Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Road to 2008: What is the American Muslim Community’s Role?

The Democrats in Congress have renewed hope, after taking control over the House and the Senate during the November election. They have vowed to fight excessive spending, build a more ethical congress and to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which was the subject of many political campaigns during this election year. The Republicans too have announced their plans to reform their party.

A shift in power in both the House and the Senate now means a fairly low key end to the current session, with the more controversial issues to be handled after congress reconvenes with a Democrat majority in January. Issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and certain spending bills have been put on hold until there is more time to decide on them. Some of those issues, Democrats promised, will be handled within the first 100 days of the new session, commonly referred to as the “honeymoon”.

With a president that supports comprehensive immigration reform, a divided GOP on the issue, and a Democratic congress only by a narrow margin, there is potential for gridlock where not much legislation will get passed. Given such a scenario, the American public has begun looking to the 2008 election as one that will bring about more dramatic change in politics, with a ‘sneak preview’ in 2006.

Immigrant communities and advocacy groups rallied around immigrants’ rights and had record numbers on Election Day. The American-Muslim community is certainly not exempt from these statistics. In fact, during the course of the 2006 election, CAIR-Chicago, in partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), was able to increase voter registrations by 80 percent and voter turnout by 50 percent in the southwestern suburb of Bridgeview.

So, what does this all mean for American-Muslims in 2008?

As a community that has more politically aware and active in the last few years, American-Muslims can play a potentially large role in the upcoming election. With more immigrants becoming citizens and potential voters, the community has become one that has finally begun taking stances on issues that affects its members directly and indirectly.

The activism of one of the newer communities in the United States has been credited to the post 9/11 era, in light of the increase in civil rights abuses that the Muslim community has begun to face. Regardless of the cause for a more politically conscious Muslim community, there are more politically active Muslims engaging in proactive discourse and professional activism than there were ten years ago.

With the first ever American-Muslim elected to the elected to Congress, Keith Ellison is seen as a pioneer. Regardless of what policies he may push once he becomes an active member of the House, Ellison has become an individual providing American Muslims with hope that we will be able to create an agenda that is specific to the needs of our community.

However, for this vision and hope to become reality, the Muslim community must push itself to its limits the way many other immigrant communities have done to excel politically. Over the next two years, the American-Muslim community must engage itself in constructive and proactive dialogue about the role the Muslims in the political arena, not only with itself, but with mainstream Americans. If it is to lay a solid foundation in politics, it must educate itself so that each member of the community is aware of the functions of its government and the responsibilities of both elected officials and their constituents.

But, actions speak louder than words.

Not only must dialogue play a central role, participating in meetings with elected officials, conducting voter education projects, and mobilizing people toward activities that identify the American-Muslim community as positive agent of political change.

The next two years will determine who will win the presidency in 2008. The new resident of the White House in 2008 will be determined by the newly activated communities. The role of the American-Muslim community in this election can potentially steer politics in a different direction but only if it makes the commitment to do so, not simply by talking about it. Rather, it is due time to be about it.


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