A vote is a trust. To vote is a duty. In my view it might be sinful not to vote.
Yes. It is true that there is a lot of nonsense in our political system-questionable sources of money, corporate influence, and false claims. It is after all a system developed by humans; it cannot be perfect. We can certainly work on improving it and enhancing it, but I would not trade democracy for any other system in the world today.
This election is about the future of America. Can America be as polarized and divided as it is at this moment, or are we going to pull ourselves together? Is America going to remain loyal to its higher ideals of freedom and liberty for all, or will it continue to allow fear to dictate compromise of our higher ideals? Can the world be as warm towards America as it was immediately following 9/11, or will we continue to be lonely in the global village which we literally created? Can we isolate terrorists from their popular support or will they keep us isolated in the world? Can Muslims once again become equal citizens of America or will their religion, skin color or national origin continue to be used as excuses for discrimination, profiling, FBI visits, secret evidence, and injustice? Can we be true to a principle we teach our children: "innocent until proven guilty?"
We are spending $399 billion dollars per year on the Pentagon while only $41 billion has been allocated for children's health, a mere $34 billion on K-12 education and a paltry $7 billion on the Headstart program.
America is at real risk of becoming a lesser country if we don't take a serious look at ourselves. No wonder six out of seven former presidents of the Political Science Association recently joined about 600 other scholars in an open letter to the American public calling for an urgent reassessment of our policies.
The Fresh Air of Democracy:
After a long time, the debate in America has begun thanks to the elections. Although the non-partisan FactCheck.org is not pleased with the way both candidates are misusing the facts, the debate has nevertheless started. It is important for us to keep listening and keep talking about the issues that divide us. Debate must not end with the November vote.
This is the time for prayer. I have never seen America as divided as it is today. My Christian friends have been telling me for a year now about how people in the same church avoid each other because they have different points of view. Politicians are bitter. Everyone is suspicious of others and their motives, expecting them to be fraudulent in the forthcoming elections.
America is not just important for Americans, it is important for humanity. Despite our problems, we still spend the most on scientific research and the search for higher knowledge that is beneficial to all. A divided America will not be good for any president, be it John Kerry or George W. Bush.
Let's pray that we conduct ourselves in the best possible manner. May we respect the rights of others. May the elections be fair and may all of us feel an equal part of them. May God grant wisdom to those conducting our elections to be honest and courageous by standing firm for the truth even if it goes against their self-interest.
Muslims in the 2000 Presidential Election:
In the 2000 presidential elections, Muslim Americans made history by delivering the bloc vote that helped Bush win the White House. Muslims delivered about 60,000 votes in the swing state of Florida for Bush where he won by a slim margin of about 600 votes.
While Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore and his party had refused to even meet with Muslims, Bush on the other hand, not only met Muslims but promised them he would fight against racial profiling, even criticizing the practice during a presidential debate. He also promised to repeal secret evidence law. That seemed to clinch his support within major segments of the Muslim community.
9/11 Changed Everything:
On September 11, 2001, a number of Muslim leaders who led the successful bloc vote for Bush were waiting in a Washington, DC hotel to meet President Bush as scheduled to discuss a number of concerns on behalf of the Muslim community. Today, some of those Muslim leaders are barred from even entering the White House.
Since 9/11, Muslims' disunity and failure to muster community resources for their common agenda has become even more pronounced. There is hardly any movement for the civil rights of Muslims. Most Muslims accused of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes do not even have proper legal representation available to them. Not many Muslims are willing to donate for the defense of those who used to carry out charity work for the community and have now been arrested because of the FBI's harassment of Muslim donors. The major preoccupation of the Muslim leadership seems to be trying to save their necks from the ruthless abuse of civil rights in the country instead of providing leadership to the voiceless American Muslims.
Since 9/11 more than 212,638 Muslims in the US have been detained, arrested, raided, interrogated, investigated, fingerprinted or deported. This is according to scattered official statistics. Independent conservative estimates suggest a number higher than half a million Muslims who have been directly affected by the government's policies and the widespread backlash against Muslims in the US.
