As a Muslim American, I will abstain from voting this November

Published: November 1, 2016

‘Friends are astonished by my dilemma.’ PHOTO: AP

I am an American Muslim with one vote, and no person for whom to cast it. I became a citizen less than a year ago. This is my first election and yet, I won’t be joining the millions of other Americans going to the polls.

How could I squander such privilege, particularly when so many Muslim women in the world never get to vote? Voting my conscience – by abstaining – is a painful decision. Friends are astonished by my dilemma. Yet Clinton, for some Muslims, remains a problematic choice, and one I am not able to embrace.

Clinton’s complicity in entrenching and upholding the United States in drone wars troubles me most. During his eight years of his administration, President Barack Obama has authorised and legitimised drone operations to an unprecedented degree, overshadowing any operations under President George W Bush. Clinton was Secretary of State for four years during that time, and she was twice elected senator to New York before that, vocally supporting drones.

Never once did Clinton take action against drone wars, nor vocalise dissent or distaste. Rather, she remains a staunch supporter of the drone program downplaying the civilian loss of life.

Acquiescence to America’s institutionalisation of drone warfare unleashed on the largely Muslim-majority lands of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan may be the most heinous feature of American foreign policy today. To most Americans, drone wars are popular, of little concern, and save our troops from engagement. For me, drone wars are personal.

I am of Pakistani heritage. When I visited Pakistan in 2012 on a trip to the North-west Frontier as an invited physician-observer, drone warfare became a palpable reality. I was in Malakand in the Swat valley of Pakistan to meet child jihadists being deradicalised at Sabaoon, a multidisciplinary school where children, from ages 10 to 20-years-old, convicted of acts of terrorism are rehabilitated.

On the long ride back to Lahore, we decided to break the journey in Peshawar and take tea with Professor Khalid Mufti, a consultant psychiatrist working for the Horizon NGO at Ibadat hospital in Nishtarabad.

After tea, he asked me to see his patients. I was puzzled by the silence in every room. It was the middle of the day, but all the patients were in bed. Visiting families were gathered in somber clusters on each bed. We saw almost 80 patients.

“These are all patients with psychiatric disorders from drone attacks. Most have seen attacks or lost family members in attacks. Some are terrorised by the sound of the drones. Many are diagnosed with conversion disorder – a somatisation of anxiety. Others have PTSD,” Mufti said.

I am familiar with these diseases as I treat 9/11 first responders in New York with PTSD and anxiety, among other disorders. Still, I was immobilised by one thought: all that these Pakistanis knew of the United States was the sound of Reapers and Predators and the lethal violence in their wake.

If Americans elect Trump on November 8, 2016, it is unlikely that he could undo drone wars without extraordinary effort. With both the military and Congress in favour of and competing to control drone operations, Trump would have been impotent in making changes, even if he was to develop ideological objections.

Trump’s legitimacy as a presidential nominee falls far from Clinton’s candidacy. I can never vote for him. That he reached the position of Republican nominee is a singular disgrace for which the Republican party must be held fully responsible. But putting aside Trump’s gross inadequacies and revolting indecencies, Clinton’s positions on drone warfare to me are equally obscene.

I waited almost 25 years to become a citizen of the United States. I was just as thrilled to register as an Independent. But it turned out this November I can vote only with my conscience.

A vote for Gary Johnson would endorse a candidate who cannot identify Aleppo or a foreign leader. A vote for Jill Stein empowers an admirer of Vladimir Putin who would assert US power to maintain Assad in Syria.

A vote for Trump (irrespective of Mike Pence’s hollow denials) would legitimise the demonisation of Muslims like me.

A vote for Clinton, though, would be a vote in support of sophisticated drone operations, among other things. As anthropologist Hugh Gusterson starkly describes, this would ensure the increasing militarisation of US-Muslim relations to continue without protest.

Even as the groundswell to enlist the Muslim vote deepens, I find I am compelled to sit this election out. When it came to this presidential election, though America grants me both suffrage and safe harbour, my American Muslim ballot has nowhere to land.

This post originally appeared here.

Qanta Ahmed

Qanta Ahmed

A British Muslim who is the author of 'In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom' and a physician. She tweets @MissDiagnosis (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    There are two other candidates running, you could vote for liberal Jill Stein……..the best would have been if NOTA ( none of the above ) was also included on the ballot paper ( as they have in India ) . If this were so I fell it would get the most hits.Recommend

  • FactCheck

    Go ahead

    By not voting, you lost all your rights to complain and criticize.Recommend

  • vinsin

    You can demand partition of USA just like your forefathers for subcontinent. Do you support wiping out of Arab Pagans? Do you support slavery? Author support for terrorists is clear. She would have voted for Trump if he has demonized non-Muslims.Recommend

  • Murad Farooqui

    What do you have to say about the Pakistan army F16’s dropping hundreds of bombs on so called terrorist hideouts in North and South Waziristan? What kind of protest are you holding against them? At least the drones are more target oriented even though they still cause loss of innocent lives. But which war does not cause loss of innocent lives? You should value your citizenship a bit more and pay back by voting.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Drones in Pakistan are legal because Pakistan itself approves it.Plus nwfp is a hub of terrorists which the un has said can be bombardedRecommend

