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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Kerry will carry the Muslim vote 

By Kaleem Kawaja

In the four years since the last election, the 3 million strong American Muslim voters have come of age as citizens of this great nation. Now they better understand what it means to be a minority. Earlier fancy notions of themselves as "model minority" evaporated in thin air in front of their own eyes, in the last three years. Now they understand how, using their vote power, the African-Americans improved their socio-economic status in America in the last four decades.

Clearly in this election the number one issue for American Muslims is their civil liberty, enshrined in the bill of rights of the American constitution. While it is natural for some of them to wish that if John Kerry is elected as President, the US foreign policy may take a 180 degree turn, most are mature and realistic to understand that the change in foreign policy will be much fewer degrees. An overwhelming majority is realistic and understands the compulsions of real politic in a nation that is still reeling from the horrible impact of September 11, three years ago, and the continuing war in Iraq. They also understand the extraordinary penetration that their adversaries have in most policymaking American forums.

In the current charged political atmosphere in America, where President Bush's campaign is highlighting and exploiting the global upsurge in terrorism, and the basic fear of terrorists in the minds of average Americans, the number one priority for John Kerry's campaign is electability while being compassionate.
American Muslims watched Howard Dean's campaign fall apart due to his immature rhetoric that became too specific on issues, too early. Today, Muslims are very eager to hear John Kerry address the unfair treatment of Muslims, both in America and in middle-east. We want him to appear in our gatherings and assure us. But many of us also understand that such actions on his part will be immediately exploited by the strong neoconservative wing of the Bush campaign, Kerry is running against an incumbent President in a time of war, in which more than 1000 Americans have been killed. The incumbent's campaign is fully exploiting the media's sustained negative portrayal of Muslims since September 11, 2001. That forces John Kerry to not openly befriend American Muslim voters. In the last month some leaders of national Muslim organizations have held meetings with the Kerry campaign managers, and Democratic Party leaders (eg Nancy Pilosi, minority leader in the House of Representatives). They have been assured fair treatment and restoration of civil liberties in a possible Kerry Administration.

Muslims understand Kerry's frequent calls to remove injustice and bias against the minorities and deprived segments, as including them. In the current anti-Muslim environment in America, it is unrealistic that some of us expect that in addition to his support for minorities' rights, he specifically address Muslims' rights forcefully.

Much better than before, now American-Muslims understand that forming electoral coalitions with other minorities like African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and being sophisticated rather than emotional in addressing the community's issues, is the way to regain their civil liberties. In the last six months, in major US cities like New York, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, a large number of American-Muslims have joined the other minority communities, in their fundraisers for John Kerry's Presidential campaign. In many instances Muslim citizens have organized their own fundraisers for Kerry.

Despite all arguments put forward by people who are saying that, Kerry has not openly demonstrated that, if elected, he will change the Administration's course substantially making it friendly towards them; most Muslims understand the delicate electoral situation. Besides, the continued negative attitude of the Bush Administration towards Muslims, even in domestic US policies, leaves no choice for Muslim voters but to vote for Kerry. Most recent polls of the Muslim community indicate that more than three-fourth of all Muslim voters intend voting for John Kerry.

So chances are bright that just as it happened in 2000, when the block voting of American-Muslims in favour of George W Bush, netted him the US presidency, this time around a similar block voting of American-Muslims for John Kerry will put him in the White House.

The writer is a South Asian community activist in Washington DC.

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