By Shahzeb Ahmed
He defends Donald Trump in English and Urdu, Pakistan’s national language.
“At least the man says what he thinks; at least he’s not merely echoing those that pay him to do so,” says Talat Rashid, his hands gently resting on a small table in one of the trendier restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown.
He is wearing a dark suit that fits well on his small frame, giving him the appearance of a corporate lawyer or financial executive. His eyes stare through large-rimmed spectacles. He has a large, round face, a well-kempt moustache and a Kevin Malone hairdo.
Rashid, for one, does not believe Trump is racist at all. In fact, he feels certain that Trump’s rants – such as the time when he said he would ban the entry of all Muslims to the U.S. – are only meant to placate those who want to hear them.
“Politicians make such promises all the time,” he said. “I asked Mr. Trump about these statements when I met him in July last year at the Trump Tower. He told me he has many Muslim friends and many business interests in the Middle East. He can’t possibly ban Muslims. That is just political rhetoric.”
Historically, the majority of the approximately 6 million Muslims living in the U.S. had aligned themselves with the GOP as the party’s conservative values resonate with their own religious convictions.
Today, however, a sizeable majority of the almost 3 million Muslim Americans identify with the Democratic Party, with almost 70 percent either describing themselves as Democratic or say they lean Democratic, according to the Pew Center for Research. In contrast, hardly 6 percent identified as Republican.
According to an exit poll by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) after the November 2014 midterm elections, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, up to 76 percent of eligible Muslim voters in Virginia turned out to vote; over 70 percent whom supported Democratic candidates.
In fact, the last time Muslims voted as a bloc was for President George W Bush in the 2000 elections, which effectively tipped the polls in his favor. Trump has, however, managed to alienate the vast majority of the community through his call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and proposals for profiling members of the community to prevent terrorist attacks.
It’s late afternoon on a rainy Thursday. Rashid, who has made Illinois his home for almost four decades, was in his element as he animatedly talked about his career, political leanings and social work in his adopted country.
Rashid moved to the United States in 1979 to marry. His wife, who had migrated to the U.S. with her brother, was living in Evanston at the time. “I got my Green Card as part of the dowry,” he laughs, adding that it was never his intention to make the United States his permanent home. “I wanted to get quality higher education and then go back,” he said.
“Those were hard times,” he reminisced. “I couldn’t find a job because everyone kept saying, ‘you are overqualified.’ So I lied to the company I currently work in and managed to get hired as a laborer, doing menial jobs such as sweeping floors and lifting stuff in the warehouse.”
At the same time, he enrolled in the computer science program at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
“One day, the boss saw me studying while on break. He came up to me and asked me what I was reading. I knew I had been caught and would probably be fired because of the lie,” he said with another burst of laughter. Instead, Rashid was moved to a clerical position the very next day. That was the start to an illustrious career and today, he is the vice president of Tramco, a pump manufacturing company.
In 1987, Rashid moved his family of four to Bolingbrook, a suburb on the southwest of Chicago. He had yet to venture into American politics.
That same year, he joined the Bolingbrook Lions Club – the local chapter of the Lions Clubs International – a network of business people working for social causes. It was here that for the first time, Rashid rubbed shoulders with the political elite of the community.
“My neighbor, Wayne Kwiat, was a judge and the deputy-mayor at the time,” he said. Kwiat would frequently throw parties for the area’s influential, sometimes using Rashid’s backyard to pitch horseshoes. It was at these social gatherings that Rashid seriously started working with politicians, garnering support for their campaigns and assisting their outreach programs.
In 1999 Rashid formally joined the Republican Party. The then mayor, Roger C Claar, encouraged him to become an active member of the party, even appointing him as the planning commissioner of Bolingbrook in 2002 – a position he has held since. He also serves as the Republican Party’s Precinct Committeeman for DuPage 15 and is on Trump’s Muslim Advisory Board.
Rashid believes that Trump stands a very good chance of winning the election. “The whole country is tired of the system,” he said. “Here is one person who has openly spoken against it.”
“You can see that from the polls. They are almost neck and neck, even though Hillary has a whole lot of experience than Trump. That speaks for itself,” he added.
Rashid has supported Trump since the businessman entered the race in June 2015. “I considered former Florida governor Jeb Bush at the start, but even then I knew only Mr. Trump had the answer to the country’s financial woes.”
Having worked in the manufacturing industry nearly all his life, Trump’s words about bringing the manufacturing jobs back to America resonated with him.
Asked what he thinks the future looks like for the Muslim community in the United States, he said it is up to the community to shape its own narrative.
“Muslims in the U.S. remain entrenched in their own little gatherings, without making an effort to assimilate into the larger society,” he said.
“Until we get involved in politics and start making a contribution to society, we will always be seen as ‘the other.’ This is how the media has portrayed us and the only way the average American knows us.”
For now, Rashid is banking on Trump winning the election. His support, however, is ultimately rooted in the hope that Trump will not deliver on those promises; that he will not ban Muslims or build that wall or kill the families of enemy combatants.