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Muslims Alienated from America's Political Parties

Pakistan Link, Commentary, Kaleem Kawaja Posted: Sep 19, 2008

As the well attended political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties concluded after a long Primary election process in America, and as election approaches in November this year, it is painful to observe that the Muslim Americans are not only invisible in the electoral arena, they are also not openly welcomed by political parties and politicians.

Even though seven long years have elapsed since the horrible 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the political atmosphere in America continues to be against the nations five million strong Muslim citizens and voters. This year most of the candidates for the offices of President, Senators, Congressmen, Governors throughout the fifty states in the US have not allowed any of the many active and serious Muslim American political activists a significant role in their campaign.

In the decade before 2001 many Muslim Americans had shied away from the Republican Party, afraid that it is a party predominantly of the White folks. At the same time they were also attracted to it because of the partys emphasis on observing religious faith, the discipline of family values, and a conservative lifestyle in the free-wheeling American society.

However, the number of Muslim activists in the Republican Party was small and shrunk further after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In the 2004 election very few Muslim activists worked for the Republican Party, perhaps angered by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today Muslims do not receive much visibility in the GOP party, and some anti-Muslim politicians regularly make corrosive remarks about Muslims.

Compared to the Republicans, Muslim activists flocked in significant numbers to the Democratic Party to which many racial minorities in US have turned to in recent decades. The presence of other colored folks in the Democratic Party gave them a sense of comfort. But since 2001 Muslims in the Democratic Party too are not receiving a warm welcome.

Despite the Muslim-American community showing much enthusiasm for Democrats and especially for the partys Presidential nominee Senator Barrack Obama, the senior managers in the party are not letting Muslim Democrats receive significant roles. In the public election rallies, Muslims wearing obvious Muslim attire, e.g. Hijab clad women, were not allowed to be seated in places where the television cameras could spot them, as was reported in one of Senator Obamas campaign rallies in Detroit in June this year.

Even two Black Muslim Congressmen who are lifelong Democratic Party loyalists, Keith Ellison (MN) and Andre Carson (IN), have been politely told by Senator Obamas campaign to stay away from campaigning for him. A few liberal Muslims who got an opportunity to be a part of some Democratic party election campaign committees, e.g. the very liberal Muslim stockbroker in Chicago, have been politely asked to step down on one excuse or another.

What is strange is that if you do not identify yourselves as a Muslim, you may receive some welcome, as the sizeable number of Indian-Americans do. But if you identify yourself as being associated with any Muslim platform, your claims of loyalty to the party, your desire to be in the American mainstream, or even your being an ultra-liberal Muslim, makes no significant impact. A pretext is found and you are sidelined regardless of your financial contribution or grassroots campaign work.

Quite a few Muslim Americans are trying to participate in fundraising efforts for the Democratic partys political candidates this year, and a few for the Republican party, as they did four years ago, with hopes of recognition. But neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties are encouraging any roles for Muslim donors beyond accepting their financial contributions. A couple of very active Muslim political activists and fundraisers in the Democratic Party in the state of Maryland have told me that the party managers clear message to Muslims is: Your financial contribution and vote is welcome but we ca not afford to make you very visible as a campaigner and we cannot pledge any significant recognition from the Party for your help.

In fact many disgruntled Muslim activists in the US have abandoned Muslim political groups and have joined Asian-American political groups in order to continue their political activism.

This is not to say that a few Muslims have not received political appointments to some junior level management positions in county, state or federal management positions or government Commissions, as a result of their help in the campaigns. But most of them have received recognition by working through an Asian-American platform, and not by identifying association with any Muslim-American group. And they are vulnerable to even false complaints against them by anyone.

That makes one wonder if the political parties in America are angry at the nations Muslims. Since 2001 a large number of Muslim-American organizations and Islamic centers have categorically condemned the 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attack on US and on US interests abroad. Yet their alienation from the American political parties is not showing any signs of diminishing.

No matter how one looks at it, it is obvious that the five million strong American Muslim community, with sizeable vote power and sizeable fundraising power, is not getting a voice in the US political process. A survey and analysis of the situation indicates that one factor for the alienation of Muslims from the political parties in US is their continuing complaint against the US foreign policy in the Middle East since 2001, and their lack of attention to the Administrations domestic policies in the US. Also the race-based elements of electoral politics in this years Presidential election appears to have added to the alienation of Muslim Americans from the majority White Americans.

In the Democratic party Presidential Primary election the support for Senator Obama by a disproportionately large number of Muslim Americans compared to Senator Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact that Senator Obama stretched absolutely no olive branch to them, and their aversion to the Republican candidates reinforces the feeling that the alienation of Muslims from White Americans has increased in this election year. Thus today Muslim Americans are not only alienated from the Republican Party where most people are Whites, they also appear to be alienated from a large segment of the Democratic Party.

To compound the problem, major national Muslim organizations like Islamic Society of North America, Islamic Circle of North America, Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Council, American Muslim Alliance, etc have stopped taking initiatives in the political arena since 2001 and are now mostly involved in social, interfaith, religious and government-liaison work. The enthusiasm for the Presidential, Congressional and Statehouse elections that Muslim Americans demonstrated in 2000 has evaporated, leaving a deafening silence and eerie vacuum in the communitys political activism landscape. The community that was becoming politically vibrant only eight years ago is without any political agenda, goal or leadership in todays America.

Surely the community cannot afford to remain in this limbo and must find a way out of the suffocating impasse. Muslim Americans must recognize that building bridges with all Americans, especially the majority White people, and helping them overcome their anger against Muslims due to the 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on US, should be a priority for them. Taking far more interest in the domestic US issues rather than foreign policy issues is a must for the community to redeem itself.

In todays America Muslims should pay serious attention and respect to women candidates. In elections for important national positions the community should support a variety of candidates from various shades and both political parties; not just minority ethnic or religious candidates. The Muslim American minority should understand that in order to receive fairness from America s majority community they should also give fairness to the majority.

The writer is a community activist in Washington DC. He can be reached at kaleemkawaja@hotmail.com

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