American Muslims in Politics

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

American Muslims in 2016 election

2016 election campaign was a season of discomfort for American Muslims as Republican presidential candidates and leading political personalities normalized anti-Muslim sentiment and Muslim bashing goes mainstream. Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims from entering into this country. Trump has advocated for the creation of a database for American Muslims, and has proposed shutting down mosques. Donald Trump has also brought up vivid imagery about killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood and has claimed that “Islam hates us.”

A presidential hopeful, Ben Carson says that a Muslim should not be in charge of running this country. He also claimed that after studying Islam: “…you won't call it a religion, you'll call it a life organization system." Carson said Islam is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Rand Paul stated that he would support restricting immigration into the United States from Muslim countries. Senator Ted Cruze calls for empowering the law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become “radicalized." Former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum claimed that the U.S. Constitution does not equally protect the religious liberties of Islam as it does Christianity.

Like millions of voters and minorities, the upset victory of Donald Trump on Tuesday night (November 8, 2016) was not a pleasant situation for the seven-million-strong American Muslim Community that was at the receiving end during the 2016 controversial presidential election campaign.  Hence, an urgent question for the American Muslims is how they will be treated by the forthcoming administration of Donald Trump. With this in mind, nine Muslim and Arab civil advocacy groups held a joint press conference in Washington DC on Wednesday to offer reaction to the election of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president. They were joined by the National Council of Churches of Virginia.

Muslim groups have called upon the President-elect Donald Trump to respect the rights of all Americans and pledged to work with the new president to strengthen the nation. The Muslim groups also called on President-elect Trump to unite all Americans under the Constitution.The Muslim groups emphasized that they fully cherish the democratic process of the country in which they endeavored to participate this election season by launching voter registration campaigns and drives to motivate the Muslim voters to go out and cast their vote.

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American Muslims in 2014 election 

There was high turnout of American Muslim voters in the states with high concentration of Muslim population in the November 5, 2014 midterm elections. According to an exit poll by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, up to 76 percent turned out (Virginia) to vote and more than 70 percent of those voters supported Democratic candidates.

“Muslim voters were energized and engaged, turning out at almost twice the average of all American voters in previous midterm elections,” said CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw.

Compared to the 2012 elections, in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received a single digit percentage of the Muslim vote, close to 20 or more percent (23 percent for Rick Scott in Florida) of Muslims elected Republican candidates for governor in November 5 elections. Republican gains are attributed to winning over traditionally independent or undecided Muslim voters.

The CAIR exit poll of more than 3,000 registered Muslim voters in California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Virginia was conducted using an independent automated call survey provider and asked two questions: (1) “Did you vote in today’s election?” (2) “Which candidate did you vote for (governor or senator)?”

Not surprisingly, the use of Islamophobic discourse to exploit voters’ fears remained an acceptable component of political campaigns in 2014 election.

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American Muslims in 2012 election

More than 85 percent of American Muslim voters picked President Obama in November 6, 2012 election, according to an exit poll released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. It may be recalled that a similar CAIR exit poll in 2008 showed that 89 percent of American Muslim voters picked then-candidate Barack Obama. Two percent of respondents said they voted for Sen. John McCain. The CAIR’s informal survey of more than 650 American Muslim voters indicates that just four percent of respondents cast their ballots for the Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney. The Poll findings indicated that 95.5 of the registered Muslim voters went to the polls on November 6. 85.7 percent cast their ballots to re-elect President Obama while only 4.4 percent of respondents said they voted for Mitt Romney. Just over two percent (2.2) of respondents said they voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson while the same percentage (2.2) voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

According to   the poll, states with the highest number of survey respondents (in descending order) were California, New York, Texas, Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio. On the party affiliation, the poll found 41.5 percent considered themselves Democrats. A similar number, 40.6 percent, consider themselves politically independent. Only 7.4 percent said they are Republican. “The fact that more than 95 percent of Muslim respondents went to the polls is a clear indication that they are fully participating in our nation’s political process and are part of the fabric of America,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad . “Muslim voters in swing states such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio seemed to have played a critical role in tipping the balance in the president’s re-election victory.”

A pre-election CAIR survey released on October 24, 2012 indicated that at least 25 percent of American Muslim registered voters were still undecided about who to vote for in the presidential election. The survey also indicated that 91 percent of registered Muslim voters will go to the polls on Nov. 6. “It appears that undecided Muslim voters broke decisively in President Obama’s favor at the polls,” said CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor. Saylor also expressed appreciation that a number of anti-Muslim candidates were rejected by voters nationwide.

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American Muslims in 2010 election

Since 9/11, there has been a steady rise in Islamophobia, however during mid-term election campaign there was an exponential rise of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry. Many Religious Right leaders and opportunist politicians asserted repeatedly that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist ‘jihadis.™ There was a substantial increase in the number of political candidates using Islamophobic tactics in an effort to leverage votes, and use such tactics as a platform to enhance their political visibility.