Disempowerment of the Muslim Community:
The access to policymakers that the Muslim coalition for Bush wanted to build was demolished immediately after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. The first and the last Muslim liaison was expelled from White House. The most popular Muslim organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today is barred from even entering the White House.
In stark contrast to the 2000 election, Muslims in America are now so sidelined that despite their demonstrated capacity to deliver votes, Senator Kerry and President Bush have refused to meet the American Muslim Taskforce (AMT), acoalition of ten national Muslim organizations that recently announced a qualified endorsement of Kerry. Although some individual Muslims have met both presidential candidates, this refusal highlights how far away Muslim Americans are today from the mainstream of American life. Endorsement by a Muslim American coalition seems more like a liability for a candidate than an asset in the current environment.
During the Democratic Party's convention, when the AMT called a press conference, no reporter showed up despite the fact that 15,000 reporters were on the hunt for interesting news. And the only representatives who came to the press conference were candidates from the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and Ralph Nader's vice-presidential candidate.
Although Senator Edward Kennedy, the co-chair of Kerry's campaign, has met the Muslim leadership, the only known response by Senator Kerry regarding the endorsement of Muslims came out on an October 23, 2004 Saturday Night Live skit. Kerry responded to the scripted news of Muslim support with "No, that's OK, I'm cool." His tone and delivery showed he did not care for it. This impression was reinforced by the audience's laughter which the skit was written to solicit with Kerry's live participation.
It is in this context that the powerless and the voiceless Muslim-Americans look towards the November 2004 elections to seek a much-needed break from the dual nightmare of the Bush administration's civil rights abuses and reckless foreign policies.
Despite all of the challenges, Muslims are planning to vote in big numbers. They are voting for their life in America as equal citizens. As recently as two months ago, a Zogby International poll confirmed that 82 percent of all Muslims are registered to vote and 95 percent of all registered voters plan to vote.
Seventy-six percent of Muslims, according to a Zogby International/MAP survey plan to vote for Kerry, seven percent for Bush and five percent for someone else. Even among Muslim Republicans, Kerry leads by two to one.
A Request to Kerry Supporters:
Although Kerry mentioned the Quran along with the Torah in the presidential debate in response to Bush mentioning Muslims along with Jews and Christians, where does he stand regarding Islamophobia? Voting should be just the beginning of a long process of Muslim empowerment. Will Muslims have easy access to a Kerry administration, something which Bush promised but did not deliver? Will Muslims be treated any better than suspects? Muslims are not looking for verbal assurances through a third party but policies and processes which can ensure that. You need to make sure that Muslims for Kerry and the AMT continue to allocate resources to guarantee their support upholds the constitution and liberates Muslims from the virtual internment camp they are in today. Muslims keeping an eye on the Muslim leadership is as important for Muslim empowerment as voting is.
Muslims at large may or may not stay long with the Democrats, considering their 180-degree swing against Bush, and considering Kerry's reluctance in accepting Muslims? support. But we may develop relationships which may be far more valuable than the vote. Kerry, who in one debate used the strange term of "Islamic Muslims," may be as uninformed about Muslims in America as many of our neighbors are. Providing a human face to "Muslims" and direct conversation may go a long way in clarifying who we are and what we stand for. So don't just be a protest voter who is part of the "Anything But Bush Alliance." Be there as a long-term participant. Remember, most people supporting Kerry are the same people who stood up for the civil rights of Muslims, who came to our mosques with encouragement and sympathy in the aftermath of 9/11. Many of them are the bridge-builders in our neighborhoods.
Request to Bush Supporters:
Probably the most prominent and professionally organized booth at the last ISNA convention was that of Muslims for Bush. Some Muslims are major donors to the Bush campaign. Although this time, the Muslim leadership which endorsed him in the last election left him in disgust, diehard Muslim Bush supporters were probably there before these organizations offered their endorsement, and they are still there today. That is loyalty. Some leading Republican Muslims lent their names to American efforts at public diplomacy to convince Muslims of the world that America is not a bad country. It is clear that Muslim Bush supporters are not fair-weather friends of the Republican Party.
