August 12, 2004
There may not be a Muslim
bloc vote this time but….
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
More than 40 Muslim delegates represented 20 states at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month, up from 25 Muslims at the Democratic convention four years ago. This reflects not only an increased support for the Democratic Party but also Muslim political activism that has attracted attention of the mainstream media.
At present, intensive discussion continues in the Muslim community about their preference of the presidential race. Muslim political groups have not yet formally announced their choice of either George Bush or John Kerry. However, recent polls indicate that majority of the Muslims and Arabs favor the Democratic candidate John Kerry.
In June a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) survey reported that 54 percent of eligible Muslim voters said they would vote for Kerry, while 26 percent favored Nader. A sizable 14 percent of Muslim voters said they are still undecided. (Fifty-five percent of the respondents said they voted for President Bush in the 2000 election.) According to CAIR's survey, 34 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party best represents American Muslim interests, closely followed by the Green Party at 24 percent.
A July 15 survey of Arab-Americans in key swing states conducted by the Zogby International found the Bush-Cheney ticket winning only 26.5 percent support, with Kerry-Edwards at 51, Nader-Camejo at 11 percent, and 13 percent undecided. Only 9 percent of Arab-Americans say Bush's policies concerning Israel and Palestine are good or excellent.
Muslim political and religious organizations rallied strongly behind Bush in 2000, buoyed by his stance against detaining Muslims without informing them of evidence against them. But many have become incensed by the USA Patriot Act, the controversial anti-terrorism law, and racial profiling.
While many Muslims and Arabs are disenchanted with Bush policies, Kerry has been getting a lot of their attention as on civil liberties they can see a clear difference. (On foreign policy they expect Kerry to do better.) Recently Kerry and Edward sent a joint letter to the Muslim community entitled: Building bridges to the Muslim American community. The letter in part said: “John Kerry and John Edwards recognize the many contributions that Muslim Americans have made to our nation and will work to protect and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans, including Muslim Americans. They support rigorous enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws so that all Americans, including Muslims, can live, work, learn, worship, and gather without fear or discrimination. A Kerry-Edwards administration will not tolerate the targeting of Muslim Americans for threats, violence or discrimination based on their religion.”
In the current political developments, a formal endorsement of Muslim leaders for Bush or Kerry is not likely to make any difference during this year’s elections because all indications are that majority of Muslims see Bush administration policies as against the Muslim community. These policies include racial profiling, FBI interviews of Muslims and detention of Muslims without due process and closing down of Muslim charities. The community is now living in a state of constant fear. Muslims and Arabs are coping with the reality of racial profiling at airports, discrimination at places of work, verbal abuse in public and hate crimes at places of worship. A recent poll showed nearly 88 percent of Muslims saying that they knew of at least one person who suffered anti-Muslim bias or discrimination.
In September last year, an American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections was established to study and recommend endorsement for a presidential candidate. But so far it has failed to do so. In 2000 elections, the Muslim leaders’ endorsement came only two weeks before the election. On Oct. 23, 2000, The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee - comprising American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Muslim Public Affairs Council - announced its endorsement of George W. Bush for president, citing his outreach to the Muslim community and his stand on the issue of secret evidence. AMPCC’s message was conveyed to the community through hundreds of Islamic centers throughout the country. The endorsement resulted in an apparent bloc vote for Bush. But this year, even without an endorsement by the Muslim leaders, there is likely to be a virtual bloc vote or massive vote for Kerry. It will not be because all those who will vote for Kerry like his platform but many will vote for him because they don’t like Bush policies. Moreover, as the nation has a virtual two party system, many Muslims believe that there is no option for them but to vote either to Bush or Kerry in order to make their vote effective while voting for any other candidate will dilute their vote.
In the final analysis, at present the Muslims and Arabs are more active and motivated politically. They realize that they have to become involved in the national political process to make their voice heard. At the same time, mainstream media has extensively covered Muslim registration campaigns and highlighted the concerns of the Muslim and Arab communities. “Muslims & Arabs now eager to vote” – August 9 headline in New York Daily News best reflected the political activism of the American Arabs and Muslims.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of American Muslim Perspective online magazine: www.amperspective.com