Support For Trump in Alabama Still High Despite Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

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From a pig’s head left outside a Philadelphia mosque this week to mounting threats in other parts of the US, the backlash against Muslims has intensified. In Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan is reportedly distributing fliers urging recruits to “fight the spread of Islam in our country.” This, along with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s heated rhetoric, has many of the state’s Muslims on edge. 

Heba Rihan, Muslim stay-at-home mom in Vestavia Hills, feels that anxiety. Usually when the news is on tv, and her kids are around, Rihan keeps it on mute or turns it off. But a few nights ago, her 7-year-old son caught a headline about Trump scrolling across the bottom of the screen. And he asked about it. 

“‘Haven’t you seen, he wants to ban Muslims from coming to the States.’ And I was kind of shocked because he’s too young,” says Rihan. He peppered her with all sorts of questions, about family in Egypt and whether they might be able to visit. Rihan says he worried that he wouldn’t be let back into the country if the family went for a vacation outside of the states. In his 7-year-old mind, this was Trump’s mission.

This was exactly the kind of uncertainty Rihan didn’t want her kids to experience.  She herself is both frustrated and fearful these days. She won’t go anywhere she’s never been without her husband or her friends.  As of this week, there will be police at the Hoover mosque where her kids go to Sunday school.

“It’s good that you feel safe, but on the other hand, it’s hard to explain to your kids why now we have a police officer in our mosque or our Islamic center,” Rihan says.

Also this week, school board members at the Islamic Academy of Alabama in Homewood met with law enforcement officials to request more security. Labeebah Abdullah is the school nurse and bus driver. When Abdullah drives the students to and from school, she is extra vigilant. 

“In terms of if I stop or something, I’m just very conscious of my surroundings. But especially since the rhetoric from Donald Trump and things have happened, I’m a little more self-conscious,” explains Abdullah. “What he’s saying is very extreme, but there’s a group of people, if the polls are any indication, that feel like he feels.”

Abdullah is right. Despite Trump’s recent statements about Muslims, support for Trump is still strong in Alabama.

Mark Miller owns a Christian book store in Vestavia Hills. Miller says Trump is unpredictable and emotional, but he’d still vote for him.

“I don’t like some of the stupid things he says,” says Miller. “To me, that doesn’t negate some of his ideas and principles. I think he says what a lot of people are thinking but don’t have the courage to say.”

Farther down the road is Bryan Gentry, who sells mattresses. 

“Initially I liked Trump a whole lot. I think he’s a brilliant man,” says Gentry. But, he says he’s had a change of heart. “I’m a little concerned over his last position on the Muslim agenda. I think he may be pushing the envelope just a little bit there.” Now, he says he’s more likely to support Ted Cruz or Carly Fiorina as the GOP nominee.

Not so for Vestavia Barbershop owner Donna McLaurin. She says her view of Trump has stayed the same in recent weeks.

“Nothing has scared me,” she comments. “Few of my lawyers coming in the shop, they’re hem-hawing back and forth saying ‘Oh he’s a loose cannon, he’ll mess up during crunch time. But the majority of our customers, just hard-working middle class America, they’re ready for it,” says McLaurin.

She also says if Trump is ever in Vestevia, she’d be happy to give him a free haircut. Not that he needs one. Well, she says, maybe just a little… improvement.

 

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