Unlike the Jewish community of the US, Muslims in America have neither money power nor media power.
Muslims in America, however, do have one weapon with which they can move forward provided they unite to use it effectively: their vote.
What is happening in Jerusalem and how US leaders of both parties are responding is only one of the latest examples of the weakness of 10 million Muslims and Christian Arabs in America. It is an indication that the power of their vote, their support and endorsement of a candidate as a group, a unified bloc, has been underestimated.
Jews in America vote in bloc at presidential elections. Seventy to 75% votes in favor of one candidate are normally considered a bloc vote.
The current presidential election provides an extraordinary opportunity for a community like ours to become a decisive factor in election results. If the Muslim vote gets divided and entangled in domestic and foreign policy issues, no one will notice that we voted.
On all policy issues, there are millions of dollars spent on this, as well as lobby groups with well-defined positions. Unless Muslims are empowered, no one will care what our opinion is on this issue or that issue. So we must keep the policy debate or even the personality debate, arguing over which party has a better policy or which candidate is smarter, on the side.
What matters is what type of vote will empower the Muslim community to become a player in the American political arena. Can future candidates rely on us to support them as a group?
It has happened at the regional level in the past. I believe it can happen at the national level as well.
How Muslims have used the power of the bloc vote in the past
In the last seven to eight years, Muslim Americans have flexed their political muscles in different constituencies. In New York, Pakistani taxi drivers organized an alignment and campaigned to defeat Congressman Stephen J. Solarz.
The nine-term congressman was the most vocal leader of the Indian lobby in Congress. He lost his congressional seat to some determined Pakistani activists who were still learning the ropes of politics in the Big Apple.
They probably did not know that he was also the leading proponent of Israeli interests on Capitol Hill. He was in line to be the Chair of the House Foreign Relations committee.
Although his campaign fund was greater than the aggregate of all five opponents, he was defeated. Pakistanis' campaign against him paid off in favor of one of the Spanish candidates in a newly constituted seat. That was 1992. The first time, probably, when any Muslim group made a successful effort in any US election.
In 1996, Muslims in New Jersey endorsed Richard Zimmer, a Republican candidate in an open Senate seat. But concerned about Jewish votes, Zimmer announced that he did not ask for the Muslim community's endorsement.
Upon hearing this, Muslims withdrew their endorsement and put their support behind the Democratic candidate, Robert Torricelli. This candidate won the elections with a slight margin and publicly acknowledged that his success was due to the support of the Muslim community. Now, when he speaks in Senate, he is conscious of Muslim concerns.
Muslims in New Jersey continued to make good electoral choices through their bloc votes. While doing that they have effectively created a counter voter bloc on which candidates can rely upon. Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey is a regular guest at Muslim events in New Jersey, of course with a scarf covered head. Recently, New Jersey was the first state in which Halal food laws were passed.
Gone are the days when, in 1984, Senator Charles Percy begged Muslims for votes which never came. His opponent Paul Simon's campaign was essentially fueled by millions of dollars donated by the Israeli lobby to defeat Senator Percy.
Senator Charles Percy was the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations committee. He represented the State of Illinois in the US Senate from 1967 through 1984. The only crime Percy committed was being a little sympathetic to Palestinians and Pakistan.
Senator Percy sent his family members to the Muslim Community in Chicago for Muslim votes. Muslims didn't care at that time. Hardly anyone registered or voted. Percy lost with only a few hundred votes.
Who will dare to speak for a Muslim cause when punishment is so directly related to their crime?
Election 2000 and the Muslim bloc vote
If, in the coming elections, America's close to eight million Muslims, and its close to two million Arab Christians mobilize to form a common agenda and vote as a bloc on a national ticket, two things can happen.
One, they will cause one party to win. Two, they will reduce the margin of loss for the losing party. Either way, this decision is crucial for the empowerment of Muslims at the national level.
If Muslims vote as a bloc, they will show their power and strength. Insha Allah (if God wills) political candidates will understand and acknowledge that Muslims and Arabs in America have come home. They are part of the playing field and they will have to be taken very seriously. Perhaps even more seriously than the Jewish vote, which is significantly smaller in terms of numbers.
