My discussion on Muslim involvement in American politics was given this past Friday night at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, MI.
As approval for President Barack Obama wanes, disenfranchised Arab American voters are keeping open minds for who to support come Election Day.
- By Jessica Carreras
When Dearborn resident Amal Berry-Brown left the National Leadership Conference for Arab Americans in October, she said she walked away sad.
Because while the annual conference–held in 2011 in Dearborn–is always about creating a unified political and social voice for the community, it’s hard to find unity without a clear political leader.
In 2008, that person was then presidential candidate Barack Obama. But heading into 2012’s election season, the choices are much murkier.
“The Arab American community is a bit disenfranchised,” Berry-Brown, a Comerica vice president and community leader, told Dearborn Patch last October. “We had a great deal of hope in President Obama, and some of that really hasn’t come to fruition. So in 2012, it will be interesting to see the overall stance the community takes in who they’ll be supporting, and what can be done.”
Berry-Brown’s attitude mirrors the greater Arab American and Muslim American communities in Michigan and nationally. With a president who has not lived up to expectations in terms of civil liberties, foreign policy and immigration law, and Republican candidates who nearly all have voiced anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric, Arab Americans are wondering: Who should we vote for? Or should we vote at all?
For Arab American and Muslim organizations that focus on civic engagement, the first and biggest goal is to get their constituents to the polls.
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations combats voter apathy with Get Out the Vote campaigns at local mosques, reminding Muslim Michiganders of the great responsibility they have to cast their ballot–even if the candidate is not aligned with all of the issues that matter to them.
“We’re encouraging people that the election is still important; voting is still important,” explained Executive Director Dawud Walid. “I tell them, ‘Don’t take your vote for granted. Many people are dying to get the right to vote.’”
“I think (apathy) is national,” he said. “Approval rates are low … and you’ve got a depressed environment in the country.”
And with the passion seen in 2008 gone for many voters, the approach of civic engagement organizations will change drastically for 2012 as well.
“There will be an effort to mobilize people, but it will be different than 2008,” Zogby said.
Obama Losing Support
Much of the apathy seen in Arab American voters stems from a feeling that no one candidate, or political party, represents them well.
While many of the nation’s estimated 3.5 million Arab American’s supported George W. Bush in 2000, a poll of community members conducted by Zogby International in 2008 found that 46 percent backed Obama in that year’s election, while 32 percent pledged support for Republican John McCain.
Some post-election estimates from the same year claimed that 90 percent Muslim voters supported Obama.
Osama Siblani, treasurer of the Arab American Political Action Committee, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News and founder of both, said it could be chalked up to the fact that many Arab Americans and Muslims are split on key issues.
“In general, Arab Americans are conservatives,” he said. “Politically they may be liberal, but on civil issues like abortion, taxes and stuff, they’re more conservative. But (the GOP) alienates the community when they talk about Islamaphobia.”
This go around, Siblani and others believe that Obama won’t do as well, although much of that depends on which Republican candidate comes out on top and how they campaign.
“We have issues with the Republican Party, but I don’t think the Democrats should take us for granted,” Siblani said. “This community is a very unique community. Politically they’re liberal, but it doesn’t take much to move them to the right.”
Zogby, however, said he thinks Obama will still be supported nationally among Arab American voters–especially because the disappointment among voters has not gone unnoticed by the Democratic Party.
“I think that the Democrats will do very well in 2012, and they’ll win back a lot of support,” Zogby said. “But I don’t think that the numbers will be where they were in 2008–meaning that the percentage (of support) will be the same, but the turnout will be less.”
As for Republicans, Zogby said a lot will depend on what the final candidate says and does during his campaign. So far, it hasn’t been good.
“The candidates have made rather shocking statements about the Middle East and about Islam,” he said. “These candidates scare the hell out of people.”
Walid agreed, and said that it seems in 2012, Islamaphobia has grown.
“There’s more anti-Muslim sentiment this election from the GOP, both locally and nationally,” he said.
With one exception, that is.
Ron Paul a Standout?
