American Muslims in Politics
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Although the population of Muslims in America increased substantially by the 1970s because of massive immigration from the Middle East and South Asia but the new Muslim immigrants showed little interest in domestic issues. Instead, their focus remained on their homelands and U.S. foreign policy issues affecting the Islamic world such as the Palestine-Israel conflict; U.S. sanctions against Iraq; and conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnya. Their community activities were confined to the building of mosques and Islamic centers. African American Muslims, on the other hand, generally tend to focus on domestic issues, such as urban development, education, and economic and racial justice. Given their disparate interests and priorities, formulating a united political platform between the two Muslim groups was not easy.
In the 1980s, as the Muslim Americans began to take the initial steps toward political participation, some questioned whether Islam even permitted them to participate in the political life of a non-Muslim country. That concern all but disappeared starting in the 1990s. Today this debate has taken a back seat as the majority of Muslim-Americans face the political reality that non-participation could lead to exclusion and denial of rights. More details
American Muslim bloc vote in 2000 elections
American Muslims made history in 2000 presidential elections when they voted en bloc for George Bush. The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), a coalition of four major American Muslim organizations, only two weeks before the election 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.
In a post-election survey of American Muslim voters conducted by the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the nation’s largest grassroots Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups, nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated that they had voted for Texas Governor Bush. Of these, 85 percent noted that the endorsement of Bush by the American Muslim Political Coordinating Committee Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC) was a factor in their vote. In this survey of 1,774 voters, 72 percent of Muslim respondents said they voted for Bush, 19 percent supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, and only 8 percent favored Vice President Al Gore. Muslims, therefore, became the only bloc vote for Bush.
The former Congressman, Paul Findley, in his book Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam, estimates that about 3.2 million Muslims turned out for vote and 65 percent voted for President Bush. Mr. Findley said: The importance of Muslim bloc voting arises from its magnitude as well as its focus. Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov.7 came to 3.2 million.
About 700 Muslim Americans ran for various local, state and federal offices in the 2000 elections. At least 152 of them were elected to local and state offices. These individuals were elected as members of precinct committees, delegates to Democratic and Republican party conventions, city councils, state assemblies, state senates, and judgeships. Ninety-two of these were elected from Texas.
Few Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections
Encouraged by the 2000 bloc vote, the American Muslim organizations charted an ambitious plan to launch a massive registration campaign to register Muslim voters and contest at least 200 seats in 2002 mid term elections. However, the 9/11 tragic attacks the plan as the Muslim community found itself besieged by profiling, official discrimination, negative media campaign and hate crimes.
Consequently, the number of Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections was much smaller as compared to the 2000 elections. In 2000, 152 candidates for various public offices were elected out of about 700 candidates. In 2002, ten candidates out of about 70 elected to various public offices which include one State Senator and three State Assemblymen and one judge of the Superior Court.
Muslim Americans are prepared to work again for a bloc vote
American Muslims have increased their participation in political and social activities since 9/11. According to a poll by the Council of American-Islamic Relations, roughly half of American Muslims surveyed say they have increased their social (58 percent), political (45 percent), inter-faith (52 percent) and public relations activities (59 percent) since the 9/11 terror attacks. On the political party that best represents the interests of the American Muslim community, more respondents named the Democratic Party (27 percent) and Green party (25 percent) than the Republican Party (three percent). A large number (44 percent) said none of the parties represented their interests.
Muslim Americans are prepared to work again for a bloc vote in 2004 elections. The American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC), an umbrella organization that includes four major groups, has agreed to make civil rights a top issue in any endorsement of a presidential candidate in next year’s elections and launch an intensive drive to register one million Muslim voters.
Leaders of the four organizations - the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council - who met at the sidelines of the ISNA Convention on Sept. 1, 2003 in Chicago, released an open letter to the American Muslim Community saying: We are challenged by the after effects of 9/11, erosion of civil rights, and the general tone of anti-Muslim sentiment emanating from Washington D.C. and some elements in the media.
Defending civil rights has been the single most important challenge before the seven million-strong American Muslim community as the consequences of the 9/11 tragic terrorist attacks continue to unfold. The erosion of civil rights came in the form of various programs and legislations such as the USA Patriot Act, which effectively nullifies Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8 directly and indirectly amendments 1 and 9 and the INS Special Registration which targeted men from Muslim countries.
The AMPCC member organizations have already begun voter registration campaigns at mosques and Islamic centers across the nation to ensure a strong turnout in the 2004 presidential elections. From September 2003, it has more than one year to motivate and mobilize the community while in 2000, it was able to mobilize the community in two weeks only.
The AMPCC has adopted a four point criteria to extend support to a presidential candidate. The criteria envisages: a) Accessibility of the candidate to the Muslim community Position on key issues, c) Track record, d) Feedback from the community.
However, the Muslim American community has very little choice in presidential as well as congressional elections as the nation has a virtual two party political system. In order to be politically effective and make its voice heard, the community has to join and support either Republican or Democratic Party, although it may not agree with its full agenda.
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