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October, 2008



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Little Room For Muslims In The O8 Election Process
By Karen Nakamura

Mohammed looks like a walking, breathing Taliban with his thin frame, beard and haunting eyes. Arriving in the Bay area, he seemed lost, like he'd been picked up by a cyclone in some mountainous village and dumped in Marin. But this day, he waved excitedly from across the parking lot. His eyes sparkled and he couldn't stop grinning. He had just become an American citizen. Soon we were quoting Martin Luther King, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
But what are Mohammed's chances of realizing the American Dream? The right wing's assault on the Muslim faith and the Arab people is insulting and embarrassing. Obama's record isn't much better. Taboo in this election is the concept that Muslim/Arab concerns and ideas are valid and deserve to be included in the dialogue.

In an article titled "Why are Muslims alienated from America's Political Parties" posted Sept. 5 on the Muslim American Society website, Kaleem Kawaja states; "It is painful to observe that American Muslims are not only invisible in the electoral arena, they are also not openly welcomed by political parties and politicians." He goes on. "This year most ...candidates for ...President, Senators, Congressmen and Governors ...have not allowed ...American Muslim political activists a significant role in their campaigns. Despite ...enthusiasm for Democrats and ...Senator Barrack Obama, ...senior managers ...are not letting Muslim Democrats receive significant roles."

In an election as tight as this one, pushing away a large voting block could prove expensive to Democrats. A better avenue might be to embrace the Muslim community and expose the exclusionary tendencies inherent in those wishing to denigrate any people including Muslims, an act condemned by the U.S. Constitution and shown by "All men are created equal."

According to the Center for Electoral Empowerment, more than 2.2 million Muslims are eligible to vote in November. That number accounts for a fraction of the voting population but these voters could swing any number of races from local to national. There are approximately 5 million Muslims in the U.S. with large and affluent populations in the battle states of Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This population is divided almost evenly between African Americans (24%), Arab Americans (26%), Asian Americans (26%) and others (24%).

According to CIA statistics for 2008, Muslims constitute 0.6% of the U.S. population. The Jewish population comes in at 1.7%, Asians 4.4%, African Americans 13%, Hispanics 15% with European Americans constituting 65%. A study by the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans are a diverse population of predominantly immigrants. Nonetheless, they're decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes and are well assimilated. About 70% believe hard work pays off and they can achieve the American Dream.

Islam mandates members be committed to social justice and American Muslims see voting as a powerful way to fulfill that obligation. The Muslim American Society states: "Our collective involvement with the electoral process allows us express our views, and influence the laws and policies, which govern America. On the other hand, our lack of enthusiasm ...makes us vulnerable to laws ...that may subvert our rights. In recent years, many dangerous laws were passed in the name of national security. ...Whether these laws and policies increase our national security is highly questionable. But these have been ...used to profile and persecute Muslims in America. Many politicians ...and ...government officials ...have made Muslim-bashing part of their everyday rhetoric with no repercussion. In our domestic and foreign policies, we have made it acceptable to attack Muslims. Only with our vigorous commitment to the electoral process, can we begin to change this unfavorable climate."

Particularly troubling is the implied insult in the accusation that and Obama's denial that he's a Muslim, as if that would mean he's one of the Bad Guys. "We know he isn't a Muslim but who cares if he is?" Sofian Zakkout, director of the American Muslim Association of North America said in a July 25th Reuters article, "Obama's pledge 'to bring communities together' is his appeal. We don't expect him to come to us and say, 'I'm with you.' We don't need that." What they do need is to be respected for their opinions and judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Before 9/11 many Muslims Americans were attracted to Republicans because of their emphasis on religion, family values and conservative lifestyle but put off by the domination of European Americans and their concerns. By 2004, few Muslims were active in the Republican Party. Today, except for foreign politicos, Arab visibility is rare and anti-Muslim politicians regularly make degrading public remarks. A 2007 Pew Poll found 63% of American Muslims are Democrats or leaning that way with only 11% identifying with Republicans.

Both parties have silenced Muslim/Arab Americans input. Even the Democrat Party has turned a cold shoulder to Arab activists. Black Muslim Congressmen, Keith Ellison (MN) and Andre Carson (IN), party loyalists, have been asked by Senator Obama's campaign to stay away. Early on Obama's people asked head-scarfed female supporters to move beyond camera range during a rally.

In an article titled "Obama and Muslim Voters; A 'Double Whammy?" posted 7/25 Michael Conlon stated: "What is strange is that if you do not identify yourselves as a Muslim, you may receive some welcome, as ...Indian-Americans do. But if you identify yourself ...with any Muslim platform, your ...loyalty to the party, your desire to be in the American mainstream, or even your being an ultra-liberal Muslim, cut no dice. A pretext is found and you are sidelined regardless of your financial contribution or grassroots campaign work.

"No matter how one looks at it, it is obvious that the five million strong American Muslim community, with sizeable vote power and sizeable fundraising power, is not getting a voice in the US political process. ...One factor for the alienation of Muslims their continuing complaint against the US foreign policy in Middle East since 2001." This election's racist overtones have caused further alienation to a Muslim community "that was becoming politically vibrant only eight years ago [and] is [now] without any political agenda or goal or leadership in today's America."

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