The American Muslim Vote in Election 2004
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Gaining political influence requires three main steps: fundraising, recruiting candidates, and voting. The American Muslim community’s performance on fundraising for candidates and recruiting candidates to contest various offices was not appreciable in 2004 Election. However, the community was more active politically. This is the silver lining to 9/11, the Patriot Act and the mass detentions. It has pushed us to be proactive and take a stand, to be part of the political process. Now the Muslims are realizing that America's politics is about numbers: dollars you donate to your favorite candidates, or votes you can generate for them. Although their campaigns fundraisers produced meager results but they were able to mobilize the community to get out and vote.

Evidently, whether intended or not, Muslims voted en bloc on November 2, 2004 presidential election, a behavior that is undoubtedly the outcome of personal and collective experiences, not a political strategy per se. The only reason for en mass Muslim and Arab vote for Senator Kerry was the civil rights issue as they endured much of the brunt of the Bush administration’s transgression on the country’s rights, and particularity their civil liberties.

At the same time, the Muslim community showed its eagerness to participate in the political process. This was confirmed by various studies and hundreds of media reports. A study, which surveyed Muslims in and around Detroit, Michigan -- an area that has the largest concentration of Muslims in the country -- demonstrated the growing perception that Muslim communities, which in the past have been viewed as isolated and inward-looking, are now seeking greater political involvement in the US. Over 60 percent of those polled cited civil rights issues as their top public policy concern, according to the study by Michigan-based Institute of Social Policy and Understanding released in April 2004.

The mainstream media played an important role in highlighting the concerns of Arabs and Muslims, particularly abridgment of their civil rights during the 2004 election campaign. It helped in motivating them to participate in the political process by registering as voters. The media reported extensively about the voter registration campaigns by various local Muslim and Arab community organizations as well as Islamic centers and mosques throughout the nation.

A study of more than 100 media reports shows that the mainstream media was well aware that civil rights is the defining issue for the Muslims and Arabs after the 9/11. For example, according to Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2/4/2004), Muslims in cities across the nation voiced concern over an anti-Muslim backlash after the 2001 terror attacks, and what they call the subsequent assault on civil liberties by the Bush administration. Of the more than 1,200 detainees caught up in the post-Sept. 11 dragnet, most were Muslims or people from Arab or southern Asian nations. An Agence France Presse report (2/6/2004) said: The three million Arab-Americans, who have felt ostracized since September 11, 2001, want to show they can be a mighty political force in this year's presidential election.

As the American Muslim community grows, it is becoming increasingly aware of its social and political potential. American Muslims have distinct views on issues such as abortion, prayer in public schools, welfare reform, immigration, and civil rights. They seek to promote family values, prevent crime, combat drug abuse, and encourage other worthwhile social goals but it will not be an exaggeration to say that abridgement of civil rights was the single issue that galvanized the Muslim and Arab community.

A barrage of post 9/11 policies impacted them. This is not to say that the Muslims and Arabs were not concerned with other election issues. But obviously all communities are motivated by the issues that affect them most. A Democratic Presidential hopeful, Dennis Kucinich best reflected their sentiments when he said during a visit to a Florida Mosque: “The defining issue for Muslims is the restriction of civil liberties.''

However, in this election, the voters from the very beginning of the campaign were seen to concentrate mainly on the civil rights issue because they were affected by the policies of the administration in the aftermath of 9/11. The civil rights issue even overshadowed the Middle East problem and Muslims and Arabs supported Senator Kerry despite their reservations about his support toward Israel.

During the last one year, the Muslim and Arab political activism was extensively reported by the mainstream media with such headlines (few examples): Arab vote poses a challenge for Bush - Civil liberties concerns, foreign policy have cut support from 2000. (The Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2003; ) Muslim-American Activism: Enhanced Muslim Interest in American Politics. (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs – October 2003); Arab-Americans organize to influence elections. (News Day - December 13, 2003); Muslim vote may be shifting: Bush enjoyed support from Islamic community - before Sept. 11, terrorist attacks and wars. (Dallas News – January 9, 2004); New Jersey Muslims stressing political participation. (News Day - January 5, 2004); Muslim vote may shift to Democrats. (Deseret Morning News - February 09, 2004); Arab-American group fights bias, rallies voters. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel - February 7, 2004): - U.S. Muslims seek greater electoral clout.(Seattle Post-Intelligencer - February 4, 2004.

While media reported Muslim and Arab political activism, opinion polls gauged the presidential candidates’ preferences.

President Bush still had some support within the Muslim community. Muhammad Ali Hasan, co-founder of a group called "Muslims for Bush," argued that Muslims can support Bush for bringing liberation and democracy to the Islamic world. Non-endorsement of any presidential candidate by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) was also interpreted by many as an implied endorsement for Bush because the Muslim community was going to vote for Kerry.

American Muslim and Arab voters went to poll with a deep conviction that their vote is the best guarantee to safeguard their rights. During the last one year the Muslims and Arabs have shown great political maturity and enthusiasm to participate in the national political process. Their political activism was also reflected in dozens of voter registration campaigns during the last one year.

The Muslim and Arabs organizations had set a goal to register one million new voters. The endorsements of the Muslim and Arab organizations in October came too late to impact the decision of the Muslim and Arab voters who had made up their minds long before as was confirmed by various polls, studies and media reports.

As a matter of fact, it appears that it was the mood of the community that forced these organizations to endorse Senator Kerry. Michael Meehan, a Kerry campaign spokesman, made this point very clear when he said endorsements were helpful, but "at this late point in the election cycle, we are trying to turn supporters into voters and recent polling shows we have support among American Muslims 10-to-1."

However, the American Muslims must realize that voting is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a long struggle that requires commitment, skill and resolve. In the next election cycle they have to be more active in local elections and make alliances with other communities. Otherwise, after the election, their success will be confined to self-congratulating press releases espousing false hopes.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor American Muslim Perspective online magazine


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.