Friday, August 15, 2008

The Value of the American Muslim Vote

With only a few months left in the election season, communities across the nation are scrambling to organize their constituents, registering voters, educating citizens about the issues and the stances of the candidates, and working to make sure their needs are recognized and their voices are heard. With the state of our political and social climate, American Muslims have been registering in record numbers over the past 4 years, overcoming misgivings and cynicism about political participation in a nation where many of them face discrimination and violations against their constitutional rights.

While there are many cultural, linguistic, sectarian, and other natural social variations within the American Muslim population, as with any other community of Americans sharing another identity, the mobilization of Muslims as a bloc, not blindly voting for candidate or another, but as a solid group of millions of voters, looking for inclusion, working with other communities on common causes, and delivering on election day. When American Muslims do vote as a bloc, like over 70% did in support for John Kerry in 2004 whereas over 40% did in support for President George Bush in 2000 as reported by Zogby, our influence is recognized. American Muslims know: the stakes are high.

Of a population of 300 million people, only about 230 million are of voting-age, of which only 150 million register, and 100 million turn out. Even fewer play an active role in primaries, making the numbers decrease to about 6-8 million people that actually choose the president of this nation. The American Muslim vote could be enough to tip the scales, and with coalition-building and outreach to other communities with similar interests, can be a very powerful force. [Great article here that covers the importance of the American Muslim vote!]. Compare this to American Idol, with performers winning by votes of up to 100 million (though granted, it’s much easier – no restrictions on age, citizenship, etc., and you can just text immediately, but could it still say something about where our values lie?)!

Information provided by research institutions, such as the Pew Forum, indicates that American Muslims have interests and values that align with those of the rest of the American population. A report issued by CAIR gathered data about the demographics and beliefs of American Muslims, indicating the diversity within the American Muslim population, committed to concerns shared by many, including national security, the economy, the environment, education, health care, inner-city development, immigration, protection of civil liberties, and foreign policy.

As the Muslim voice is dismissed with shameful displays of our nation accepting its prejudice, such as with the recent resignation of Mazen Asbahi as an Arab American and Muslim American outreach liaison for the Obama camp, American Muslims must continue to test their capacity to participate and succeed in this nation’s political system, while engaging with fellow Americans, and measuring the extent to with this nation is willing to return the favor to its diverse communities.

I urge all citizens of this nation to exercise their right to vote. American Muslims especially must reject passive citizenship and, despite the fact that democratic participation has unfortunately become a path of resistance, we must stand together for our rights. Register to vote now at your local election office, at a voter registration drive, at the DMV, or through various online initiatives. Read up on the issues or research information about the candidates. Many organizations have already compiled the information for you, like CAIR here, or you can become informed in other ways. Take advantage of the right to vote, so that you don’t have to lose it in order to recognize its value.

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