Ron Paul’s stance on foreign policy, support of streamlining immigration processes and staunch beliefs on the roles of government have won over many Arab American voters.
“Paul has been the only major Republican candidate to resist the type of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant demonization, fear-mongering and pandering to ultra-conservative voters in his party that has become pervasive in the post-9/11 climate,” the Arab American news wrote in their Feb. 24 endorsement of the candidate.
He’s also the only GOP candidate to actively court Arab American voters: his Feb. 27 stop at Dearborn’s Ford Community and Performing Arts Center is co-sponsored by the University of Michigan-Dearborn‘s Arab Student Union.
But, Zogby pointed out, Paul is generally considered to be out of the question as the 2012 GOP candidate.
“I think people look (at Ron Paul) the way people looked at (Independent candidate Ralph) Nader in 2004 and they say, ‘at least on some issues, he’s saying things I want to hear,’” Zogby explained. “But come November, it’ll be who’s on the ballot and what’s the choice.
“I understand the Ron Paul sentiment, but that will fade.”
Still, Siblani said support for Paul is more about making Arab American voices heard.
“The reason we’re trying to support Ron Paul in this primary is for us to have someone to speak at the platform at the Republican National Convention,” Siblani said. “If he gets 15-20 percent of the delegates, then he can be a force at the convention and he can bring up the issues that most Americans are concerned about.”
Which, Siblani said, could be the light bulb moment for the GOP in realizing they can and should court Arab American voters.
And although CAIR and the Arab American Institute do not endorse, groups like AAPAC do–and they have significant clout in the community.
“We’re willing to sit down and talk to any candidate,” Siblani said. “After that, the issue becomes deciding who is closer to the issues that we care about. And then after we discuss it amongst ourselves, we go to our community and try to get them on the same line with us, so we walk in united.”
بِسمِ ٱلله الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيـمِ
الحمد لله أحمده وأستعينه وأستغفره وأستهديه وأؤمن به ولا أكفره وأعادي من يكفره وأشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له وأن محمدا عبده ورسوله
Muslims Are Obligated To Cultivate Healthy Society
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَر
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّه
And G’d also says in the Qur’an (3:110): You are the best community evolved for mankind because you enjoin what is good (for society), you forbid what is despicable (for society), and you believe in G’d.
مَنْ رَأَى مِنْكُمْ مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُغَيِّرْهُ بِيَدِهِ
فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ
فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الْإِيمَانِ
The Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) said:
Whoever from you sees a despicable thing, then change it with his hand. And if he cannot resist it [with his hand], then [change it} with his tongue. And if he cannot resist it [with his tongue], then [change it] in his heart, but that is the weakest [form] of faith.
لا تتركوا الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر
Imam `Ali (KW) advised Imam Al-Husayn (RA) while on his death bed, “Do not leave enjoining what is good (for society) and forbidding what is despicable for society.”
No matter where Muslims reside, they are mandated by the Qur’an and the example of Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) to cultivate civil society. Moreover, Muslims have the duty to be civically engaged in striving towards this Divine mandate. Thus, they are not allowed to sit on the sidelines and observe social degeneration.
Civic engagement takes on several forms such as getting to know one’s neighbors, beautifying one’s neighborhood to community education and community policing. Being a part of the political process within one’s locality, state and nation is also a portion of being civically participatory.
Muslims Should Cooperate With Non-Muslims To Improve Society
لَيْسُواْ سَوَاء مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَآئِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللّهِ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ * يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَأُوْلَـئِكَ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ
G’d says in the Qur’an (3:113-114): They are not all equal from the People of the Book; among them is an upright group that recites the signs of G’d throughout the night, and they prostrate themselves. They believe in G’d, the Last Day, enjoin what is good (for society), forbid what is despicable (for society), and hasten towards excellent deeds. And these are from the righteous people.
And G’d says in the Qur’an (5:2): And cooperate upon piety and regardful-ness, but do not cooperate upon sin and enmity. And be regardful of G’d; surely G’d is swift in punishment.
