American Muslims appear to have emerged as a political force--perhaps crucial in swinging the election in favor of Mr. George Bush as the next president of the United States. However, while significant progress has been made by Muslims, now is the time for sober reflection.
Muslims remain virtually unrepresented in Congress, the White House, and the all important media--and the path ahead is much more difficult.
Two weeks before elections, the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC) endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush citing his outreach to the Muslim community, his stand on the issue of secret evidence, and an expectation of greater flexibility on foreign policy issues. This was American Muslims' first attempt at a bloc vote. An informal post-election poll (not a statistically valid survey) found 70 percent of Muslims voted for Mr. Bush. Coupled with the closeness of the popular vote nationwide, and in key states such as Florida, it highlighted the importance of the Muslim vote for presidential candidates George Bush and Al Gore.
The results of the November 7 election were hotly contested--most significantly in multiple cases filed in the Florida courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the December 12 U.S. Supreme Court ruling appears to have cleared Mr. Bush's way to the White House. And with time running out for further challenges and recounts, Mr. Bush will have won the Florida electoral vote by a very slim margin of 537 popular votes, thereby, giving him the majority of electoral votes needed to elect the next president of the United States: 270 out of total of 538.
The narrow margin for victory in Election 2000, together with 152 Muslims elected mostly to local offices--92 in Texas, according to the American Muslim Alliance--has given American Muslims greater visibility on the political scene. This should increase over time as more Muslims become politically active, and as their numbers increase by birth, immigration, and reversion to Islam.
But significant challenges lie ahead that will test the mettle and faith of Muslims.
Muslims were able to unite in fighting bigotry, racial profiling, the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings, and on the future of Jerusalem. In the near future these issues, with the probable exception of Jerusalem, may be resolved, and unless consensus is achieved on new issues, the political momentum will dissipate.
Now is the time to build on the gains of Election 2000.
The first priority is to arrive at consensus strategic objectives. Without agreement on where Muslims are headed, there can be no agreement on how to get there. Based on this agreement, a "briefing book" on the American Muslim position on specific issues should be prepared and placed in congressional offices, and with key members of the executive branch. Representative Tom Campbell (R-CA) suggested such a "briefing book" to Syed R. Mahmood of the United Muslims of America--recent candidate for the California State Assembly.
To develop these objectives, update them periodically, and to effectively leverage the limited resources of the community, requires a support organization that does not presently exist. Such an organization would exist only to serve its member organizations. It would not engage in initiatives not authorized by its member organizations via properly approved resolutions. It would be funded by its member organizations--local, state and national--according to a formula based upon their income. Think of this organization as an OSP--organization service provider. The OSP would provide the infrastructure necessary to serve the collective, as opposed to the indvidual, needs of its member organizations.
An organization model that may serve as a good starting point is the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
NARUC has a small Washington headquarters staff that essentially maintains the infrastructure for joint action by NARUC member organizations in each of the 50 states. The officers of NARUC and the permanent committees are rotated, while the substantive work is done by ad hoc task forces setup to tackle specific issues. The recommendations of these task forces may lead to resolutions by the NARUC standing committees which, when approved by the Executive Committee, become NARUC's legislative agenda--essentially the "briefing book" suggested by Mr. Campbell.
Setting up such an organization is technically quite simple, but it will not come easily. Yet, given the diversity of Muslim views, a single hierarchy is not likely to be effective for long. A NARUC type organization can serve to focus the efforts of any number of diverse, Muslim organizations toward common objectives, while each organization remains free to pursue its other goals.
One might ask: "Given the existence of the AMPCC, what is the need for yet another Muslim organization?"
The AMPCC is comprised of the leaders of the American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Council of Presidents of Arab-American Organizations. It lacks efficient and effective mechanisms for: including all Muslim organizations; building consensus among dozens (if not hundreds) of Muslim organizations; building and maintaining the infrastructure for joint action; funding itself. Also, by perpetuating hierarchies, the AMPCC lacks the flexibility for attracting the best resources available to the community.
In essence, we propose a flexible organization able to serve the entire community, with a small support staff utilizing state-of-the-art mechanisms and technology. On an organization chart, one may envision this as an inverted pyramid balanced on top of a pyramid. Member organizations are at the top, followed by the Executive Committee, and other permanent and/or ad-hoc committees, task forces, etc. as needed. The OSP answers to the Executive Committee.
The consensus and transparency resulting from the creation of such an organization, would act as an incentive for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of all organizations served by the OSP.
Regardless of the specific objectives agreed upon, much greater Muslim representation in American media has to be a very high priority. New rules, established by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year, have opened the door to the hiring of more women and minorities in the broadcast industry.
Assuming that American Muslims do one day achieve significant representation in Congress, the White House, and American media, that is when they will face their biggest challenge. Where will they stand when it comes to a choice between the greed of unrestrained capitalism, and social justice--the essence of Islamic society?
Enver Masud is an engineering management consultant, and founder of The Wisdom Fund--http://www.twf.org. This article was published in England in Impact International, January 2001. Copyright 2000 The Wisdom Fund - All Rights Reserved.