Election after election, many Arab and American Muslims are wholeheartedly convinced that without becoming an effective variable in politics, nationally and locally, their chances of social, cultural and political equality are at risk. While other religious groups and minorities have come to a similar realization earlier in the game, many Muslim activists and community leaders are seeing the coming elections as their turn or "golden opportunity" to take badly needed steps. Although the positive impact of fair political representation can hardly be denied, since other similar endeavors have proven successful in the recent past, Muslims are obliged to see the issue from all angles, for the issue is not only important, it carries many serious consequences.
One important question that demands an immediate answer is: if the American political establishment is welcoming and willing to recognize the presence of a permanent Muslim voice in politics and decision making, are Muslims genuinely eager for that "privilege?" Such a question may appear less relevant at this point due to the fact that discrimination against Muslims in the United States is experiencing rapid growth. Nonetheless, Muslim advocacy is itself in motion, to restore the rights of its community and to advance the political and social role which its people are systematically prohibited from playing.
But in politics, American politics that is, for one to gain what is rightly his, he must also provide that system with things such as faith in the system, loyalty and devotion. Such a price, although expected, may appear to some as paradoxical with the Muslim social and political culture. What could also harden the merger of American Muslims to the political establishment in the United States is the shared feeling among Muslims and Arabs alike that this establishment is bringing death and destruction to many countries, which most Muslims in the US still call home.
A recent Ramadan dinner was held in honor of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who spoke to a group of Muslim leaders, activists and concerned citizens in Washington. Mrs. Albright, fully aware of Muslim demands and aspirations assured the attendees, "your views are being heard." She also promised them that she would strive to make sure that, "the legitimate concerns of Muslim Americans are taken into account."
While concluding her remarks, Albright said, "...and like other citizens, you may not agree with everything we do, but you should at least feel a connection to it, and know that your views are being heard." Though such a statement is often presented as one of democracy's applauded features, it contains one of its most challenging notions, for American Muslims, at least.
The hardship indeed lies in the fact that many American Muslims see the conduct of the US government in the same scope that many Arabs and Muslims around the world see it; inhumane, one-sided and most of all, anti-Muslim. If an American Muslim perceives his government with fear because it is "out there to get him," it is utterly naïve to expect a Ramadan dinner and a few heated speeches filled with empty promises (mainly aimed at short-term political needs) to make right that dysfunctional relationship.
Someone may suggest that one can work with the system to change it from within, and in the meantime remain untouched by the negative conduct instituted by that system. For instance, a pro-Iraq White American activist might resent his government's policy in Iraq as strongly as an American Muslim does, and yet he is able to take part in his country's political institutions. What differs between the two scenarios, however, is the fact that many American Muslims (mainly those who are descendants of Arab and Asian origins) might understand that US savagery in Iraq is part of a larger policy aimed at them as well. For them, the challenge is therefore much more complicated than using their increasing number to bring obscure politicians to office or to vote another down, but it's the physical, religious and cultural survival in a country that is never merciful with its enemies.
"US foreign policy is conducted in your name," Albright stated. But although she meant to assert that statement so as to confirm Muslims' rights to be fairly represented in the government, she indirectly emphasized Muslims' main concern with respect to the subject of political representation. If one does not vote, one is not at all responsible for the actions of those who shape the country's foreign policy outlook, many Muslims may believe. Not voting therefore, will -- in their eyes dismiss the value of Albright's statement; for many, that is the least they can do. It cannot be denied that America's foreign policy within the Arab/Muslim world has been far from virtuous, and American Muslims, if they take part in that government, must keep this in the forefront of their minds. It's not as if Muslims are unable to play the political game as cleverly as everyone else, but it's the challenge that forces Muslims to think deeply of the ethical and moral consequences that such involvement will bring about.