As a youth prior to the revealing of the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) witnessed Hilf Al-Fudool (Treaty of Goodness) in which the Arabs in Makkah made an agreement to place barriers in front of oppression in favor of the oppressed. The Prophet (SAAS) stated that if he (SAAS) were called to a similar treaty in Al-Islam, he (SAAS) would accept. This statement’s implies that he (SAAS) would enter into a treaty for social good even with polytheists.
The Islamic religion enjoins cooperation with Non-Muslims for the improvement of society to make it more just. Muslims will differ with Non-Muslims on certain issues, the most important obviously is in creed that G’d is Indivisible (Al-Ahad) and Muhammad (SAAS) is His last prophet. Nonetheless, mutual interests should be advanced if those interests are to serve the common good.
Non-Option Withholding Vote Until Perfect Candidate Arrives
This principle also applies to voting for political candidates. Muslims do not agree 100% on issues or platforms of Muslim candidates in America, much less Non-Muslims. However, the candidates, especially those who have a track record, that are calling towards fair, just society in America and a sense of parity in the global village are worthy of support.
To sit on the sidelines and watch a candidate who is wrong on 75% of the issues defeat a candidate who is wrong on 15% of the issues is irresponsible. Muslims should ask themselves if the Prophet (SAAS) would take an “all or nothing attitude”, or would he (SAAS) deal with the one who is better for the society even with their flaws?
And surely G’d knows best.
From story titled “Muslim Outreach Proves A Tricky Issue For A Campaign Lauded As Multicultural” written by Sean Higgins on 8/25/08:
With polls showing a tight race with Sen. John McCain, Obama has reason to soothe Muslim concerns. The exact number of Muslim Americas often is disputed. A 2007 Pew survey put it at 2.35 million. There are substantial populations in swing states such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.
In 2000, George W. Bush is believed to have won a slight majority of the Muslim vote via aggressive outreach. Since 9/11, they have shifted and now identify about 2-1 Democratic. Many cite war on terror policies, claiming they have been unfairly singled out.
“Our major concern is the erosion of human and civil rights,” said Dawud Walid, a Michigan activist. He said he wants to see an Obama administration revisit the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping.
Walid, a former John Edwards fan, now supports Obama but rather tepidly: “I don’t think the Muslim community has any reason to doubt (Obama’s) commitment.”
Ellison and Carson, the only Muslims in Congress, tried to reassure the audience. They noted Obama endorsed and did ads for both of them in their recent campaigns.
Ellison also noted that “this is the first time ever that Muslim Americans have gathered together as a group at a Democratic convention.”
Yet he also had a word of caution.
“I’m a liberal Democrat and proud to be one but don’t forget that parties are vehicles,” he said. “The Muslim community cannot be captured by any one party.”
Many heads in the audience nodded along.
JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press, 8/22/08
Faced with a choice of White House hopefuls they
fear are not entirely sympathetic to their
issues, American Muslims are stepping up their
activism to unprecedented levels in hopes they
can influence the upcoming administration in its infancy.
The efforts stem in part from difficulties many
Muslim- and Arab-Americans say they have
experienced since the terror attacks of Sept. 11,
where they have found themselves on the defensive
and struggling to convince at times skeptical
fellow citizens that they can be both Muslims and loyal U.S. citizens.
“I’ve never seen the level of activism I now
see,” said Shibley Telhami, a Mideast scholar at
University of Maryland and fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“The number of people who have become more active
and visible on the national political front has
increased dramatically because people have
suddenly sensed that they have to be more active
in order to … defend themselves as Americans,
defend themselves as Arabs and Muslims,” he said…
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan
chapter of the Council on American Islamic
Relations, said neither candidate has officially
met with Muslims in Michigan, an important swing
state with one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations.
Walid said that may lead Muslim voters past the
“lesser of two evils,” to a third-party candidate
or no candidate at all. In broader terms, it also
raises concerns about both candidates’ foreign policy skills, he said.
“If the candidates cannot engage the American
Muslim community in a healthy way, which is the
world’s most educated Muslim community, then how
can they strengthen economic ties or have a
meaningful successful diplomacy in the Muslim world?” he said. (MORE)