Muslims in US Elections: To Make a Vote Count

Category: Americas, Nature & Science Views: 4758

Muslim and Arab Americans' real salvation in the upcoming election is to vote as a bloc, and to vote for the right candidate. Anything else shall yield further disintegration in their political clout and will further alienate the skeptics among them, who see the 'system' as utterly corrupt and easily manipulated.

Without a doubt, the last three years have given birth to a considerable political awakening among members of the growing Muslim and Arab population in America. That awakening however, by and large has been accidental, even forced upon these communities. Many of its members immigrated to the United States seeking deliverance, escaping oppression and poverty at home, rather than 'trouble' elsewhere. For many first generation Muslim and Arab immigrants, politics was considered a costly nuisance and understandably so.

The tragedy of September 11, 2001 changed much of that perception. 

Even though September 11 might've not placed politics in a more positive light for Muslims and Arabs, it greatly diminished the undeclared illusion among them that absence, in both a political and social sense, is a key to survival in a country forged on alliances, political and cultural integration and most importantly, active pursuit for change.

Things seem to be changing, however, or so inform us the plethora of press releases issued by various American Muslim groups. The scattered Muslim voices in the American political scene are finally coming together. Now, we hear of Muslim groups with missions that never before existed, at least not on such a large national scale. One is the US Muslim Civil Rights and Election Committee, an umbrella group comprising major American Muslim organizations with the sole purpose of guaranteeing that American Muslims vote and that their votes make a difference.

There is an equal abundance of news about active registration drives across the country to bring as many Muslims and Arabs as possible to 'rock the vote' on that critical November day. Needless to say, America's Muslim and Arab communities endured much of the brunt of what they've fathomed as the Bush administration's transgression on the country's rights, and particularity their civil liberties. For them, voting is not a simple act of exercising and asserting one's rights, but maintaining a shred of dignity and preserving whatever basic rights have not yet been violated. 

But to employ democracy to their advantage, US Muslims should be aware that voting is only one aspect of the democratic process and not necessarily the most vital. There is an entire culture that must accompany the act of voting that many Muslim and American groups fail to recognize. 

One topic of discussion that was once raised at a Muslim radio roundtable discussion of which I was a participant, was: what should devout US Muslims do in the event that a group of Socialist activists joined in on one of their rallies, therefore supporting their demands? 

Even though I found the question itself unfortunate, it honestly reflected the political culture to which many Muslim Americans subscribe. Using the same logic, one should question whether any form of support coming from any particular group, (unless it's a homogeneous Arab or non-Arab Muslim group) should also be open for scrutiny. 

In a recent commentary, Chicago-based Arab American journalist, Ray Hanania, protested the exclusion of the Arab Christian constituency- "who suffer equally with their Muslim brethren" - as an obvious alliance to US Muslims in their fight for political recognition. 

"Arab Christians offer the advantage of having open access into America's Christian societies. They are members of many churches, from Maronites and Orthodox sects that are based overseas to Catholics, Protestants and Baptists," Hanania wrote in Arab News.

Of course, this is not an attempt to agitate a discussion of which groups should be exploited politically to represent a 'strategic alliance' to US Muslims. It is rather to highlight the subject of political rejectionism, a philosophy which many communities inherited from their prior political experiences, and an idea to which many continue to adhere.

Aside from the failure to capitalize on the common turf that binds Muslims, Arabs and other minority groups that strive to protect civil rights and liberties in America, there is an equal lack of understanding regarding the value of "the vote" itself.

In the upcoming elections, voting seems to be only understood within the context that Bush betrayed his promises by walking out on Muslims after he promised them 'respect'. That belief turned into a dilemma as many Muslims and Arabs, attentively listening to John Kerry highlighting his foreign policy agenda on the Middle East - a major concern to US Muslim and Arab voters - detected little difference between the two major candidates: Kerry wishes to strengthen Bush's shaky war coalition in Iraq and is equally enthusiastic about maintaining the 'bond' between the US and Israel. 

While it makes perfect sense for the average Muslim voter to build his/her perception of a candidate based on the candidate's political posture toward issues he cares about, those who represent Muslim voters must not be equally constrained or narrow in perception. In American politics, there is no black and white, but many shades of grey. In fact, a group representing the Muslim and Arab constituency is not only meant to recommend to Muslim voters their choice of candidates once the candidate divulges his agenda at the endgame, but to relentlessly work to influence that agenda while it is still in a formulation mode. Those who watched the presidential and vice-presidential debates so far must've realized that little was said to satisfy the Muslim and Arab voters' concerns and demands, whether nationally or abroad. Other groups had a great deal to boast about. 