Consequently, Muslims rejected the Republican Party at the polls in 2008 and 2010. According to the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, just 2.2 percent of Muslims voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008.

Throughout the 2010 election campaign the seven-million strong American Muslim community and their faith were dehumanized as the Republican Party once again used Islamophobia as a political tool. The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric depicting Islam as enemy got steam from the Quran-burning publicity stunts by a minor church in Florida. Two more elements were added to this anti-Muslim hysteria in this election campaign. Controversy over the 51Park project popularly known as Ground Zero mosque and conspiracies that Sharia law will displace the US constitution.

Never in any U.S. elections before so many campaign ads were aired mongering fear against Islam or Muslims. This year, Republicans have crossed all limits. They are openly bashing Muslims and Islam to get more votes in elections.

In August 2010, Republicans amplified their rhetoric to turn the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” into a campaign issue. The inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the project has stirred hatred toward Muslims in America. There has been so much fear-mongering and so much misinformation in the debate peddled by bigots and rightwing politicians. The constant vilification of Islam and Muslims over the air on radio talk shows, in newspapers and the Internet was contributing to the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.

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American Muslims overwhelmingly voted Democratic in 2008

According to the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, a coalition of Muslim civil advocacy groups, American Muslims overwhelmingly voted for Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barrak Obama in the 2008 election.

On November 6, 2008, the American Muslim Task Force released a poll of over 600 Muslims from more than 10 states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, and it revealed that 89 percent of respondents voted for Obama, while only 2 percent voted for McCain.  It also indicated that 95 percent of Muslims polled cast a ballot in this year’s presidential election—the highest turnout in a U.S. election ever—and 14 percent of those were first-time voters.

The Newsweek reported a Gallup Center for Muslim Studies survey as saying that U.S. Muslims favored Obama in greater numbers than did Hispanics (67 percent of whom voted for Obama) and nearly matched that of African-Americans, 93 percent of whom voted for Obama. More than two thirds who were polled said the economy was the most important issue affecting their decision on Nov. 4th, while 16 percent said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan informed their vote—numbers that put Muslims roughly on a par with the general population.

In this election, Muslim Americans changed their party affiliation from Republican to Democratic – a stark change from the strong Muslim support for George Bush in 2000 when they voted for Bush in an en bloc vote. The major shift occurred as many Muslim Americans became subject to wiretapping, mishandling of civil liberties, religious, ethnic, and racial profiling.

According to the Newsweek, in 2008, many more Muslims were drawn into the Democratic party by Obama himself since Muslims across the country were captivated by the senator’s promise of unity and hope. On the Muslim-Americans for Obama Web site (Mafo2008.com), their mission statement includes the following: “That we support Barack Obama because, among other reasons, he rejects the politics of fear, challenging our nation to embrace its collective identity, where each American has a stake in the success and well-being of every American.”

But many Muslims kept their presidential preference a secret in the months leading up to Super Tuesday, fearing that an endorsement from them might in fact work against Obama, the Newsweek said addin: After all, this was an election year in which the word “Muslim” was used as shorthand to connote anti-American leanings and a hidden love of terrorism.

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American Muslims in 2006 elections

The seven-million-strong American Muslim community got a big political push when the Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the nation’s first Muslim member to the US Congress in November 7, 2006 elections. Ellison’s election was accompanied by a massive turnout of the American Muslim voters to make their voices heard.

“Tonight, we made history,” Mr Ellison said in a victory speech to supporters. “We won a key election, but we did much more than that. We showed that a candidate can run a 100% positive campaign and prevail, even against tough opposition.”

Throughout his campaign Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, focused on issues that resonate in his electoral District in Minneapolis. Ellison won 56 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party’s Tammy Lee, both of whom garnered 21 percent of the vote.

Another Muslim, Ahmad Hassan, failed in his congressional bid on Republican ticket. In Texas District 18, Ahmad Hassan, an Egyptian American, lost to Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee who was re-elected with a massive 80 percent of the vote.

Before Ellison’s election to the House, Larry Shaw, a Democrat State Senator of North Carolina, was the highest Muslim elected official in the United States. Larry Shaw, a corporate executive, was re-elected to the State senate on November 7.

It is not clear how many Muslim Americans contested in the 2006 elections but there are fragmented reports that dozens were candidate for various offices from US Congress, State Senate and assemblies to local bodies.

In New Hampshire, Saghir “Saggy” Tahir was re-elected for a third term of the State House of Representatives in Nov. 7 elections.

The number of Muslim candidates for various offices across the nation hit an all-time high of about 700 in 2000 but then declined dramatically, to about 70 in 2002 and about 100 in 2004, according to the American Muslim Alliance, a national organization.

In 2002, Maad Abu-Ghazalah, an Arab-American and Syed Rifat Mahmood, a Pakistani-American, made unsuccessful congressional bids from California. In 2004, Ferial Masry, a Saudi-born woman lost her bid for congress in California while, Maad Abu-Ghazalah also made another abortive bid.

