Sunday, August 24, 2008

A community whose support no candidate quite wants

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

That's where the U.S. Muslim community feels itself mired in this year's election. Matthai Kuruvila in the San Francisco Chronicle reports similar understandings of their position from Republican and Democratic Muslims.

[A Republican notes] the community holds a number of demographics that make them desirable. There are an estimated 2 million to 5 million Muslims in America, including large concentrations in swing states like Florida, Ohio and Michigan. A survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 77 percent are U.S. citizens. "In a very tight, neck-and-neck race, you'd think that there would be some serious competition for this community," the official said on condition of anonymity because he hasn't been given permission to speak by the McCain campaign. "But there isn't."

[A Democrat,] Shahed Amanullah registered the domain name for more than a year ago. But he has waited to develop it as he saw Muslim identity being smeared, his belief system used for political attack. ... Now, the UC Berkeley grad has decided that the site cannot indicate that Barack Obama supports issues important to Muslims specifically because it might boomerang. Instead, the site will be devoted to encouraging voter registration and turnout at the polls.

"Yes, it's insulting, and yes, it hurts, but at this point, we have to look at the bigger picture," said Amanullah, who ran in 2004.

As another community leader told Kuruvila, the U.S. Muslim community is treated as "radioactive" these days.

Like other younger voters, young Muslims tend to be excited by Barack Obama's candidacy. But they also get their feelings hurt as post-9/11 bigotry gets played out in the campaign according to an Associated Press story carried by the Chicago Tribune.

Tarek El-Messidi, 27, of Cincinnati, went door-to-door in South Carolina campaigning for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. But he had an unusual mission for a Muslim: the volunteer had to assure voters that Obama isn't Muslim. ...

El-Messidi's campaign-trail experience underscores young Muslim voters' dilemma. They felt an immediate connection with him -- partly because of his background -- that led to increased political involvement.

"He has a funny name like we do," El-Messidi said. "He has Arabic in his actual name."

"If he can do it, we can. We can reach very high goals. ... For many Muslims, especially after 9/11, have felt discriminated against. He has given us a lot of hope and inspiration."

But it also has led to disappointment.

The first-term Illinois senator, while a Christian, is the child of a Kenyan immigrant. He has Muslim forebears and his middle name is Hussein, but has aggressively debunked rumors that he's Muslim -- even labeling the claim a "smear" on a campaign Web site.

Like other outsider communities seeking to get into the political arena, -- urban gay communities come to mind in the intensity of the bigotry and repulsion they faced -- Muslims are doggedly registering and aiming to increase turnout so the politicians have to take notice.

The only Californian Muslim office holder, Omar Ahmad, a San Carlos City council member made a smart suggestion to Muslim communities that want in, as reported in the Chronicle article:

[He] believes Muslims need to ignore national politics. Instead, he believes Muslims need to get involved at the grassroots, like running for school board and county commissions. It is only then that neighbors and fellow leaders will begin to trust Muslims, an experience Ahmad said he's had.

"We have not effectively integrated into community life in the towns we live in," he said. "We are going to enjoy a change when we work shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors on local issues and start to have a dialogue."

Civic engagement at the grassroots level, Ahmad said, is the example of the prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia: "It's a very Islamic thing to do."

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