Throughout the ongoing election battle in the United States, one thing was clear, American Muslims were split on whom they supported. Many Muslim voters turned to George W. Bush after it became apparent that Democratic runner Al Gore would support the state of Israel at the expense of Arabs and Muslims. Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader became appealing to Muslim voters after he took a strong stand against American interventionism and its double standard policies toward the Middle East.
The Green Party Presidential hopeful, at the time, constituted a challenge for Muslim voters for one simple reason, if Muslims leaned toward Nader, their ship may sink if Gore defeated Republican George Bush. Voting for Nader would not have served their political aspirations, or so they thought.
A split within the Muslim community was immanent, as several major American Muslim organizations endorsed Bush for the American presidency. Still, many Muslims appeared more determined to vote based on principals rather than seeking "the lesser of two evils."
It's important to note that Muslim groups in the United States did not approve of Bush based on random choice. After all, the man was outspoken against the unconstitutional use of Secret Evidence, a practice that seems to disproportionately target Muslims and Arabs. But most of all, Bush was not Gore, a man whose recent speech before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made it clear to Muslims that a dark fate awaited them should he win the race.
Meanwhile, Nader, whose publicity rose among a wide range of American voters including Jews, began appearing as an attractive candidate for president for American Muslims. Muslim enthusiasm for Nader reflected itself in voting surveys, online polls, and throughout the Arab American media. 3485 readers answered the question "for whom do you think Arab Americans should vote in US election" posted at Arabia.com, a site visited mainly by US Arabs and Muslims. Bush attained the lion's share of 41 percent of the votes, then Nader with 30 percent, and trailing behind him was Gore with only 9 percent. Although such surveys may not be very accurate, it was a reflection, like dozens of other polls conducted by Muslim organizations and new sites that showed a clear pro-Nader tendency among many Muslims and Arabs.
Ralph Nader, a first generation Lebanese American has remained wary of promoting himself based on any racial categorization. It may have resulted from his objection to "identity politics". But distancing himself from racial affiliations was by no means a reason for Nader to escape the moral responsibilities one would expect from a trustworthy potential president.
Nader strongly and repeatedly criticized the "devastating economic sanctions on the people of Iraq, including 5000 children who are dying every month." Such messages were heard loud and clear at almost every rally or fundraiser that Nader attended, in a time when both major party candidates were delivering their "tough on Saddam" rhetoric.
Following the surge of violence in the Middle East, Nader emerged strongly against Israel's policy against Palestinians, and the American support for such cruel tactics. The usually soft-spoken man used terms as "cowardly" while criticizing Gore's support of Israel.
At a fundraising rally at the University of California, Nader protested Israeli soldiers "killing of innocent (Palestinians) children," demanding that the United States stop pushing its ally, Israel, to provoke the much weaker Palestinians who "have got a lot of reasons for their rage." The speech was followed by a Green Party statement that called for a suspension of American aid to Israel, blaming the Israelis for the current violence in the Middle East, a demand that was hardly repeated anywhere amongst American mainstream politics and media.
While Forward.com spoke of unpleased reactions among Jewish Green Party supporters regarding Nader's stand on the Arab Israeli conflict, American Muslims celebrated the strong position adopted by a fairly popular American figure. According to Forward.com, Democratic activists demanded that Jewish voters (estimated at 3 percent of total American Jewish vote) abandon the Green Party, while Muslim voters moved closer to the Green Party Camp. Meanwhile, many American Muslim organizations which must have appreciated Nader's risky stand, remained advocates for "Bush for President."
For many Americans, Nader was a man of virtue for his strong stands on environmental protection, automobile safety, opposition of governmental corruption, a high military budget and support for campaign finance reforms. For US Muslims, the man was much more than an environmental activist, but a political activist who, without asking much in return, championed a cause they care much about, justice for Palestinians, and lifting the sanctions off Iraq, amongst others.
For once, Muslims found in Nader a man of principals in a time when opportunism seemed to be the only thing American politicians know. No wonder a large percentage of American Muslim voters saw Nader as their long-awaited knight in shining armor.
Ramzy Baroud is a freelance journalist living in Seattle, Washington.