American Muslim Perspective - Sept. 4, 2004
American Muslims at Republican Convention
Muslims’ overall presence has been low-key at the Republican Party Convention in New York. This year’s convention included 15 Arab/Muslim American delegates, while the Democratic convention reported 43. Arab-American delegates from eight states have been elected to represent their states, which include the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Arab-American delegates at the Democratic National Convention represented 25 states.
Muslim Americans took center stage at the Republican Convention on August 30th when Imam Izak-El Mu’eed Pasha, gave the invocation at the RNC’s evening session. He is the spiritual leader of Harlem’s Malcolm Shabazz Masjid and first Muslim chaplain of New York City Police Department.
Moments later, Zainab al-Suwaij, an Iraqi-born American, spoke out forcefully in support of the Bush administration's war to topple Saddam Hussein. Zainab Al-Suwaij, the Executive Director of the Boston-based American Islamic Congress, fled to the United States from her native city of Basra after the 1991 gulf war. In April of 2003, Al-Suwaij, a self-described survivor of the failed Iraqi uprising against former President Saddam Hussein in 199, met with President Bush in the White House as part of an Iraqi-American delegation.
Ibrahim Hooper, Spokesman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says there has been a lack of outreach by Republicans to Muslims, who number nearly 7 million in the United States.
Bush attracted Muslim voters four years ago in large part because he campaigned against the use of secret evidence in immigration cases, allowed by a 1996 law. Hooper told the Radio Free Europe that this election season, Kerry has appealed to more Muslim voters by speaking out for civil liberty protections for Muslims who feel victimized by anti-terror laws. The Democrats have tended to do more in terms of outreach to the Muslim community, he added.
The Democratic Party platform this year calls for revisions to the USA PATRIOT Act, a controversial antiterrorism law, to "better protect the privacy and liberty that law-abiding Americans cherish."
Arab-American Republicans told the Radio Free Europe they believe the party is listening to the Arab core concerns. Among them was George Selim, a young Arab-American delegate from Virginia: "I'm pleased with what I see so far, but by no means satisfied. I think there needs to be a greater outreach effort done to ethnic minority communities from the Republican Party, especially to the Arab-American community. But nevertheless an effort is being made and that's what's important to see."
George Salem, an attorney who founded and chairs the Arab American Institute, has been active on Republican presidential campaigns tracing back to Ronald Reagan. Salem, a Christian Arab, said Arab-Americans have access to the highest levels of the Bush campaign. He said a key issue has been their call for revisions to the PATRIOT Act: "We have serious issues with the Patriot Act, and I hope it is tailored in a way that better addresses issues of combating terrorism and victimizes innocents less. That is a serious issue -- whether they be Muslim charities or whether they be individuals who are suspected."
Another party activist, Egyptian-born Muslim Shirene El-Abd, expressed understanding for the administration's security challenges in the aftermath of 11 September.
Like Salem, El-Abd said she believes the party is becoming responsive to the concerns of Muslims and ethnic Arabs in the United States: "We as a community tend to be conservative and we tend to care about issues pertaining to taxes, health care, and education. And we feel that the president has done very well on these particular areas. The disappointments have been with regard to the policy in the Middle East and with some civil rights issues. There seems to be a diligent effort on behalf of the Republican Party and the administration to correct that situation."
At a high-level gathering of influential Arab-American Republicans this week in New York, Congressman Darrell Issa of California noted Bush's support for a sovereign Palestinian state. He believes the president is poised to bring great change to the Middle East: "This man's legacy has to be bringing about peace in the region. Peace and security for the Israelis, peace and prosperity for the Palestinians, a Palestinian state, a democracy in Iraq. All of these will be part of this president's legacy and I think he's going to be just as determined to achieve peace as he was to end Saddam's tyranny."
Arab-American Republicans say they are planning party outreach efforts in the "battleground" states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, which have sizable Arab-American populations.
According to the Arab-American Institute, Republican Arab-American party leaders presented at the convention included Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, New Hampshire Sen. John E. Sununu, Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood, California Congressman Darrell Issa, former Director of the Office of Budget and Management Mitch Daniels, former New Hampshire Gov. and Chief of Staff for President George H.W. Bush John H. Sununu, and Westchester County New York District Attorney Jeanine Ferris Pirro.
The Republican party convention was also the venue for several Arab-American organizations protests, some of which were given permits and others were not. New York City officials had granted permits for demonstrations to groups including the Middle East Peace Coalition for demonstrations, prayer vigils and rallies.
Other groups that applied for permits include the anti-war groups Not In Our Name and the National Council of Arab-Americans (NCA). The NCA filed a permit application on Jan. 7, 2004, for a mass assembly rally of 75,000 people in the Great Lawn of Central Park two days before the Aug. 30 opening of the Republican National Convention. After waiting six months, the City of New York denied the permit. The NCA’s attorneys said New York City refused to give specific rationale for the denial of the permit.
Muslim-Americans voted in favor of George W. Bush's presidency four years ago. But opinion surveys indicate that since then he has alienated many of them through the anti-terror policies that followed 11 September 2001. At the Republican Party's convention in New York, Muslims made a notable early appearance, but their overall presence has been low-key. Arab-American party activists, who form a larger presence at the convention, say they believe a second Bush administration would address civil liberty issues at home and press Middle East peace.
A Zogby poll indicates that issues of importance to Muslims and Arabs are detainment on secret evidence, airport profiling, the plight of Palestinian refugees and the need for a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As important, however, are domestic issues: Social Security, Medicare, crime, taxes, school vouchers and abortion.