American Muslim Politics Is Going Nowhere

Washington: It is almost nine years since the fateful Septemeber 11, 2001, a date with destiny when Al Qaeda terrorists attacked in New York and Washington DC. That infamous date turned the prospets of the American Muslim community upside down. Before that day in several cities major American Muslim organizations were moving forward in the US mainstream. Gradually the well-educated Muslims of diverse ethnicities were finding an equation with the American nation and a niche in it. However, since that fateful day all American Muslim organizations have withdrawn into their shells. Now major organizations like ISNA or MPAC have become nothing more than social clubs. ICNA has become just a religious group. Their events may be well-attended but they are mostly big bazars, dinners and social events where otherwise well-educated Muslims indulge in trivial, non-cereberal activities. Most lectures by weighty speakers talk only about the religious aspects of the lives of Muslims and of the long gone past of the community. But American-Muslims cannot live out their lives by piety and nostalgia alone. They need involvement in America’s affairs and its policies - both domestic and foreign. Someone said American elections are run on the basis of domestic policies, not foreign policies. But we know well that for ithe American Jewish community wose size is only a little bigger than the Muslim community, US foreign policy is their main playing field. They dominate US domestic policies to such an extent that they do not have to even bother worrying about it.

Some Muslim groups enthusiastically adopted interfaith relations as their main policy plank after September 11, 2001. But after nine years the only product of these groups are perfunctory discussions about the commonality between Muslims and Jews and Christians and their being People of the Book. Well, we know that very well.  Other than continuing to sing the same interfaith song, what is the benefit of this policy to the beleagured American Muslim community? After “feel good” do we not need resolution of today’s problems of the Muslims or a visible place in the nation?  Of course major Muslim groups are afraid to open their mouth on any US foreign policy initiative. With Obama in White House for 18 months, and his having appointed a couple of Muslim outreach officials in the US Govt, we see no movement in this outreach program. For sure no Muslim academic or intellectual or entreprenuer is getting any opportunity to serve in a high profile role as advisor to the White House or the State Department or Defense department. Neither are any of them in a prominent role in the mainstream media with the exception of Fareed Zakaria. Prof Akbar Ahmad who made a bold beginning is now confining himself to rediscovering the Muslim-Christian history of the middle age. The Al Walid Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Grorgetown Unversity has been limiting itself to holding a dozn lectures in the whole year on philosophical aspects of Islamic and Christian history. International Institute of Islamic Thought, Virginia, has almost gone into hibernation, concerned that any public profile on their part may result in their demise.

Meanwhile, the Gunatanamo Bay prison is continuing to flourish; Muslims’ attempt to build an Islamic think tank in Manhattan is being fiercely opposed and none of the liberal American politicians are invoking the call of freedom of religion and speech and tolerance. Muslim advocay groups are not only afraid to talk about the continuing wars in Muslim countries, they are also afraid of talking about the recognition of their community on a daily basis in the cities and towns in America itself. It is good that American Muslim activists are identifying themselves with American values and characterestics, but why hide their Muslim identity so much?

At the same time many Muslim political groups have developed schisms and internal conflicts. Part of the reason is the tendency of many leaders to convert most public occassions into photo opportunity sessions with the elected political officials. Not a single one of them have made any effort to gain some recognition for the Muslims in the government-run public schools or other public forums.

As the 2010 mid-term election season is heating up there is very little enthusiasm in the Muslim communities in New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco to put up Muslim candidates at least in the primary elections of the two parties. For how long will we support liberal candidates who in turn work for maximum US support for Israel, regardless of how brutal Israel may be. In contrast, the non-Muslim Indian-American community is bursting at the seams with candidates. Thus for the 5 million-strong Muslim community in America, the 2010 election will be another where they will be seen mostly as bystanders.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2010 on page no. 14

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