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The American Muslim & Arab vote in Election 2004

Civil rights was the major issue in 2000 presidential election when the American Muslim community voted virtually en bloc for George Bush. Ironically, four years later, civil rights remained the most significant issue for the Muslims who this time voted overwhelmingly for Senator John Kerry. An exit poll, on Nov. 4, 2004, by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that more than 90 percent of Muslim voters were casting their ballots for John Kerry. In a democratic system vote is the best instrument to express one’s opinion. And Muslims joined millions of citizens to express their opinion about the Bush administration policies.

Muslim vote for a Democratic candidate is not new. In 1996, they voted for Democratic President Bill Clinton. According to Zogby Polls, more than 50 percent of Muslims were voting for Democratic Party in nineties with only 16 percent committed to Republican Party. The first time Muslims tried to use bloc vote at the national level was in 2000. Traditionally,Arab-Americans and U.S. Muslims vote in large numbers. An estimated 79 percent are registered, and 85 percent of those say they vote, according to a 2001 poll taken on behalf of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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 discriminatory 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 American Muslim and Arab organizations played very little role in motivating the voters who from the very beginning of the campaign were seen to concentrate mainly on the civil rights issue because they were affected by the biased policies of the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11.

The civil rights issue even overshadowed the Middle East problem and the Muslims and Arabs supported Senator Kerry despite their reservations about his support toward Israel.

Besides becoming the most important election issue, the abridgment of the civil rights proved an important factor in motivating the American Muslims and Arabs for political activism. American Muslims have increased their participation in political and social activities since 9/11, according to a poll released on Sept. 10, 2003 by the Council of American-Islamic Relations. The poll said that roughly half of American Muslims surveyed say they have increased their social (58 percent), political (45 percent), inter-faith (52 percent) and public relations activities (59 percent) since the 9/11 terror attacks.

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Few Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections

Encouraged by the 2000 bloc vote, the American Muslim organizations charted an ambitious plan to launch a massive registration campaign to register Muslim voters and contest at least 200 seats in 2002 mid term elections. However, after the 9/11 tragic attacks the Muslim community found itself besieged by profiling, official discrimination, negative media campaign and hate crimes.

Consequently, the number of Muslim candidates in November 2002 elections was much smaller as compared to the 2000 elections. In 2000, 152 candidates for various public offices were elected out of about 700 candidates. In 2002, ten candidates out of about 70 elected to various public offices which include one State Senator and three State Assemblymen and one judge of the Superior Court.

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American Muslim bloc vote in 2000 elections

American Muslims made history in 2000 presidential elections when they voted en bloc for George Bush. The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), a coalition of four major American Muslim organizations, only two weeks before the election announced its endorsement of George W. Bush for president, citing his outreach to the Muslim community and his stand on the issue of secret evidence.

In a post-election survey of American Muslim voters conducted by the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the nation’s largest grassroots Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups, nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated that they had voted for Texas Governor Bush. Of these, 85 percent noted that the endorsement of Bush by the American Muslim Political Coordinating Committee Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC) was a factor in their vote. In this survey of 1,774 voters, 72 percent of Muslim respondents said they voted for Bush, 19 percent supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, and only 8 percent favored Vice President Al Gore. Muslims, therefore, became the only bloc vote for Bush.

The former Congressman, Paul Findley, in his book Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Images of Islam, estimates that about 3.2 million Muslims turned out for vote and 65 percent voted for President Bush. Mr. Findley said: The importance of Muslim bloc voting arises from its magnitude as well as its focus. Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov.7 came to 3.2 million.

About 700 Muslim Americans ran for various local, state and federal offices in the 2000 elections. At least 152 of them were elected to local and state offices. These individuals were elected as members of precinct committees, delegates to Democratic and Republican party conventions, city councils, state assemblies, state senates, and judgeships. Ninety-two of these were elected from Texas.

Elections 1996/2000

American Muslim Political Activism

Although the population of Muslims in America increased substantially by the 1970s because of massive immigration from the Middle East and South Asia but the new Muslim immigrants showed little interest in domestic issues. Instead, their focus remained on their homelands and U.S. foreign policy issues affecting the Islamic world such as the Palestine-Israel conflict; U.S. sanctions against Iraq; and conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnya. Their community activities were confined to the building of mosques and Islamic centers.African American Muslims, on the other hand, generally tend to focus on domestic issues, such as urban development, education, and economic and racial justice. Given their disparate interests and priorities, formulating a united political platform between the two Muslim groups was not easy.

In the 1980s, as the Muslim Americans began to take the initial steps toward political participation, some questioned whether Islam even permitted them to participate in the political life of a non-Muslim country. That concern all but disappeared starting in the 1990s. Today this debate has taken a back seat as the majority of Muslim-Americans face the political reality that non-participation could lead to exclusion and denial of rights.

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Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali
 


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