Choice for American Muslims
Karamatullah K. Ghori
Those of us old enough
to remember the presidential election of 1968 would
recall a Republican Party ad that seemed to make
a bold and provocative statement.
It showed a very pregnant
Afro-American woman with the following caption emblazoned
on her swollen belly:
This time vote as if your whole world depended on
That was an apt and
relevant statement of the times then prevailing
in America. The country was deep into the vortex
of a war fought thousands of miles away, in the
steaming jungles of Vietnam. The war had badly divided
the nation and truncated public opinion right down
the middle. The youth-inspired anti-war sentiment
had riven the country from the Atlantic coast to
the Pacific. The stakes were high and the political
ambience was highly charged by sentiment.
The pregnant ad, with the Republican candidate Richard
Nixon’s blessings, promised the birth of a new,
enlightened, era in America and salvage it from
the darkness in which the Democrats, then possessing
the White House, had plunged it. The message, obviously,
sank with the voters and they reposed their trust
in Nixon to deliver them from darkness.
That ad of 36 years ago could still be relevant
and appealing to at least one segment of the American
electorate, the Muslims, which was almost non-existent
The Muslim presence
in America has proliferated by leaps and bounds
in the past 30 years. There are, today, 6 to 7 million
Muslims in US, making up nearly 2 ˝ per cent of
its population. At least half this number is entitled
Muslims have shunned mainstream politics of the
land they chose to make their new home. There were
several reasons for it. A vast majority of these
new Americans came to this land of opportunity to
advance their economic fortunes and were least interested
in partaking of its political life, which in any
case seemed too alien and complicated for their
There was another, powerful,
element of naivety working on their individual and
Most had migrated to
America from cultures with hardly any hue of democracy.
The have had no participation in the political shenanigans
of their home country, where autocrats and un-elected
potentates hardly ever encouraged them to do so.
Therefore, they felt no need, or compulsion, to
dabble in the political stream of their adopted
country. Why bother, was the stereotype, resigned,
refrain swaying most new Muslim Americans.
There was also a glaring
absence of organized effort to induce Muslim Americans
to become more politically pro-active. Whatever
scant and scattered groupings of Muslims there were
mostly operated in isolated spheres with hardly
much contact between them.
9/11 changed all that
overnight and most dramatically. It landed the American
Muslims, gratuitously, smack into the epicenter
of American politics. The cataclysmic development
put a definitive end to the torpor of Muslim Americans.
Overnight, from their erstwhile role of silent spectators
languishing on the fringes of mainstream America,
they became unwilling participants in its ebb and
flow. They became a cause celebre much against their
inclination or will.
There could hardly be
an argument with the overarching fact that Muslims
of America were least prepared, by education and
training to don the new mantle thrust on them by
the sheer force of circumstance. Their political
immaturity and naivete came, quickly, to haunt them
in the wake of 9/11. To their horror and utter dismay,
they discovered that the man whom they had given
their trust in the 2000 presidential race by an
overwhelming acclaim, George W. Bush, lost no time
in donning the mantle of an anti-Muslim crusader
and unleashing policies, at home and abroad, calculated
to target them in whatever way possible.
Reminiscent of the Republican
ad of 1968, the stakes couldn’t be greater for Muslim
Americans in this election of 2004. There is no
gainsaying the fact that it is the most important
election in the 228- year history of USA as far
as its Muslim electors are concerned. Their future,
and that of their coming generations, depends on
its outcome. Verily, Muslim electors ought to vote,
as that pregnant ad exhorted the, as if their whole
world depended on it.
Luckily, the aftermath
of the initial shock of landing in the mainstream
of American politics in the tide of 9/11 have injected
a lot of awareness of their position and importance
to Muslims of America, by and large. In the three
years since that watershed, they have done quite
a lot of organizational work. There is now more
than a semblance of organized Muslim politics, despite
the absence of too many Muslims taking an active
plunge in the mainstream politics. However, the
consciousness that they are now a part and parcel
of US political dynamics, Muslims have taken measures
to organize themselves, at least, at broad intelligentsia
level, if not at the grassroots.
Sadly, however, the
Muslim leadership still seems stranded between a
rock and a hard place, as far as taking a categorical
and bold stand on the crucial question of backing
this or that horse in what is, for all intents and
purposes, still a two-horse presidential race.
Saying this might seem
a little too harsh to some, especially now that
AMT-the umbrella organization sheltering under its
wings a large number of Muslim groups from across
the land-has belatedly endorsed Senator John Kerry
as worthy of receiving the Muslim vote in this election.
But AMT’s endorsement
still carries an unmistakable imprint of diffidence,
which isn’t a healthy attribute for any organization,
particularly one speaking in the name of so many.
It ought to have taken the decision it took after
a lot of huffing and puffing and foot-dragging,
a lot earlier. Its alacrity of decision-making would’ve
sent a positive signal of its being politically
savvy and astute.
Muslim voters of America
must understand, without equivocation or ambiguity,
that theirs is a powerful vote that carries the
potential in its womb, as was the message of the
1968 Republican poster, of making a major impact
and radically influencing the outcome of the vote.
Indeed Kerry, by his
acts of omission and commission, doesn’t deserve
to be given a thumb up by Muslim voters of America.
He has deliberately shied away from taking a stand
on any Muslim or Islamic issue, be that in America
or elsewhere in the world. However, his caution
of not being counted as a supporter of Islamic causes
is understandable. He would be loath to enrage his
Jewish/Israeli supporters who have poured millions
into his campaign.
Taking the example of
2000 election, Bush hadn’t deserved a categorical
Muslim vote, by the same token. And yet Muslims
voted for him because they had a faint hope he would
be a safer bet than Gore, suspected of being a stronger
votary of Jews and Israel.
In other words, Bush
was a beneficiary of a protest vote; he reaped the
bonanza from Muslim lack of trust in Gore.
Let this rule be the
beacon for Muslims this time around too. Choosing
between two negatives, Kerry is still a safer bet.
Bush is unworthy of a second round of trust because
his record is un-deserving of it. Let Kerry be given
the benefit of doubt. A negative vote, yes. A protest
vote, by all means. The bottom line for Muslim voters
should be: Anyone but Bush.