According to a recent September poll by Georgetown/Zogby International, only 7 percent of the eligible Muslim voters are voting for Bush in November. There are no surprises here, considering the blunders of the administration which left American Muslims both in a state of fear and grief. Evidently, whether intended or not, Muslims will be voting in a bloc, a behavior that is undoubtedly the outcome of personal and collective experiences, not a political strategy per se. Without a responsible, long term political strategy, this bloc vote can hardly translate into an affective tool that takes Muslim and Arab voters from their decades-long slumber molding them into a meaningful political force not to be reckoned with. 

The US Muslim and Arab constituency might've finally realized how costly their self-imposed political estrangement and indifference was. They are certainly becoming more aware of the political influence in the reach of their members, which are millions strong. However, to capitalize on this potential, they must adapt to the political culture of their new surroundings, abandon political rejectionism altogether and seek further integration and allies. They must also realize that voting in itself is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a long struggle that requires commitment, skill and resolve. Otherwise, their success will be confined to self-congratulating press releases and email messages following Election Day, filled with false victories, espousing equally false hope.

Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of and head of Research & Studies Department at English

  Category: Americas, Nature & Science
Views: 4758
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Older Comments:
We should vote as a block but for Ralph Nader. He is the only candidate that actually cares about Muslim causes, yet we have totally abandoned him to run after the "lesser of two evils".

Muslims should stop thinking in an emotional manner. Kerry is extremely dangerous. He is more harmful than Bush. Fundamentally, we are dealing with the same establishment who is a swore enemey of Islam. Bush lacks the diplomatic skills that is required to put through the American point against Islam. America has got isolated becuase of Bush. Kerry will repair the damage but he will attack Iran. Kerry will use his diplomatic skills to coordinate with Muslim Agents like Mubarak, Fahd and Mushrraf to further occupy the Muslim lands, kill more Muslims but in a sophisticated and deceptive way. By voting Ralph Nader, Muslims will not only vote for the principals and consiousness, but will help in defeating Kerry. Also, if Nader gets enough votes, then we will be putting a third party on the ballot boxes since Green Party will be eligible for federal funding. We need to sit down and think in a cool way. Just by hating Bush, we will burn our hands. Also, please participate in elections. Boycotting is nonsense.


There is much to be gained by being engaged in the process--making a clear point is one, but so is learning the mechinisations of the policy process, and importantly how to make the system work for our needs and others. Collectively, as a community we are not as savvy in these areas as we should be. All too often muslims let others make decisions for them--a mentality, I think, carried over from their pre-emigration days. I mean, we defer our responsibilities to individuals who are not wholely qualified to represent us (i.e. imported preachers who lack working knowledge or English for one).

Secondly we bear a responsiblity to participate because of the unique privledge that we have by living in the countiries that effectively rule the world. We bear a responsiblity to advocate and be the standard bearers for justice and human rights.

We need to ask ourselves is it enough living (surviving) the American/Australian dream or can we be engaged so that our rights and represenations are not erroded, misused, or ignored. If this means aligning ourselves (within the spirit, letter and historical context of Islam) with individuals and groups that share our vision, and with those that wish to help us achieve our aims, why should be not welcome them to the fold? We just might surprise ourselves and others at the common humanity that we share.


I agree with this article wholheartedly in its premise, however in this election, I honestly believe Muslim votes do not matter.

Muslims do not have any choice, and neither republicans nor democrata have made any real substantive effort to gain the Muslim vote.

Edward's ranting during the vice-presidential debate about Iran, and the complete sympathy for Israel, while no sympathy was given for the Palestinian people, indicates an even more rigid stance than that of George Bush. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils, and there is no clear, consise answer. However, at least with Bush, we know the evil he has done, Kerry and Edwards we will find out.

I am fasting, Brother Ramzy - insha'Allah. But yes there is not much difference between the two candidates on these issues. Best wishes with warm regards.

I think Norman's idea is brilliant. My subconsious is telling me that Muslim shouldn't vote for either democrat or republican. Both just doesn't make sense. But to vote for example Nader meaning that no diffent currently can be made BUT it will definately prove a very important point that we as Muslim is a number that cannot be ignored.

I think if Muslims voted as a bloc in the form of a protest vote for someone like Kucinich, who though is the most honest and forthright candidate by far, would not stand a chance, but it would show the world that 8 million votes represent a group of very concerned individuals who do vote and can make a substantial difference. That would get the attention of US politicians - indeed the world, more so, than voting for any one of the current candidates, where a Muslim bloc vote would simply get lost in the numbers. It's about time world leaders stopped discounting Muslims and gave as much importance to their Muslim citizens as much as they give the Jewish vote. I would love to see a Muslim VP or even President which would be the true test of a country's commitment to racial, ethnic and religious equality. Alas Americans, as are the Europeans and Australians, avowed racists and nothing will change that.