Close encounter with Bush: A political miscarriage

By Ameen Izzadeen
(Deputy Editor The Sunday Times and Daily Mirror-Sri Lanka)
Islam in America – (P-6)
This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror of Friday November 7, 2003
The Florida vote recount at the 2000 US presidential election was  finally decided by the US Supreme Court after days of fluctuating  fortunes for the two main contenders, George W. Bush of the  Republican Party and former Vice President Al Gore of the Democratic  Party. But all this drama would have been a non-event and Mr. Gore would have won, if the Muslims of Florida had not en bloc supported Mr. Bush. After all, the recount showed a difference of a mere 536
votes.
The political picture of the Muslims in America at the dawn of this millennium was that most of them, especially the Arab and Asian migrants, were politically inactive, because they believed that some day they would return to their “native” countries. Unlike their Afro- American Muslim brethren, who had become politically hyperactive because of their involvement in civil rights campaigns, most Arab and Asian Muslims did not even bother to register themselves as voters.
But in the late 1980s and the 1990s, Muslim groups, such as the American Muslim Council, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, began an intensive campaign to get the Muslims involved in the political process.
Though these groups were not one hundred percent successful in their effort, they managed to get a substantial percentage of Muslims to become voters and use their ballots at the 2000 presidential elections. Thus began their entry into the great game of lobby politics. Obviously, they were taking a leaf out of the political book of the powerful Jewish minority community.
The Muslims did not have to grapple with the problem of choosing between Vice President Gore and Mr. Bush. With the issues at stake being domestic as well as international, the Muslims in Mr. Gore saw a true friend of Israel. Mr. Gore was also reported to have ignored offers of support in exchange for a promise to attend to their problems. But Mr. Bush appeared a true friend of Muslims and the Arab world, largely through his oil connections. Besides, the Republicans had developed links with the Islamic Institute that virtually acted as an appendage of the Republican Party and canvassed for Mr. Bush among the Muslims.
One of the key domestic concerns of the Muslim groups was the Secret Evidence Law. Mr. Bush had promised to repeal this law, enacted during the Bill Clinton presidency and used largely in cases against Muslim migrants and Muslim charities. In a case where a suspect is charged under this law, he or she is denied access to prosecution evidence when preparing his or her defense – a violation of one of the hallowed principles of the US legal system.
The Muslims also urged Mr. Bush to ease the sanction-imposed burden on Iraq – of course, without compromising US security interests – and play the role of honest broker in the West Asia and Kashmir conflicts.
According to one account, nearly 75 percent of US Muslims backed Mr.  Bush at the 2000 elections. But did they get what they wanted in return? Or was it a case of President Bush being unable to honor his promises due to the exigencies of 9/11?
Whatever the case, the reality facing the Muslims today is that instead of repealing the Secret Evidence Law, Bush enacted tougher laws such as the Patriot Act.
The 2003 civil rights report prepared by the Council on American- Islamic Relations says: “…the Patriot Act of 2001 has allowed the executive branch to circumvent the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause when conducting wiretaps and searches. Under the current law, persons searched could be US citizens who are not suspected of wrongdoing.
The law permits personal or business records to be seized for an investigation without prior evidence of connection to terrorism or criminal activity. The lengthy detentions have been criticized in particular for their violation of the constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to a speedy trial.”
As for the Muslim demand on Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir, the  administration’s policy, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, has not  only moved away from the pledges Mr. Bush made to the Muslim  community, but gone headlong in the opposite direction.
Instead of removing sanctions on Iraq or easing the burden on  millions of its suffering people, the Bush administration bombed that  country on what is now increasingly becoming evident to have been a  false charge that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and  hence a threat to US security.
On the question of Palestine, the Bush administration came up with a road map, but at the same time endorsed – both tacitly and openly – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s harsh measures, including the building of a new security wall that is gobbling up Palestinian land, in quelling what is indeed viewed by a majority of the people around the world as a just struggle against Israeli colonialism.
As regards Kashmir – Kashmir is an issue because a substantial number of US Muslims are from South Asia – the Bush administration, analysts say, have drawn closer towards the Hindu fundamentalist BJP regime of India.
Another aspiration of the US Muslims was more government jobs, especially in the State Department, once Mr. Bush assumed office. But the jobs never came their way.
The first attempt by Muslims to show their political power as a group thus came a cropper or ended in a miscarriage, but it was not total disaster.
Muslims I spoke to said they would forge ahead with lessons they learned from their first experience as a lobby group.  The Muslims of Arab and Asian origins now admit that their biggest blunder was not their support of Mr. Bush, but their failure to identify with the Afro-American Muslims who make up more than one third of the US Muslim population and who traditionally backed the Democrats.
With 2004 being the year of another presidential election in the United States, a large majority of the Muslims, it appears, have already made up their mind – not to re-elect Mr. Bush.
According to a recent poll carried out by the Washington-based CAIR, only two percent of the Muslims surveyed said they would vote for Mr. Bush.
The same survey showed that only one in ten of the respondents supported the president’s Iraq policy.
When asked to name the political party that best represents the interests of the American Muslim community, more respondents named the Democratic Party (27 percent) and the Green party (25 percent) than the Republican Party (3 percent). A large number (44 percent) said none of the parties represented their interests.

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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