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How Trump gets Washington state Muslims into politics

UW student Varisha Khan at the Democratic National Convention in July
UW student Varisha Khan at the Democratic National Convention in July. She says it's important that "the hate speech they we're hearing -- the hate speech that's become the norm -- that that gets challenged."

Donald Trump has replaced his earlier call for a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Now he demands ideological tests on immigrants. “I call it extreme, extreme vetting,” Trump said in a speech Monday in Ohio.

That kind of rhetoric is one reason more Muslims are getting involved with politics in Washington state than ever before.

Top read: Seattle's 'Reparations' experiment is working

One of them is UW student Varisha Khan. She was among at least six American Muslim delegates from Washington state at the Democrats' recent national convention in Philadelphia. 

"As an American Muslim I've seen hate speech on so many levels in this election -- and even prior to the election,” she said. “And what's really important to me is that the hate speech that we're hearing - the hate speech that's become the norm - that that gets challenged."

Khan said there's a direct connection between hate speech and hate crimes.

And concerns about hate speech escalated during, and after, the Democrats' convention when the father of a dead Muslim U.S. soldier called out Trump. 

"He vows to build walls and ban us from this country. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?" Khizr Khan, no relation to Varisha Khan, said to thunderous applause.

In his response, Trump implied that Khizr Khan's wife stood silently on stage and wasn’t allowed to speak because she's Muslim.

More than 70 percent of Americans disapproved of how Trump handled the dispute. In Washington state, home to several military bases, some felt the sting of Trump's words personally. 

[asset-images[{"caption": "Khalid Lites of Shoreline, Washington is a third generation American Muslim and former service member.", "fid": "128965", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201608/khalid.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery"}]]"My grandfather served in WWII. And he was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, with the 101st Airborne. His service to country inspired my father, and my father did 20-odd years in,” said Khalid Lites of Shoreline. “I saw the great respect that my father had for this country and I wanted to give back. It was a no brainer for me."

Lites is himself former military -- third generation. He's also a third-generation American Muslim. And he sees a strong connection between his faith and his family's service to country.

"In the military you serve with people of all walks of life, and with that you get to see the beauty of humanity,” Lites said. “Your service not just to country, but also to fellow soldier. I find that to encompass what we call in our religion … what you want for yourself, you want for your brother."

Lites said he’s not that interested in politics. But he said this year with so much misinformation about Muslims, it's time to speak out.

"Just like civil rights,” he said. “I'm African American. My grandparents -- they had to speak out. And if we stand on the sidelines, what will happen? I have served. I have a story. Why not share it?"

[asset-images[{"caption": "Arsalan Bukhari says hate speech has made Muslim Americans realize that \"their job is to get involved - now more than ever.\" ", "fid": "128960", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201608/20160816-arsalan-bukhari-cair.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW PHOTO/GIL AEGERTER"}]]Arsalan Bukhari shares the sentiment. He's executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

"Last year in 2015 we saw the highest number of anti-Muslim hate crimes ever in American history. CAIR offices nationwide saw 1-2 daily reports,” he said.

“And the average American Muslim saw on their Facebook feeds and on social media the reports that came out. They realized their job is to get involved now more than ever. That's the sentiment we're hearing from people across the country."

The political action isn’t just on the Democrats’ side, even though recent polls show only about 10 percent of Muslims identify as Republicans this year.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Hossein Khorram of Clyde Hill supported Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.", "fid": "127983", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201607/20160718-HosseinKhorramcropped-MM.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Matt Martin"}]]Businessman Hossein Khorram of Clyde Hill was a delegate for Donald Trump at the Republican convention in Cleveland. And Khorram will co-host a Trump fundraiser in the Seattle area at the end of the month. He said Trump’s problem is a matter of tone, not substance.

"I'm a Muslim and I've talked with many Muslims -- and they don't quite like the way he says things,” Khorram said. “His language is not very friendly, but the content of his message is very appealing to the Muslims."

For his part, Bukhari said American Muslim delegates who went to the Republican and Democratic conventions are his heroes.

"They showed millions of other American Muslims watching it on TV that they too have the right and responsibility to get involved and their voice matters," he said.

But what impact will their political action have? After all, Muslims make up only around 1 percent of the total U.S. population. In Washington state, Bukhari estimates there are only 100,000 to 150,000.

Still, he said it’s about more than those small numbers.

"American Muslims are not simply voters by themselves,” he said. “There's coalitions that have built over the last many, many years with business, with labor, with faith groups.

"So it's not just American Muslim communities that candidates have to target. It's millions of ally communities across the country as well." 

Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.

Year started with KUOW: 2004