Dueling Endorsements: A Muslim Bloc or Split?

Ten days after a Muslim coalition endorsed Bush, another Muslim group decided to back Gore. What's behind the split?

BY: Anisa Mehdi

 

Ten days after a coalition of major American Muslim advocacy groups threw a Washington press conference to endorse Texas Gov. George W. Bush for President, two Detroit Muslim groups on Friday countered with an endorsement of Vice President Al Gore.

The dueling endorsements are the latest evidence that the nation's estimated 6 million Muslims-a sprawling group from dozens of ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds-is in the throes of its political coming-of-age. Hillary Clinton's recent decision to return $50,000 in campaign contributions to a major American Muslim group caused a stir in major papers throughout the country, as did Rick Lazio's corresponding statements on Muslims.



"Those who understand politics here know that in order to be major players you need representation in both parties, and you need to bring results back to your community," said Karriem Muhammad, spokesman for the Detroit group, which represents about 10,000 Muslims. The group is comprised of the Muslim Community Political Action Committee and the Detroit chapter of the Coalition for Good Government. The Detroit area is a major hub of Muslim American population and influence.

The Detroit PAC was organized five years ago. Membership includes African-Americans, South Asians, Arabs and Anglo Americans, Muhammad said.

So, who are Muslims expected to vote for: Gore or Bush?

"Forming a coalition, forming alliances, is right. This is the Islamic tradition of `shura,' or consultation," said Imam Fahim Shuaib of the Masjid al Waritheen in Oakland, Calif. "But there were some mistakes made, some gross political mistakes," in the process that led to the Bush endorsement. The Bush group is called the AMPCC-PAC, which represents the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the American Muslim Council (AMC), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Members of these organizations come from Arab, African, and South Asian backgrounds, but the coordinating committee does not include representation from African-Americans, who make up between 20% to 30% of the Muslim population.

Shuaib conceded that the result of a planning process that included African-American Muslims within the AMPCC might have been the same, and a unified Muslim endorsement might still have gone to Bush. He said, however, that "the mistake was not including divergent views." In early October, Shuaib received an enthusiastic ovation when he spoke about increasing cooperation between African-American and immigrant Muslims during an AMA convention in California.

Muslims have been trying for the last decade to organize themselves politically into a "bloc vote" that could carry as much clout as the Jewish vote. "Bloc votes" do not necessarily mean that all members of a constituency will vote for the same candidate. Statistically, a "bloc" will split a community 80% to 20%, with the majority reflecting the preference of the leadership. Muslims in America have followed the path of most American minorities seeking political influence: forging alliances based on common ground and compromising on areas of disagreement.

The Washington group endorsed Bush citing that Bush had been more open to Muslim concerns than the Gore campaign. Meanwhile, high-level Democrats had not responded to repeated requests for meetings with various Muslim American groups, Muslims have charged. In a letter to the Democratic National Committee, Robert Moore, director of Democratic Party Affairs for the Coalition for Good Government, wrote: "it has been challenging for me to overcome the perception that the Democratic Party, and the Vice President, in particular, does not take the Muslim vote and support seriously."



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