The long-heralded Muslim American "bloc vote" was announced on Oct. 22 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The Muslim coalition called for a "protest vote" against oppressive laws and a qualified endorsement for Sen. John Kerry. Muslims nationwide were urged to vote against President Bush and for Sen. Kerry in order to guarantee civil rights.
It got off to a ragged start but it seems almost certain that this endorsement could make the difference in electing Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004 just as it did in electing George Bush four years ago. There are an estimated seven million Muslims in the United States. Muslims are a potential swing-voting bloc in key battleground states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Two of the ten participating Muslim American organizations jumped the gun and endorsed Kerry three days early. An eleventh group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, declined to endorse Kerry. All of the other ten groups supported the senator from Massachusetts.
The dissenting eleventh group, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), said Kerry had not met with them nor was any authorized representative of Kerry present at the meeting. A spokesman for that group said "The senior senator for Massachusetts, Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy, (who had discussed the prerequisites for the endorsement in a conference call with AMT leaders) has been very supportive of Muslims, as well as Christian Arabs. But the members of our group felt uncertain that the group would actually be heeded when serious questions arose."
The Muslim endorsement was somewhat conditional, according to American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) Chairman Dr. Agha Saeed of Freemont College in California. The AMT is an umbrella organization which includes the American Muslim Alliance (AMA); the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA); Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA); the Muslim American Society (MAS); the Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), the Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N); Project Islamic Hope (PIH) and United Muslims of America (UMA) which altogether cover virtually all the mosques in the United States.
This writer has tracked the bloc vote for many years. The attempt to get American Muslims to work together to call attention to their needs was first tried in 1992. There were too many cooks who spoiled the pot and all went off in different directions. Four years later they almost did it but the individual players were not used to working together, particularly because they needed the support not only of Arab-Americans, but the much broader range of hyphenated foreign-born Americans and their descendants from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and, of course, giant Indonesia. All have common interests and when they work together, they can make a huge difference in the US political scene.
There are also Christian Arab-Americans who number between a million and half voters who work extremely well together on Palestinian problems. They, too, noted that a bloc vote could work after George W. Bush showed his interest in Muslim- and Arab-Americans early in his 2000 campaign.
The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, and his handlers ignored approaches by Muslim Americans almost to the end, realizing only about two weeks before the November election that they were very likely to lose their endorsement. They had been confident that most Arab-Americans would back a Democratic ticket and didn't understand that Muslim Americans were not tied to any one party. At that point Democratic operatives considered sending Mrs. Al (Tipper) Gore to a Muslim convention. But other Gore staffers vetoed the plan because they feared that it would upset American Jews. At the same time, Muslim Americans and many Arab-Americans realized that they could make the difference particularly in a closely contested election with their bloc vote.
This year there has been a sea-change based on the fact that President Bush seemed to turn his back on Muslim Americans after Sept. 11 by initiating a number of harmful domestic and foreign policies.
Bush increasingly favored the heavily entrenched neoconservatives in his party such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle who then was the head of the Defense Policy Board, along with Vice President Richard Cheney.
Bush also stressed his attachment for his evangelical constituents, including the Armageddonists who are awaiting the reappearance of Christ and who frighten virtually all Europeans as well as most Americans.
American Muslims feel that the Bush administration has been insensitive to their civil liberties and human rights.
A recent poll commissioned by John Zogby International and Georgetown University showed that 68 percent of Muslim Americans were likely to vote for John Kerry and John Edwards, 11 percent were likely to vote for Ralph Nader and only about 7 percent were likely to vote for Bush. Since then even more Muslim Americans have decided to go for Kerry and even fewer to go for Ralph Nader, even though Nader remains popular.
Of the seven million Muslims in the United States, an expected 81 percent supported the American Muslim Task Force's decision. There are an additional 1 or 1.5 million Christian Arab-Americans who joined with the Muslim American community on this matter.
Muslims all over the United States have been working very hard on this election, perhaps even more so than in the 2000 campaign. As people left their mosques each night after Ramadan prayers and every Friday before the election, they were handed letters showing them where to register and vote. People also called to make sure that they had transportation to get to the polls.
For example, Hasem Ahamed who is from Bangladesh and drives a Washington Flyer taxicab said he had volunteered to give up a day of work to drive Muslims to the polls. He is one of 30 cabbies who have made such an offer. Not all Muslims go to mosques but word got around their communities that they should make sure to vote in the crucial election. It was predicted that Muslims would vote in record numbers, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent. If the enthusiasm continues, it is almost certain that this will make the difference between a Kerry and a Bush victory.
The Muslim position is so weak that neither candidate offered to publicly meet or even accept donations from Muslim groups -- this should be cause for serious reflection and concern on the part of Mr. Curtiss and the other Saudi funded groups he speaks for.