Election 2004 is drawing closer, and traditional powerbrokers for Muslims are trying to develop closer contacts with Democratic candidates on behalf of Muslims. No Muslim has given them a mandate, yet they are keen that on the strength of Muslim votes they at least are seen with a Democratic candidate.
Jim Zogby of Arab American Institute seems to be acting as a broker for Muslim votes for Democratic party candidates. He is viewed by many in the Democratic party as the one who has influence over Muslim votes. The Observer conducted a survey of Muslims in Southern California during the ISNA and MPAC conventions asking people about their views of Jim Zogby, and some 80 percent of the respondents out of 400 who were asked the question didn’t know who Jim Zogby was.
Interestingly, there was an Arab-American leadership meeting with Governor Dean in Detroit on December 29. The meeting had a few Muslim organizational leaders. Yet the meeting was not representatives of Muslims. Similarly, other Muslim organizations and leaders are also trying desperately to get in touch with democratic candidates. Several requests have been submitted to various candidates, but so far only Dennis Kucinich has responded to them favorably.
This style is no different than during the 2000 presidential election, when the Muslim leadership misled the immigrant community by asking it to vote for the Republican Party. Meeting with the presidential candidate is not a big achievement. Thousands of Americans would meet the two parties nominees before the election. The important thing that needs to be communicated to presidential candidates is that Muslim votes matter.
Unfortunately, no Muslim organization in its present set up and activities can claim to even understand the nature of Muslim votes in the country. It does not know the strength of Muslim votes. It has no communication with Muslim voters and it has no agenda that has the input of Muslim voters.
On the basis of a few Internet releases and a few press releases published in ethnic press, the Muslim leadership feels that it has the monopoly of Muslim votes. On the contrary, with its policies, the Muslim leadership is alienating Muslim voters.
During the ISNA convention in Southern California, the Observer asked over 200 participants about their trust level with the Muslim leadership. Some 67 percent said loudly and clearly that they have no trust of current Muslim leadership. Of the remaining 23 percent, some 8 percent that they would support the Muslim leaders’ decisions and the remaining respondents said that they would wait and see.
It is obvious that Muslim voters are not willing to take any chance with their leaders. That is why during the last concluded MPAC convention, more than 67 percent of the 800 voters supported Governor Dean on their own without any guidance issued from their leaders.
The MPAC vote clearly indicates something. First, the Muslim voters will exercise their right to vote in large numbers regardless of their leadership. The second, the Muslim voters are way ahead than their leaders in terms of determining their electoral choice well in advance. Third, they would not listen to the leaders if the leadership takes a decision that is contrary to their decisions.
This shows a major shift in the attitude of Muslim voters. This shift should be noted by Democratic candidates. Thus, rather than meeting Muslim leaders behind closed doors, they candidates should try to speak with Muslim electorates directly in a town hall meeting style. This will bring in Muslims from all walks of life.
The Dean campaign calls itself a “people oriented campaign.” Perhaps he can lead the way by developing a mechanism to meet with Muslim voters by passing the Muslim leadership. He will not lose anything. The pulse of the community is with him at the moment. He should develop direct contacts with Muslims as he would meet labor unions, farm workers, African-Americans, etc. He should assure Muslims that they are not different than other Americans. Their rights will be protected and their voices will be heard. They will be included in his administration and their aspirations will be responded to. He should tell them that the Bush administration deceived them and used their votes to develop an anti-Muslim agenda. He should assure Muslims that laws that violate their civil liberties would be nullified.
This must be done in a public forum not in back room meetings with Muslim leaders. If he neglect the Muslim masses and focuses only on the Muslim leaders, he might alienate Muslims who may not come to the polling booths on the day of election primarily to register a point against their leaders. His direct contact with Muslims will invigorate Muslim voters and will ensure that in seven key states, where a few thousand votes might make the difference, he has their support.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the editor of the Muslim Observer, Director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, and founding director of the Muslim Electorates’ Council of America.