  • Laskero

    These drone strikes would stop only If Pakistan could stop differentiating between good and bad terrorists.Recommend

  • doesnt matter

    Why did you chose to take citizenship of US and not Saudi Arabia or other affluent Arab countries?Recommend

  • G. Din

    Trust me, lady, you will never vote if you continue the conscience charade. No matter how you slice it, Muslims are incapable of understanding the Democracy and the processes practicing it entails. Above all, dear lady, citizenship obliges you to participate and engage, otherwise everyone is a loser.Recommend

  • Ray

    In that case enjoy President Trump. The only way to make change in democracy is to stay involved and to demand that change, not to sit on the sidelines.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Well I dont think that muslims in western nations vote anyway….unless its about Reservations

    Muslims go to democratic nations and vote only for Halal meat….Mosque lands…..Reservations etc
    If these are the things a community votes for…then its no doubt that such a community can never make any progress in a societyRecommend

  • Nasir

    Come on! There are never perfect candidates in elections. You vote for the better and then stay involved to make sure they don’t commit big blunders. You are British anyway. Recommend

  • Desy

    LOL just google this Qanta Ahmed, she as an avowed defender of Israel and calls all terrorism as islamism. Etribune giving space to such ppl who are against muslim religious freedoms in US & UK. Check this out

  • Desy

    Here is Ms. Qanta Ahmed arguing for Pakistan to be isolated and not given membership in UNHRC for its bad human rights record, where did her Pakistani heritage went for a walk

  • ab1990

    the bad part about democracy is that some bad people get the right to voteRecommend

  • Saad Salman Zia

    Because none of the Arab nations allow other nationals, especially South Asians to gain their citizenship, do business independently or marry with their people.Recommend

  • nemomil

    What is the source of the data for your allegations ? do you have any facts Recommend

  • Dipak Mehta

    You can’t vote anyway. Recommend

  • Kamran Bukhari

    Your voting for any candidate is based on your state of residence. Unless if you are in one of the swing states, your vote doesn’t matter. Seeing that the author resides in New York, one of the bluest state, she could vote for Hillary or not vote at all, the outcome has no impact. Recommend

  • bogus

    Your bio says your a Brit and if true you don’t get to vote in USA elections. Also – if your an American you should know that Presidents are chosen “state by state” and not based on national polls – as such if you live in States like California or NY your vote doesn’t count anyway because those are Democratic strongholds and 100% of the electoral college votes will go to Hillary – if you live in Wyoming or Idaho the same applies except your state is voting for Trump.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Seeing “Muslim American” is refreshing. Few Muslims owe allegiance to their homeland. But abstaining from voting is a cop out. Engaging in the process is an intrinsic part of democracy. I guess, there is little room in the ideology for democracy.Recommend

  • Truth

    As a muslim American..i mean whats that are a muslim first and an American afterwards….shows your priorities towards a country that granted u citizenship for which u waited so long.Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    u may not vote but you are surely not giving up your US citizenship anytime in the near future, are you?Recommend

  • Uncle Tom

    If you want things to remain the same and for congress/senate to remain in the pockets of Big Business and foreign policy to remain status quo vote for Hillary Clinton, the establishment’s candidate. If, on the other hand, you want things to go horribly wrong… elect one who considers himself a ‘Shrewd Businessman ‘ but has filed for bankruptcy many times and not paid any taxes while he rails against other businesses for being ‘Unethical’…along with other hollow provably false claims. Its incredible how messed up the choice of Candidates given to the American People are. South Park Nailed it with their description of the two main contenders.
    The Libertarian Candidate seems clueless most of the time, however, the green party Candidate is pretty good. Too bad she doesn’t get any coverage in the ‘Mainstream’ media, which if anything has been stumping for Hillary and trying to discredit and misquote Jill Stein.
    Recent research shows the over 50% of working Americans live in poverty.. they don’t have savings and live from paycheck to paycheck.

    So, Is the author not voting out of ‘Her conscience’?Recommend

  • Uncle Tom

    @ ET Moderators

    Either Publish my comment in its entirety or don’t publish it at all. What exactly was the problem with the comment? You have managed to make the comment as incoherent as most of the stories in ET…
    If you are going to edit comments and ensure they remain readable, please hire smarter, or at least educated people.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    All the failed communities in a society tend to do so and since I come from the biggest democracy and demographically divident nation…I know the preferences of all communities

    The progressive hardworking communities vote for progress while the lazy ones vote for reservations

    In Pakistan…to win an election….all u have to say is….*We will take back Kashmir from India*…..instead of….*We will work towards development* Recommend

  • Ram

    “A known devil is better than unknown angel” is true in this election, A war on terror is inevitable before blaming US drone attack if you are from pakistan you should think about WHY do every terrorist in the world finds a safe heaven in Pakistan. remember Osama was found in Pakistan. Pakistan Army is providing safe heaven Hafiz Mahamood who is considered as strategic asset to wage cowardly terrorist attack on neighboring countries

    As Indian American I support war on Terror, However I am voting for Hilary because she is well balanced and does not preach hatred policy, I wish we had a better candidate but we don’t.Recommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    There’s no correlation between voting and being able to complain.