Who should Muslims bloc vote for?
At this moment, some Muslims support the social justice agenda of traditional Democrats, along with their openness to immigrants.
Other Muslims support the Republicans' conservatism on social issues.
Others still, find Ralph Nader's Green Party has the best policies, an excellent record and provides them with the protest vote option.
But if Muslims' voting choice is based solely on policy issues then our votes are bound to be divided. On the other hand, if the goal is to empower Muslims as one voting bloc, then Muslims will have to look at which vote will get them recognition as political players.
At this moment, the Jewish community, the media and the money are all on the side of the Gore-Lieberman ticket. The Pro-Israeli political action committee (PAC) Year 2000's contribution to the Democrats' presidential candidate Al Gore is $151,890; to the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman 226,508. In contrast Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has only received $5,200 and Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney $ 0.
In 1992, Bill Clinton got the support of 85 percent of Jewish voters because they were angry at the pressure George Bush (father of the current Republican presidential candidate) was putting on Israel to reach a land-for-peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In 1996, Bill Clinton got 88 percent of the Jewish vote against Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole because the Israeli press had labeled Clinton the most pro-Israel president in US
Bush knows this and is making a conscious effort to lure Muslim votes. And that is the reason he opposed secret evidence and racial profiling being used against Arab-Americans.
Recently, in the course of a presidential debate, Bush also contrasted Al Gore's solid friendship of Israel with his friendship of Israel and friendly Arab countries namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.
If Muslim Americans and Arabs openly endorse the Bush-Cheney ticket, and if we are able to deliver the votes that will either cause Bush and Cheney to win or will reduce their margin of loss to smaller digits, America and politicians will note that Muslims have arrived. Let's translate anger over Palestine into the power of our vote.
Let's take the first major step in empowering Muslims in America. Once we are counted, then our opinion on domestic policy and foreign policy will mater, not before that.
I know that not all of Bush's policies on Muslim causes can be supported. Whichever candidate is endorsed, it will involve sacrifice on the part of those whose candidate is not chosen. If you vote as a bloc, you are not just voting for a candidate or his policies, you are actually voting for your community.
Are Muslims capable of delivering a bloc vote?
Yes. A bloc vote does not mean 100 percent of Muslim votes. If Muslims are able to deliver 60 to 70 percent of their votes to any candidate, that will be a milestone in the process of empowerment of Muslims in America, whether that candidate wins or not.
It will be a test, however, of the Muslim leadership and its internal communication system. The Muslim leadership is not united nor is Muslim communication strong enough to announce a decision to all Muslim voters.
However, they are united in anger. Some of the largest demonstrations in the history of Muslims in America are taking place in favor of Palestine today.
Political empowerment of Muslims is a long process. This election is an important step in that direction, but it is no way a solution of all of your worries. The ability of national Muslim organizations to make a collective decision, to be able to convey this to Muslims in America, and to be able to deliver a bloc vote is also going to prove whether these organizations will be trusted by Muslim voters or politicians in future or not.
What to do if you agree:
If you agree with the concept of the bloc vote to empower Muslims in America, you can do the following:
- If you are a Muslim leader, call a meeting of Muslim opinion leaders in your area to discuss the issue of a bloc vote and how to tell others about it.
- If you are not a leader, invite one to your home, or visit him and convince him to organize a bloc vote.
- There are many small organizations at the national level who may announce collective or conflicting endorsements. But none of them have the grassroots contacts. Your informal decisions may make a difference.
- Some national organizations are meeting on the coming weekend to make an endorsement. They met last year also but did not endorse anyone. It is important that these organizations hear from you. Contact them with your opinion.
(Opinions expressed in this article and other articles are not the positions of the Sound Vision Foundation or any of its affiliated organizations. These are the personal opinions of the author.)
"El mourouj (élection) 1" by Wael Ghabara - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_mourouj_(%C3%A9lection)_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:El_mourouj_(%C3%A9lection)_1.jpg