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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Dipak Mehta

    You can’t vote anyway. 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

  • 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

  • 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