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Eye on Elections: Muslim Voters Disappointed With Obama, Wary of GOP

Posted: Oct 26, 2012

Editor's Note: In the fifth in a series of interviews with ethnic media journalists, Javed Ali, founder and publisher of Illume Media, explains why some Muslim-American voters who voted for Pres. Obama in 2008, may not support him in November. This interview is part of a collaboration by New America Media and 91.7 FM KALW Public Radio. Every Tuesday until Election Day, KALW’s news program "Crosscurrents" will be speaking with ethnic media reporters on what they see as being at stake for their communities in the 2012 elections.

LISTEN to this interview.

SAN FRANCISCO – There are an estimated 8 million Muslim Americans living in the United States, with close to 100,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Four years ago, an overwhelming majority of them -- close to 90 percent -- voted for President Obama.

But Javed Ali, founder and publisher of Illume Media based the East Bay city of Newark, says that same support may not be there this time around. “They are not as enthusiastic [about Obama],” Ali said.

Pointing to disappointment over the president’s policies, he noted many in the community “are feeling a bit disenfranchised ... The drone strikes have intensified, Guantanamo hasn't been closed yet … so they feel that President Obama has let them down.”

Still, despite misgivings, Ali said it’s unlikely Muslim Americans will once again put their support behind the GOP, as they did in the initial weeks and months following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Historically … Muslims have aligned themselves with the Republican Party because they felt their values were closely aligned,” Ali explained. “But a change has happened, especially in the post-9/11 world … I don’t think they’re going back to the Republican Party, mainly because it seems like the Republican Party has adopted an agenda that is anti-Muslim.”

With disappointment directed at both sides of the political divide, one would expect to see a level of voter apathy among Muslim Americans. But that’s not the case, said Ali, who notes engagement is growing.

“We’ve seen … a rise in the level of engagement when it comes to American Muslims, both online and offline,” he said. “There have been debate parties here in San Francisco and cities across the country. Mosques and Muslim organizations have mobilized mosque-goers and the youth.”

He admits, though, that some do plan to withhold their vote.

But with the race less than two weeks away and most polls showing both candidates running neck and neck, Ali said the Muslim American vote, especially in key swing states, could be critical.

Pointing to a recent study on Muslim American political sentiment, he noted there are “about 1.2 million American Muslims who are registered voters,” many of them in battleground states. “We have seen a rise in the level of engagement … I don’t think there’s going to be a lower turnout overall.”

CORRECTION: In his interview, Ali mistakenly referred to Aziz Ansari, a well-know comedian, as the 18-year old candidate running for mayor in Fremont, California. The candidate’s correct name is Aziz Akbari.

This new NAM-KALW weekly segment collaboration is hosted by Hana Baba and co-produced by NAM News Anchor Odette Keeley. Editorial supervisors are KALW News Director Holly Kernan and NAM Executive Editor Sandy Close. The segment's engineer is KALW's Seth Samuel.

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