Sunday, November 13, 2005

Post-election roundup: Muslims in the electorate

Tarrant County Republicans reached out to Muslims at a festival celebrating the end of Ramadan last week. Photo: BRAD LOPER/DMN

From Texas: The Dallas Morning News reported that Republicans sought to attract Muslim voters by appealing to their conservatism on gender issues, promoting the ban on gay marriage. They met a mixed reception:

Mir Barethz of Arlington said "Gay marriage is against my religion….God made men for women and women for men."…

Nawal Suleiman, a substitute English teacher from Arlington, said that she voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 but that then he "turned 180 degrees against Muslims and Arabs."…

"If one Israeli dies, it's a tragedy," she said. "If 100 Muslims are killed, it's not a big deal."

In Virginia: The Washington Post detected that Muslims were among the voters who gave Democrat Timothy Kaine surprising margins of victory in exurban counties that previously had voted Republican.

Studies show that a larger proportion of new residents moving to the outer suburbs in the past few years are immigrants, creating a diversifying population whose voting patterns may have aided Kaine.

"There has to be a reason for this, and for me the reason is the influx of the new people, and the biggest chunk of that influx are foreign-born citizens," said Mukit Hossain, president of the Virginian Muslim Political Action Committee.

Hossain said his group, which endorsed Kaine, compiled a comprehensive database of Muslim voters in Virginia, finding that about 15,000 of 49,000 statewide live in Prince William and Loudoun. Many legal immigrants in the area were turned off by Kilgore's pledges to use state police to fight illegal immigration and his opposition to a proposed taxpayer-funded day labor site in Herndon, and voted accordingly, he said.

The group also endorsed Democratic delegate candidate David E. Poisson, who unseated Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), one of the most conservative House members. Hossain said an analysis of survey data showed that more than 60 percent of Muslims in Poisson's district voted and that they supported the Democrat by more than 30 to 1.

"If the politicians have any sense, I'd hope they'd pay attention," said Hossain.

In New Jersey: Local election officials used a convenient, accessible mosque as a polling place and were taken aback when voters complained.

Tina Palagonia, wife of Whitehall Township Commissioner Jerry Palagonia, who was working the polls for her husband Tuesday, said about 70 of the 234 people she encountered complained about the use of the Muslim hall.

Palagonia said one woman told her she found it ''offensive to come to an Islamic Center to vote.'' Another woman told Palagonia that she has a daughter in Iraq. ''We know what's going on there; she tells us what's going on there,'' Palagonia said the woman told her. ''And we have to come here and vote?''

Jerry Palagonia, who won a second term Tuesday, responded, ''That's wrong, that's totally wrong,'' describing the mosque as pretty, very clean and nice.

He also praised the members of the mosque for their courtesies during the long Election Day. ''I don't want to hurt the feelings of the people at the church. I just don't understand it.''

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New Jersey, a Muslim candidate for office overcame a blatant racist attack.

The anonymous flier mailed to households days before a new mayor was to be chosen was direct and devastating in its claims: A Muslim council member, one of three candidates for the post, was "a betrayer living among us" with ties to the 9/11 terrorists.

The mailing said Mohamed Khairullah "should not be living in our clean town" and "will try to poison our thoughts about our great country."

But the letter failed to derail his candidacy; the Borough Council chose Khairullah in a 4-0 vote Wednesday night, making him one of only two Muslim mayors in New Jersey.

All these incidents replicate a common trajectory by which immigrant communities become part of the US multicultural mix. Latinos in California experience the same dissonance between the values they bring from their home cultures and US attitudes toward abortion, gender roles and gay marriage. If all else were equal, they might be attracted by Republican stances on these issues. But they identify Republicans with racism and xenophobia. When push comes to shove, most register as Democrats, not because the Democrats are so attractive, but because there really is no home for them in the other party.

Muslims seem to be following the same pattern, faced with Republican promotion of panicked cries of "Islamofascism" and embrace of militant rightwing Christianity. Until and unless Muslims in this country achieve economic and political security, which Republican post-9/11 posturing denies them, the majority will be Democrats. Meanwhile, at the local level, they can hope to move into the system, winning more space and respect.

1 comment:

Mukit Hossain said...

Great analysis, janinsanfran.

Keep up the good work.

Mukit Hossain
President, Virginia Muslim PAC

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