Photo: PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JUN 18, 2016: Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona / Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0
Donald Trump’s nearly complete dismissal of a question on Islamophobia during the second United States Presidential debate on October 9 was extremely concerning for Muslim Americans who have spent much of campaign season fielding verbal and physical attacks as a result of anti-Muslim rhetoric from candidates including Trump himself. Unfortunately, if he becomes President, things are only expected to become worse, not only for U.S. Muslims but also for relations with Muslim investors abroad, potentially hurting the U.S. economy by depriving it of billions of dollars and numerous jobs.
Trump’s initial call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. in December was met with harsh criticism by Muslims within the U.S. and around the world. Arab investors, in particular, were so incensed that they urged fellow Muslims to boycott his properties. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who previously assisted Trump during his corporate bankruptcies in the 90s, called him a “disgrace” on Twitter (where he has invested $300 million). Prince Alwaleed also holds shares in U.S.-headquartered Citigroup, Apple, Saks Incorporated, Ebay, and Time Warner, meaning a financial withdrawal over such remarks would certainly not be inconsequential.
Dubai-based billionaire businessman and investor Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor, whose Al Habtoor Group planned $545 million of acquisitions in the hospitality sector in the U.S. and Europe this year, previously supported Trump but quickly changed his tune after the aforementioned comments. Habtoor pressed the Arab business community to follow suit and terminate relations with Trump.
"Because if you don't want me in your country, how can I invest and put my money there. Therefore people will divest, and this will result in unemployment in the United States,” Habtoor said.
UAE retailer Lifestyle responded to the call by eliminating Trump Home branded products from its 160 plus stores. A sign bearing Trump’s name was removed from the Trump International Golf Course in Dubai after shares of his partner, Damac Properties, fell 3.6 percent after the anti-Muslim comments. The sign was later restored but pictures of Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, on a nearby billboard were not. No word yet on whether his words affected his other properties in Muslim-majority countries, such as the Trump tower complex in Baku, Azerbaijan or a resort under construction in Bali, Indonesia.
A decline or termination in trade with Muslim nations should not be taken lightly. The UAE was the U.S.’s largest trading partner in the Middle East in 2014, with $25 billion in bilateral trade. Contracts include multi-billion-dollar aircraft orders for Boeing from Emirates and Etihad Airways as well as defense contracts. Qatar’s investment fund also plans to invest $35 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. It already holds over 10 percent of U.S.-based luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co.
TOURISM, HIGHER EDUCATION
Trump’s ban on Muslims could also hurt the U.S. economy as it pertains to tourism and higher education. Muslim tourism is booming and travelers are estimated to have contributed $16 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2015. And while the majority of Muslims don’t live in the Middle East, it is worth noting that Middle Easterners spent $2,000 more per person while in the U.S. than Europeans did.
Another $24 billion would be lost in tuition and fees by banning students from Muslim-majority countries. They numbered over 150,000 in 2015.
IMPACT ON MUSLIM-OWNED BUSINESSES
The anti-Muslim sentiment that has characterized this election cycle has already affected Muslim-owned businesses. Last year, when several Presidential candidates were spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric, a Muslim store owner in Queens, New York was attacked by a man who allegedly screamed that he would “kill Muslims.” In Florida, a Muslim women’s clothing shop closed for three days following the Orlando shooting, for fear of backlash against Muslim women and Muslim women who cover. With 24 percent (pdf) of American Muslims identifying as self-employed or small business owners, such hatred could have a serious impact on their well-being.
As a businessman, Trump should be the first person to acknowledge that ostracizing a faith of 1.7 billion adherents could end up hurting the bottom line –both for his own commercial ventures and the U.S. economy at large. The Islamic world and American Muslim business owners will no doubt be closely watching to see what he says next in the third Presidential debate on October 19.
Wardah Khalid is a writer, speaker, and analyst on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Muslim American issues. Follow her on Twitter @wardahkhalid_.
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