AMT Demonstrates Clarity of Purpose, Strategic Skill

By Tahir Ali

The American Muslim Task force on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) inked itself in history on October 21, 2004, when it announced its “protest vote” against the oppressive laws of the Bush administration and a “qualified endorsement for Senator John Kerry.” According to a Zogby Poll, at least 81% of the American Muslims support AMT’s election plan. Another, more recent poll by CAIR shows that due to this endorsement the Muslim support for Kerry may exceed 90% of the community vote.

As this well thought out and equally well articulated statement percolates in national and international news, the political pundits to a large extent will have realized its significance, and will continue to analyze it for years to come. It is noteworthy, that during this election year every time news regarding the American-Muslim vote had been reported, reference to the 2000 bloc vote was also made. Recently, October 22, 2004, The New York Times reported: “Four years after endorsing for President George W. Bush a coalition of American Muslim groups is urging Muslims to cast a ‘protest vote’ for Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.”

This decision was made after elaborate consultation with the Muslim grassroots activists through 50 plus town hall meetings in every major city of the United States. By holding these town hall meetings and by asking community members for detailed input through a four-page questionnaire, the AMT has institutionalized the Muslim grassroots and fully democratized its decision-making.

The AMT’s endorsement strategy and conception of election politics can be summarized in 12 points:

1) The AMT has achieved and maintained unity of the ten largest organizations in the face of adversity. This unity is democratically derived and sustained. Every decision was made unanimously.

2) It has demonstrated clarity in purpose, determination in negations with various presidential campaigns, skill in setting the terms of discourse, and agility in developing a complex and sophisticated stance.

3) Visualizing elections as an opportunity for agenda-setting, coalition-building, capacity-formation, negotiation, and self-empowerment, the AMT has succeeded in every one of these areas, though not to the same extent.

4) The AMT has bridged the gap between the immigrant and indigenous Muslims considerably, though definitely not completely. The issues listed at in the concluding paragraph of the AMT Endorsement - “civil liberties, human rights, international peace and justice, jobs, education, health care, economic development of inner cities, and sound foreign policy” - are a clear example of an emergent unified and all-inclusive agenda.

5) The AMT endorsement has received both national and international coverage. The list includes CNN, ABC News, FOX News, Al-Jazzera, Al-Arabia, Dubai TV, ARY (Pakistani) television, Associated Press, Associated Press of Pakistan, The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Boston Globe, The LA Times, News Day and The Michigan Daily, to name only a few. It is also being covered by almost all American Muslim newspapers and radio programs.

6) The AMT has brought national organizations in sync with the Muslim community but WITHOUT losing its ability to calibrate its response to political situations or players.

7) The AMT has most clearly and precisely defined the terms of reference and discourse for interaction with the American mainstream. While 2004 bloc vote decision tells President Bush that he has lost the support he got in 2000 due to reneged promises, Sen. Kerry is also put on notice that the Muslim vote and support cannot be taken for granted.

The AMT endorsement shows its agility in fashioning an appropriate response to both parties by matching Bush administration’s oppressive laws with a protest vote and by matching limited support from the Kerry campaign with a ‘qualified’ endorsement. As promised during the ISNA Convention, the AMT leadership has neither asked the Muslim community to waste its vote, nor has it compromised on its principles. An unqualified support would have meant surrender of Muslim demands for restoration of civil liberties and human rights.

8) The AMT has endorsed a democratic candidate but without losing its autonomy or agency. It has retained the freedom and flexibility to build an effective US-wide civil rights coalition with other civil libertarian groups.

9) The AMT has succeeded in putting civil liberties and human rights on the electoral agenda. The AMT has also succeeded in putting the Muslim voters on the political map. Muslim vote in now becoming an integral part of national voter estimates.

10) The AMT has won some worthy allies which include traditional civil rights groups such as ACLU and NAACP as well as the Green, Libertarian, Independent and Reform Parties. Regardless of who wins the presidency, this coalition will help sustain the Muslim community in its ongoing struggle for civil rights.

11) The AMT has initiated the process of giving a national face to the nascent civil rights movement that is weaving its way through cities and counties of America by and large unnoticed by the national media. To date, 354 cities and counties and four states have passed resolutions asking for complete or partial repeal of the USA PATRIOT ACT. The AMT is now playing a leadership role in concatenating these activist communities into a nationally coordinated network.

12) The AMT has built a stable bridge to the American mainstream.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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