    If anything, the right to criticize is open to any and everyone. Even those who don’t live in the US or or are not US citizens.Recommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    This is the correct decision. Choosing between the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. You will bring about much more change in society by speaking out against evil.Recommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    Did you really just try and justify murder?Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    Just reading the first few paragraphs, I can say that, you should not call yourself as an ‘American Muslim’, you should be calling yourself as ‘Muslim American’. That’s the identity that you wanna portray, and there is no harm in calling yourself ‘Muslim’ first..right? Who cares, because if Baghdadi would be running for the American elections then it would have solved the purpose because, this is what you want, and I am pretty sure, you would be happy to have Sharia Law in America as well. Please I would urge don’t vote, because people like you who wear a facade of being intellectual, naturalized Americans and blah blah.. don’t have the sense of patriotism for the country you live in and neither you respect other believers sentiments. What a waste! At least Americans should be giving away their citizenship to other people who are patriotic and want to make a difference by voting not some looser crying what’s happening to the world. World will continue even if you are gone, so at least show some respect for the country you live in. Another option for you, go to Saudi or any other Muslim country and live there, you will understand the world even better!!Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    There you go! You have answered the Blogger Aunty in the crisp fashion. But isn’t being Muslim all about being one umma, being one, bringing togetherness, then South Asian Muslims should go to other democratic countries and shout for Sharia Law, marry their women, get their citizenship and start their business.. that’s the right way!! Let’s destroy other countries this way!! You are right.. I think you guys are doing a great job in that at least.Recommend

  • Patwari

    hindus writing under Muslim name. Pathetic.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Paid hindu cyber warrior with ridiculous diatribe. Pathetic.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Another goofy hindu.Recommend

  • Patwari

    The two other candidates are clowns. They have their names on the
    ballot so they can go down in history as ‘also ran.’
    Their grandchildren can claim grampa or grammy ran for president.Recommend

  • Laskero

    The blood is on Pakistan’s hands due to their refusal to go after all terrorists.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I am an American Muslim with one vote, and no person for whom to cast it. I
    became a citizen less than a year ago. This is my first election and
    yet, I won’t be joining the millions of other Americans going to the

    A very good decision! But without being rude may one ask you a question of how come you opted to live in the land of the capitalists and flawed politicians?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    none of this justifies the murder of innocent people including children.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “As a Muslim American, I will abstain from voting this November”

    As a Muslim, in majority but when I am in minority, I will not vote myself though I will never think of leaving the non Muslim lands.Recommend

  • FactCheck

    Yes there is.

    You are either an active participant or not.

  • Saad Salman Zia

    What Muslims have done terribly overseas is integration. We love to live in segregated communities making anybody outside of it feel alien to us. You’re right, they do not have any right to demand sharia law in western countries. And I don’t see why people need to harbor harmful intent towards the country they immigrate to. It’s pure hypocrisy. Disagreeing with state policies is different but to vilify an entire society’s way while living in it is nothing but duplicity. As for the Arab countries, one cannot really call them a model of societal freedom and most of their laws are beyond archaic.Recommend

  • Qandeel Baloch

    The first thing that strikes you about Sony’s most grandly mounted and ambitious fiction saga is the long title -Bade Achhe Laggte Hai… Yeh Dharti, Yeh Nadiya, Yeh Rainna Aur Tum. Produced by Balaji Telefilms, Indian Dramas the show explores the worlds of two different personalities – Priya Sharma and Ram Kapoor, who discover love accidentally after they come together through the institution of marriage. A happy go lucky Priya Sharma (Sakshi Tanwar), an unmarried woman in her early thirties, believes that marriage has passed her by yet continues to be a romantic soul who takes joy in relishing every moment and every activity around her.Recommend

  • Laskero

    Collateral damage is an unfortunate reality. However, the drone strikes will continue under any US administration.Recommend

  • Saad Ahmed

    1. You don’t need to vote to be an active participant in a system. You are a participant in the system if you pay taxes and are a part of said society.

    2. There’s no reason you need to be a part of something in order to criticize it. By that logic, we could never have criticized Saddam Hussein because we weren’t living under his system. This mindset is expressively used to justify oppression.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Then why does your profile say you are a British Muslim?
    Anyway,no vote is a vote for Trump.And you can be sure that Trump won’t think twice before killing children and women if they happen to be Muslim.He has already declared he believes in wiping out the families of “terrorists”. Clinton or Obama at least would try to avoid collateral damage. And don’t expect for USA not to retaliate if terrorists threaten their interests.They won’t have to do it if Pakistanis will turn them over ,or even stop them from using its territories by terrorists.You can’t believe that Zawaihiri is not in Pakistan.Recommend