Muslim Endorsement in Global Perspective
By Tahir Ali

Though AMT-PAC’s qualified endorsement of Sen. John Kerry on Oct 21, 2004 has received worldwide coverage – more than 150 newspapers, radio and television stations – and has been seen as a major strategic step by the Muslim community, nonetheless, the dilettante circles have been worrying about the qualified nature of this endorsement. We can rephrase their concerns in social-scientific terms: will the ‘qualification’ increase or decrease the effectiveness of the AMT endorsement? This question can be answered by asking three related questions: 1) what was the purpose of ‘qualifying’ the endorsement? 2) Has anyone else in the American mainstream used the same approach? And 3) How has the AMT endorsement been received by the mainstream press in the United States and elsewhere in the world?

From AMT’s point of view, an endorsement encapsulates a given stage in negotiations, authenticates the level of agreement between the two sides, provides a sense of direction and purpose to the community, and documents community’s participation and multifarious contributions. It enables a community to express its collective will. This expression of the collective will, says the AMT Chair Dr. Agha Saeed, must be calibrated precisely to match other side’s intentions and actions.

Now, the Washington Post, one of America’s most influential newspapers, has endorsed Sen. Kerry roughly on the same terms and conditions as the AMT. In its endorsement titled ‘Kerry for President’ issued on Oct 24, the Post uses the same two-pronged approach as the AMT: criticism of the Bush administration, and qualified endorsement of the Kerry campaign.

Thus wrote the editors of the Washington Post about President Bush:

“These failings have a common source in Mr. Bush’s cocksureness, his failure to seek advice from anyone outside a narrow circle and his unwillingness to expect the unexpected or adapt to new facts. These are dangerous traits in any president but especially in a wartime leader. They are matched by his failure to admit his errors or to hold senior officials accountable for theirs.”

Similarly, the New York Times, which endorsed Sen. Kerry on Oct 17, chastised President Bush in their endorsement editorial:

“American citizens were detained for long periods without access to lawyers or family members. Immigrants were rounded up and forced to languish in what the Justice Department’s own inspector general found were often ‘unduly harsh’ conditions.”

Actually, the New York Times went much further in chastising the Bush administration, as cited below:

“Mr. Ashcroft appeared on TV time and again to announce sensational arrests of people who turned out to be either innocent, harmless braggarts or extremely low-level sympathizers of Osama bin Laden who, while perhaps wishing to do something terrible, lacked the means. The Justice Department cannot claim one major successful terrorism prosecution, and has squandered much of the trust and patience the American people freely gave in 2001.”

Let’s compare the above comments with the AMT statement about the Bush administration:

“Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been insensitive to the civil liberties and human rights of American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians. Today, American Muslims are being treated like second-class citizens.

“American Muslims are also disappointed with a number of domestic and foreign policies instituted by the Bush administration since the 9/11terror attacks.”

It is self-evident that the AMT’s critical remarks are as mainstream as those of the Washington Post and the New York Times but much milder. Even more instructive, however, is criticism and the reservations that the Washington Post has expressed in endorsing the Senator from Massachusetts. Look at the following statement in the Washington Post’s endorsement editorial:

“Mr. Kerry, like Mr. Bush, offers no plan to cope with retirement and health costs, but he promises more fiscal realism.”

Having made the above statements, the editors of the Washington Post go on to observe:

“As with Mr. Bush, some of Mr. Kerry’s strengths strike us as potential weaknesses. The senator is far more likely than Mr. Bush to seek a range of opinions before making a decision -- but is he decisive enough?

Finally, look at their concluding paragraph:

We do not view a vote for Mr. Kerry as a vote without risks. But the risks on the other side are well known, and the strengths Mr. Kerry brings are considerable.

Qualifying one’s endorsement is a sign of carefulness and precision. Now compare the above quotes with the relevant sections of the AMT endorsement and you will see the same due diligence in the AMT statement:

“We acknowledge the considerable outreach to our community by Sen. Kerry’s campaign, particularly by his campaign co-chair Sen. Edward Kennedy. We also appreciate the ongoing dialogue with Muslim leaders about problems posed by the USA PATRIOT Act.

“While the Kerry campaign has critiqued a number of Bush administration polices, it has so far failed to explicitly affirm support for due process, equal justice and other constitutional norms. We are also disappointed that his campaign has shied away from expressing unambiguous support for principles enshrined in the US Constitution that prohibit use of ex post facto laws, secret proceedings and secret evidence….

“Mindful of disagreements with Sen. Kerry on some domestic and international issues, including the war in Iraq, we are willing to work with him to help restore due process and equal justice in accordance with the US Constitution.”

The competence and political sagacity expressed through the AMT endorsement speaks for itself. No wonder, in its Oct 22 issue, the New York Times, had billed the AMT endorsement as ‘Muslims Give Kerry Qualified Endorsement’ highlighting both the representative character of AMT as the central organ of American Muslims as well as the skillfulness of its approach.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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