Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflections of a Novice

Being a young Muslim-American, the 2010 elections was the first time I voted. The Muslim community in America consists of a mosaic of people with ideological, ethnic, and cultural differences. According to the 2009 Gallup Poll on the Muslim American experience, 35 percent of Muslims are African-American, 28 percent White, 18 percent Asians, 18 percent other, and 1 percent Hispanic. These statistics stand in contrast to the stereotypical views of Muslim-Americans being of Arab descent with “antidemocratic” political views. In fact, during my experience with the local Muslim Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Campaign, Muslims were civically engaged and encouraged to volunteer by organizations like CAIR-Chicago. Nevertheless, there were a few instances when we were confronted with voter apathy, but that is a problem not particular to Muslim-Americans. The general mood of frustration is common among Americans due to the intricacies of the political process and the lethargic pace of a promised change.

The first step when it comes to voting is the registration process. It’s quite simple, but immigrant Muslims and young Muslims find it to be a rather arduous task. Immigrant Muslims have not been socialized into participating in politics and there are language barriers to become active in the process. We were able to overcome this barrier with voter registration at mosques and one-on-one attention to their concerns. The unfortunate situation is the passiveness of young Muslims who expect change without any effort on their part. Fifty-one percent of eligible Muslims between ages 18-29 are registered to vote and they overwhelmingly identify themselves as Democrats and Independents. The rampant culture of entitlement that our generation has grown in is an overarching explanation for the lack of participation. This is a critical issue that must be addressed, especially since the bulk of the Muslim-American population falls within this age group.

The next step is for the registered voters to educate themselves. This process of informing ourselves is a daunting task because it requires time and effort, both of which fall under self-discipline. Voters typically use party affiliation to cast their vote, but there were certain issues that American-Muslims were particular about, such as racial profiling, immigration and Islamophobia. For me, as a new voter, it was quite disappointing to see that front-runners took a lenient position in regards to those issues that affect Muslims. It became even more frustrating when some candidates either ignored to address the issues or blatantly supported distasteful agendas.

The final step, and the most crucial is to vote. Like many other first time voters, I was quite excited to go through the process. Fortunately, it was quick and straightforward, but it requires some degree of commitment on the part of the voter. We all have demanding lives juggling school, work, family and an endless number of other activities we have to manage. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us as Muslim-Americans to prioritize voting on Election Day, because through this process we can gradually prepare for the auspicious future, that of cooperation, between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans.

In order to understand the importance of voting, we have to remember that what we take as a “right” is actually a privilege in most places around the world. We have come a long way from the days where only White elite men could vote or when poll taxes kept minorities away from political participation. Now, all adult citizens 18 years and older are eligible to vote, so it has become a matter of choice. Those Muslim-Americans who vote and those who do not are making a decision that has ramifications for Muslim-Americans at large. The choice to be active or passive is yours.

For statistical information, please see the 2009 GallupWorld Poll:

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