The American Muslim community has yet to develop a focus or strategy that will help it gain a voice within the American political system. 9/11 and a rapidly changing America has created an enormous challenge for which the community is not prepared. Its institutions are in disarray; its leadership is uninformed and most of the community comprising of immigrants is culture bound and confused. As presidential elections approach, the community once again faces the question: which candidate to vote for? In the last presidential elections, the American Muslim leadership and major Muslim organizations - much to the annoyance of the Afro-America Muslim community - urged their community to vote for President Bush.
A recent poll conducted by CAIR, a Muslim watchdog group, indicates that Senator John Kerry is the preferred choice this time. He seems to have the endorsement of most major American Muslim organizations and individuals.
Most American Muslims, specially the immigrants among them who constitute a majority of the 6-7 million Muslims in this country, view the entire political spectrum through the prism of the Middle East conflict. Candidate Bush was favored during last elections because he did not return checks from the Arab American supporters and gave lip service to the Palestinians in one of the pre-election statements. The Democrat candidate kept clear of Arab-Americans and American Muslims.
It is interesting that even though Senator John Kerry's position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is similar to that of the present administration, American Muslims prefer John Kerry. An explanation could be that the present administration's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, besides the Palestinian issue, must weigh heavily against Republicans. The American Muslim community's inclination to go for John Kerry illustrates the reactive, polarized state that forms the basis of American Muslim decisions. It also reflects the state of confusion in the community caused by a failure in the development of leadership and institutions which are not able to see beyond the events of the Middle East. The problems that America and the global community face in a post 9/11 world have neither been analyzed outside the perspective of the Middle East, nor are they understood properly at the institutional level.
The processes of building strong institutions that could serve the greater interest of the community besides contributing to the benefit of the society at large remain unattended. These processes are not within the realm of experience of most of the American Muslim leadership; consequently the formulation and framing of ideas and discourse remains fragmented, rudimentary, and reactive.
In the broad perspective of what is good for American Muslims, America and the world, American Muslims may be right in voting against President Bush. However, they must spell out what they stand for and make what they stand for the basis of their decisions, not what they are against.
In the wake of the Patriot act and other initiatives of the present administration that are insidiously and steadily encroaching on the civil liberties of all Americans including themselves, it should not be difficult for American Muslims to recognize that four more years of Bush will change the delicate balance within the Supreme Court. If there is any reason to vote for the democratic candidate, this must surely be the one. It is time that American Muslims direct their efforts toward processes of analysis, consensus building, and working for common cause instead of just reacting.
Dr. Nazir Khaja is a Pakistani American. He is Chairman of Islamic Information Service that produces weekly Islamic programs for television. He practices and teaches Medicine. He is also active in inter-faith dialogues and activities related to Peace, Justice and Mutual Tolerance.
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