their nominee.

“The fact that he said that shows a certain level of independence,” says Nawash.

“I liked that.”

Likewise, when Trump stood before an audience of prominent Jewish Republicans in Washington DC in December and refused to declare Jerusalem the undisputed capital of Israel, Nawash was equally impressed.

“It made me respect him,” he adds.

“The fact he didn’t lie and actually told his true feelings to a group where it’s unpopular.”

But his backing for Trump raises obvious questions.

‘Never Trump’ campaign

How does a Muslim immigrant support a man who has said that he would put a ban on people like him if he were elected to the White House?

In December, Trump ignited a controversy – that continues to this day – after two suspects shot up a San Bernardino, California government centre killing 14 people.

Both suspects – who died during a standoff with police afterwards – were reportedly Muslim.

Less than a week later, Trump issued a public statement, “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.

“He never said, ‘I want a ban on all Muslims'”, argues Nawash.

“He said, ‘Let’s look at this in light of the terrorist attacks’.”

As a lawyer, Nawash believes a policy like that would never actually happen. Rather, the statement helped Trump win votes during the primaries.

“It kept him in the news,” Nawash says. “It gave him two extra weeks in the news cycle.”

He also argues that Trump was merely saying what the US is already doing, even if they aren’t publicly admitting it: vetting, much more closely, potential immigrants from Middle Eastern countries.

In spite of Trump’s statements about Muslims, Nawash doesn’t consider himself unique.

Protestors hold up a sign towards the crowd at a rally for Donald Trump at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 20 [Reuters]
Protestors hold up a sign towards the crowd at a rally for Donald Trump at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 20 [Reuters]

“Never Trump” campaign

The Arab and Muslim community in the US is a diverse group, he points out, and he has met others who back Trump.

A survey in February conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that 7.5 percent of registered Muslim voters would cast their ballot for Trump, versus almost 52 percent for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. 

“Mr Nawash is the first Arab-American I know of that would be supporting Mr Trump,” argues David Ramadan, a former Virginia State Delegate who is originally from Lebanon and describes Nawash as “a one-man show” and “outlier”.

Referring to Trump as “fascistic”, Ramadan adds the Republican presumptive nominee represents “everything immigrants left behind in the Middle East”.

Ramadan has suspended his membership of the Republican Party as a result and joined the “Never Trump” campaign to prevent him from being elected.

The backlash doesn’t bother Nawash.

Still, he admits Trump’s comments on Muslims won’t help him in the months ahead.

“I would be satisfied if he never mentions it again,” adds Nawash.

Source: Al Jazeera