Muslims and American Politics: Creating Unity from the Inside Out 4

We do have a large number of votes to deliver. According to an exit poll conducted by Minaret magazine and MPAC of 400 randomly selected Muslims, 65 percent of Muslims are regis¬tered to vote, and, of those registered, 76 percent voted in the 1996 general election. A Minaret magazine survey in the same year indicated that over two-thirds of American Muslim house¬holds participate in elections. The Washington, D.C., based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) commissioned the John Zogby Group of New York to do a similar poll, which found that 68 percent of American Muslims are registered to vote.
If these polls are accurate and representative, the goal of registering Muslims and encouraging Muslims to vote has been met. With well over half the registered population voting, Muslims vote more than Americans overall! These new Muslim political organizations and the strong voter turnout among Muslims creates a body that can influence American politics. If we implement a platform based on American Muslim concerns, from the inside out we could really have a chance at influencing American policy positively.
Much of the groundwork for being more influential has been laid. The American ethos of civic involvement has emboldened Muslims and encouraged them to take action at the grassroots level. Muslims even sent delegates to the party conventions: seven to the Republican and twenty-six to the Democratic. Both conventions featured an opening invocation by Muslim clergy— Talat Othman at the Republican and Maher Hathout at the Democratic.
Muslims have attempted to influence American domestic and foreign policy in several ways. They have protested legisla¬tion that they feel is unfairly biased against Muslims. For exam¬ple, the American Muslim Council (AMC) played a large role in bringing about the defeat of a bill titled “The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1997,” which singled out Muslims as the chief aggressors in attacking minorities. AMC, ISNA, and MPAC also participated in the 1998 White House Conference on Hate Crimes.
They represent America abroad; Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, pres¬ident of the American-based Muslim Women’s League, was appointed by the White House to advise the U.S. United Nations delegation to the Beijing Conference on women. The AMC, in alliance with TransAfrica, played a large role in bringing sanc¬tions against South Africa in protest of apartheid. In fact, Muslims have been involved in influencing almost every aspect of American life, from instituting all-female swimming classes in public schools in order to protect female modesty to selecting can¬didates for local and national office who are sympathetic to Muslim causes.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) organized a highly successful children’s rally against going to war with Iraq in March 1998. Besides co-sponsorship by the All Saints Church of Pasadena and the Wilshire Temple, the event was covered by the Los Angeles Times and the Central News Network (CNN). MPAC was very creative in holding a rally that presented American children of varying religious backgrounds speaking out against going to war with Iraq on behalf of Iraqi children and the children of the rest of the world. MPAC’s allying with like- minded groups and focusing on Iraq really paid off, as I believe the millions who saw a video of the rally on CNN were quite moved.
The AMC coordinates lobbying and other actions from its Washington, D.C., headquarters, while the Los Angeles-based MPAC sees itself as “a public service agency which strives to make Islamic ethical values available to the American political process.” The American Muslim Alliance (AMA), based in California, organizes political events, such as conferences between politicians and Muslim leaders. AMC, MPAC, and AMA want to make the Muslims of America more influential, a goal they share with the numerous Muslim political action commit¬tees (PACs). These organizations are becoming more influential by establishing themselves as authorities for members of Congress and the media to consult.
Beyond implementing the inside-out platform on an individ¬ual level and through the organizations that make up the new Muslim lobby, gaining political influence will be a slow process, perhaps involving just one person at a time.
A Muslim member of the Clinton/Gore reelection campaign, Mona Mohib, convinced campaign staff members to answer Mus¬lims’ questions directly by printing answers in a popular North American Muslim magazine, the Minaret. The Republican ticket, the Dole/Kemp campaign, instead of answering questions pre-pared by the Minaret, sent a previously prepared statement addressed to Muslims in reply to the magazine’s request. As more Muslims attain positions like Mona Mohib’s, Muslim influ¬ence will grow.
In 1991, Charles Bilal, an African-American Muslim, was elected mayor of predominately white and non-Muslim Kountze, Texas, becoming the first Muslim mayor of an American city. Another Muslim, Adam Shakoor, served as deputy mayor of Detroit, which has a large Muslim community, in the early 90s.
In addition, Muslims have tried to become players in state and national political arenas. In 1994, Muslim political organi¬zations endorsed seventy-seven gubernatorial and congressional candidates and, in 1996, ambitiously hoped to exchange endorse¬ment of a presidential candidate for the appointment of a Muslim to a high administrative post. Overwhelming endorsement of and contribution to Tim Johnson, challenger to South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler, probably contributed to Johnson’s vic¬tory. Pressler probably didn’t realize that Pakistanis and other Muslims would react so strongly to his “Pressler Amendment” which specified “Pakistan as a country working against U.S. interests in the region.”
American Muslims’ action plan should have as its first step, unifying on an inside-out platform. I think we can unify nation¬ally if we focus on what we agree on and let the rest of America argue over issues like bi-lingual education. We can leave the intricate discussions on Islam to families and mosques. Many immigrant Muslim leaders already are moving past a focus on foreign affairs to domestic issues and encouraging others to do the same. Salam Al-Marayati, director of MPAC, worked with other Muslims to put together a domestic political agenda for the elections since 1996 that addressed such topics as spousal abuse, parental rights, gang violence, abortion, euthanasia, and social spending.

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