With mere months left in one of the most important elections in the history of not only the United States, but of the world, it is critical that Muslims focus on what we are looking for in this election. There are Muslims who are donating to the presidential candidates as though this is the last election of their lives. Muslims have been doing that for years without much empowerment of the community. There are others who have become caught up in the historicity of gender and race. It is exciting that there are so many minority candidates running: two blacks, one woman, one Mormon, one ordained minister, one former POW, etc. It seems America is putting forth its jewels of diversity. More Americans are voting and the concerns for our nation and the world are high.
Choosing the right candidate to run the most powerful nation on the planet, three issues are of critical importance for our community.
1. Access to a Candidate
Are there any Muslims in their staff? Are they open to hiring some? Are they willing to appoint a liaison officer in the White House to communicate with the Muslim community? Are they willing to stand with Muslims in public, or just look for our votes? Access to politicians is a major litmus test for those who publicly behave in a macho manner but privately ask Muslims for their money.
Back in 2000, what endeared then Governor George Bush to a number of Muslims was him meeting with the Muslim leadership as compared to then Vice-President Al Gore. Muslims voted 70% in favor of Bush with a significant 34% voting for the first time. In Florida, the last battleground, there would not have been any battle without an estimated 60,000 votes which the state?s Muslims asserted they delivered in favor of Bush.
Fast forward eight years and the issue of access has become even more critical. While personal and party history will very likely play a greater role in who is elected from the American Muslim perspective, the community will also be looking for candidates who speak about issues of relevance to Muslims and have incorporated Muslims into their campaign structure, whether that is as advisors, volunteers or managers.
2. Views on civil rights
Are the presidential candidates really aware of the current state of civil rights in our country? Does their website talk about what our nation has lost in terms of civil rights? Do their stump speeches have more than a line about the violations of civil rights? Where do they stand regarding preventive detentions of Americans?
Governor Bush spoke against the profiling of Arabs and Muslims. He also spoke against the secret evidence debate with Gore. That got him the Muslim vote.
Since 9/11, however, the loss of civil rights and liberties via discrimination, harassment and the implementation of laws like the Patriot Act has been a major issue for Muslims in this country. A candidate?s stand on this topic will very likely tip the balance in his or her favor if s/he is willing to defend this essential part of our constitution not just in word but also in deed. A favorable track record in terms of how a candidate has voted in the past on civil rights matters is a definite plus.
3. The restoration of America?s moral authority on the global stage
Are candidates concerned about America?s moral position in the world? Is there a link between our moral crises and the falling dollar in the world? Is developing a trusting relationship with the world better for our economy or increasing the military budget? Are they willing to restore America?s moral authority by acting on a ten-point agenda (http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/02/22/usdom15384.htm) put forth by more than 22 national civil rights and human rights organizations.
Guantanamo Bay; Abu Ghraib; secret interrogation centers; waterboarding; torture: these are not mere blips in America?s history for most American Muslims. While their hearts and feet are firmly planted in the United States, Muslims? eyes, like those of many other Americans, are also on the Islamic world. Since 9/11, our country has tried to ?win hearts and minds in the Muslim world? to no avail. This is because we have lost our moral authority there through the above-mentioned practices and worse.
A better president would be one who heeds the words of Alexis de Tocqueville: ?America is great because it is good. When it ceases being good, it will no longer be great."
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sarah_Palin_and_Family_at_Convention.jpg