What type of contacts do you have in the Republican Party? Have you broken bread with other Republicans? There are Republicans who are as sick and tired of the erosion of privacy and civil liberties as most Muslims are. Do you know about them? Can you divert some of your funds towards these types of Republicans? Where do Muslim Republicans meet? What is your agenda beyond support for Bush?
Survey after survey depicts Muslims as socially conservative since they support a strong family, prayer in schools and oppose abortion and gay marriages. Although only seven percent of Muslims in America support Bush, twelve percent of Muslims still consider themselves Republicans. A Bush loss of Muslim votes can be a temporary loss for the Republicans if they learn to overcome the neo-cons' attitude towards liberties at home.
A Request to Nader Supporters:
Here is one major skeptic of America's two-party system. As an Arab Christian, Ralph Nader understands Muslims far better than Bush or Kerry. He has a tremendous service record for American consumers. He is still drawing one or two percent of support among voters across America. But Muslims are supporting him several times more.
Nader has an agenda which is probably the most appealing to a Muslim. But in an election which is probably closer than the 2000 election, do you really think choosing Nader is the best use of your vote? If you are truly for a three-party system, what is your commitment to it in terms of time and money beyond the elections?
Don't be Intimidated:
Although the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been conducting "voluntary" interviews with Muslims just before the elections, this must not intimidate us. Voting is your right. Show up early and vote. This is still America. No one will harm you because of your vote thanks to those who have struggled in the past for the right of vote.
And take your children with you to vote. Leave no child behind.
Leave No Voter Behind:
Many more people have registered to vote this year than during the last election. Getting registered voters to vote is a task in itself. Bringing people to the polling stations and taking them back is probably going to be the hottest volunteer job this election year. A non-partisan group has launched a campaign to mobilize over one million young, low- income and minority voters for the November Elections right from their own homes. Moveon.org, which coined the phrase "leave no voter behind," is also looking for volunteers to bring voters out.
For Muslims, this is a great opportunity to interact and participate. Take a day off from work or school and drive around offering your services to anyone, Republican, Democrat, Independent, who wants to vote. About nine percent of Muslims in this country who are non-citizens can be of great service to their adopted home, if they volunteer as drivers on election day. I remember a New York Congressperson was actually defeated when mostly Pakistani cab drivers volunteered to work against him because of his anti-Pakistan rhetoric.
Elections are one big celebration of democracy. Maybe a bit of nonpartisan volunteerism will heal some wounds.
Report Voting Problems at once:
A few days ago, a BBC anchor from the UK asked me live on radio, "will there be foreign observers in the US elections?" I felt a bit offended that American elections are now being treated as those held in a Third World country. I ended up defending our electoral process and explaining how it was better than the Indian voting system and far less corrupt. But later on, I felt that considering what happened in Florida during the last presidential elections, it was probably a legitimate question and my response was a bit nationalistic.
There are already more than 1,000 reports of problems and several lawsuits.
Keep a number handy: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. A nonpartisan coalition of 60 organizations has established this system that allows you to report an incident of electoral irregularity immediately so they can quickly send legal observers to the site.
A Voters Self Defense Manual is also available for downloading or call the Voters Research Hotline at 1-888-VOTE SMART.
In America, it is said that all politics is local. While attention is focused on the presidential elections and the fight for the soul of America, there are many important local elections. If you are still not clear about who is running for what, a good guide can be your local newspaper which might have a catalog of positions these candidates have on different issues. For state level offices, you will find comparative information on http://www.vote-smart.org
Whereas in election 2000 Muslims and Arab-Americans who endorsed Bush tried their best to deliver Michigan to him, they failed because an Arab-American labor leader of the United Auto Workers was strong enough to deliver more votes for Gore. That is the power of local leadership as compared to a national organization.
Learn How to Vote Before You Show Up:
There are many different voting methods in each state. Learn beforehand how to vote. You may find that information through your state's election board or through a local newspaper. If you know the mechanics (or electronics) of the voting process in your area, you may have an easier time.
And show up early. I can guarantee real long lines next Tuesday.
I wish and pray that the processes as well as the results are good for America, Muslims and humanity. Amen.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bush_encourages_renewal_of_Patriot_Act_2005.jpg