Friday, February 01, 2008

Muslims in the Campaign

I’ve been asking myself who I want to vote for this Tuesday and I can’t decide. Of course I won’t get into personal politics right now, given that CAIR-Chicago is a 501(C)3 and I’m speaking in my capacity as the Government Affairs Coordinator but I will get up on my soapbox and rant to you guys about why I’m having such a hard time.

I know that there are several band wagons out there; I was on the ever popular the other day and saw a group for the Obama campaign and then I saw one for the Clinton entourage. I looked and found several more; one for McCain, Romney, and Huckabee. Heck, there was even one for Ron Paul but I don’t know anything about these people.

Who are they and why do they think they can be leaders of the United States of America? Who are these people and what will they do for me as an American-Muslim? I used to think, oh well the Muslim community is too small and insignificant for them to reach out to so I’ll just vote as an American, implying that American and Muslim are two mutually exclusive identities. Man, was I wrong. American Muslim is just as synonymous as African American or Caucasian American. So let me just tell you what’s been on my mind lately.

I am irritated at the attitudes that our beloved candidates have taken lately about Americanism and being Muslim. I was listening to NPR the other day and some Republicans “accused” Obama of being Muslim. As if really that’s an insult. Obama’s office handled it somewhat well I guess but still didn’t meet my expectations. They shot back with a statement of Obama’s background as a devout Christian, stating that he has never been Muslim. Fair enough right? The man is simply clarifying his background and clearing up false information. He DOES have a right to do that.

However, we’ve entered into a culture, as Americans, and that doesn’t exclude the Muslim community either, where it has become perfectly fine to insult someone by calling them a Muslim. I find that offensive. I’m an American Muslim and I wear that identity proudly as I know most of my peers and colleagues do. I can’t figure out exactly why the candidates think calling someone a Muslim is so wrong!

Is it because we’re not lawyers, doctors, cab drivers, engineers, maintenance workers, and teachers? Or is it because we don’t contribute to the American economy, paying our taxes on time, owning houses, consuming good? Can it be that Muslims don’t volunteer their time at soup kitchens, don’t give to charity, or don’t own pets? No, that can’t be it. Last time I checked, American-Muslims did all of that and yet we’re still the social pariahs.

I recognize that at one point, the Japanese community faced very similar problems; they couldn’t even become American citizens! Oh, wait, Muslims have that problem too now that their citizenship applications are on hold pending “name checks” by the FBI. So what do I do as an American Muslim in this election? Super Tuesday is right around the corner. That leaves me less than 4 days to make a decision! Do I even go to the polls?

Yes, I do. Even if I do think that none of the candidates represent my views. Why? Because I am an American Muslim and I want them to know that I vote. I participate and take my civic duty seriously. Think about it, if we all showed up in mass numbers at the polls, wouldn’t candidates have to recognize that our community is a big one and an important one? Wouldn’t they think twice before they “accused” someone of being Muslim like it’s a bad thing? Wouldn’t they come to our community for our support, they way they go to every other community?

Our community is huge in the United States; in fact, we are also of the most successful people in the country. On average, Muslims generally get a higher education than the average American does. I think that’s something we can use to our advantage. We are also in higher income brackets on average than Americans in general. That can be used to our advantage too. I won’t tell you how, but this is where your critical thinking comes in.

So on Super Tuesday, when you’re sitting around, waiting for that 30th rerun of Law and Order to start, I’ll be at the polls, looking at the ballot, even if I don’t want to vote for any of the candidates. I’ll be showing them that I’m better than their comments, that I won’t vote for someone who thinks bigotry is okay or that hatred is a value we teach our children.

I will be sporting a button that reads: “I am American, I am Muslim, I vote”.


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