the Muslim Vote Didn’t Matter?
By Dr Nayyer Ali
I am part of an online forum
for Pakistani-Americans in which the issue came
up of how Muslims can effectively engage the American
political process. There was a sense that Muslims
are not succeeding, and puzzlement as to why. To
my thinking though, it is not at all clear that
there really are any significant number of Muslims
willing and able to engage in policy discourse with
their fellow Americans. The problems with American
Muslim political involvement are deep-seated and
profound, and mostly self-inflicted. Let me just
list a few.
1. Are we Americans? The American political process
is open to those who see themselves and present
themselves as Americans. Most Muslims however see
the choice as Muslims on one side and Americans
on the other. I belong to an American Muslim policy
organization which visibly stands for an American
Muslim identity. We have been criticized in private
by leaders of at least one of the most prominent
American Islamic organizations for being “too
2. Muslims find it very difficult to admit fault
with themselves or their kin overseas, and are very
unwilling to critically think about Muslim behavior
that affects US interests. Note that there was very
little criticism, if any, of suicide bombing before
9/11, and even after suicide bombers in Palestine/Israel
are not condemned by American Muslims for the most
part. And the Muslim critique of the Bush invasion
of Iraq was, at the time, logically incoherent.
Muslims were vehemently against both the war and
the sanctions. The Muslim view seemed to be that
Saddam should be allowed to do whatever he wants.
3. Our inability to deal with the Israeli/Palestinian
issue in a way that an American can understand.
Israel was built on the dispossession of the Palestinian
natives, but frankly at this point, one cannot begin
the discussion by denying Israel’s right to
exist as a state. Most Muslims groups will not acknowledge
that, even though the PLO has, so from an American
perspective why should the US be exercised about
Israel defending itself against a Muslim united
front committed to destroying it? This is Sharon’s
very argument for his wall building etc. Are American
Muslims willing to change tack, acknowledge that
a two state solution is the best possible outcome,
and therefore endorse the right of both Israel and
Palestine to exist? Implicit in a two state solution
is that the refugees will have to build new lives
in the Palestinian state, but will not be able to
return into Israel in large numbers. If Muslims
are willing to start with that, then we can go to
Congress and Bush and argue against the wall, the
need for a real Palestinian state etc. But until
then, you can’t even get past the front door.
4. Our general lack of political sophistication.
There is little understanding of how much work needs
to be done to get political power in this country.
We grossly exaggerate our numbers (there are nowhere
near 7 million American Muslims, the real number
is probably less than 3 million). We are very unwilling
to spend on political campaigns. If the roughly
1 million adult Muslims of working age gave 100
dollars each to political campaigns we would have
a huge impact. The total election spending for all
candidates in 2004 was under 2 billion dollars.
We refuse to get involved in our political organizations
that have a little bit of traction in DC. My organization
that I work with has a budget of under 1 million
dollars, and only two full-time people working the
political scene in DC. Compare that to the budget
of AIPAC (the main pro-Israel lobby) which is about
50 million dollars.
5.A defeatist and conspiratorial mindset. We exaggerate
our opponents’ strengths, and refuse to work
on issues because we don’t think we can achieve
anything. Grassroots work such as voter registration
and getting people to call the White House or write
Congress is difficult to achieve. We also explain
far too much of the world through conspiracy theories
that serve only to cloud our judgment and rob us
of a true understanding of the world.
6. A lack of liberal thinking about our religion.
The mullah mindset, often imported through foreign-trained
imams with little knowledge of life in the US, saps
our energy. In most other religious communities
the clergy acts as leaders and forward thinkers.
For us, too many of our imams are have failed to
lead. How many khutbas about voter registration
were delivered in the last three months across the
We have a lot of work still to do before the American
Muslim community becomes relevant to American politics.
Comments can reach the author at Nali@socal.rr.com.