On the contrary, says Salam Al-Marayati, the director of the Muslim PublicAffairs Council--Gore's selection of Lieberman "would benefit Muslimsin general."
But American Muslims are divided on Lieberman, with concerns about the Middle East precariously balanced with a desire for pluralism in public life.
Al-Marayati's optimism may be surprising, since Muslims and Jews are often portrayed asadversaries with historical and theological differences so deeply rooted,that the possibility of peace and cooperation seems like a far-flung prayer. Recent events seem to support this view. Last month, peace talks collapsed as Jews and Muslimsfailed once again to find a solution to the status of Jerusalem and thefuture of Israel, and an answer to the conflict does not seem to be anywherein sight.
Furthermore, the role of the U.S. as the broker of these talks not onlybrings the peace process into the American political arena, but it alsoputs a heavy burden on the U.S. to maintain a certain objectivity. Does the inclusion of an Orthodox Jew on theDemocratic ticket signal a bias regarding the Middle East that theestimated 4 to 5 million American Muslims cannot ignore?
Khalid Turaani, executive director of American Muslims forJerusalem (AMJ), called Lieberman's stance on Israel a "concern."
"Lieberman has gone to great lengths to serve the interests of Israel at the expense of the executive powers of the president of the United States," Turaani stressed. "Lieberman on the ticket will take the administration even further away from any honest broker role."
But many American Muslims, including Al-Marayati, believe that the choice of a non-Christian can only help religious minorities. "In terms of diversity and pluralism, [the choice of Lieberman] should beapplauded," he said.
A contributor to avariety of Muslim-Jewish dialogues, Al-Marayati has also been at the centerof conflict between the two communities. Last year, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missourirescinded Al-Marayati's nomination to a national commission on terrorismbecause of pressure from Jewish groups that included the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents of Jewish Organizations, which accused Al-Marayati ofbeing sympathetic to certain "Muslim" terrorist groups.
Now, he hopes that Lieberman will use his standing in the Jewish community to promote better understanding between Muslims and Jews. Al-Marayati said, "Lieberman has a chance to benefit his candidacy, the Muslim community, andthe Jewish community by taking a leadership role in widening and developingthe Muslim-Jewish dialogue with the Middle East and dealing with it withdelicacy."
But, he warned, "it depends on what Lieberman brings to thetable. If it's going to be a hard stance on Israel and Jerusalem, then youcan shut the door on getting Muslim support."
And Muslim support is not something that the Democrats can afford to lose. "If Muslimsleave the Democratic Party," Al-Marayati said, "it will be because of Jerusalem, and that willhurt Gore's chance for winning such key states such as Michigan, Illinois,and Ohio, where there are large Muslim populations."
Muslims have generally been wary of what the AMJ's Turaani calls the Clinton-Gore administration's "reckless policy" toward the Middle East. They are already concerned about the likely policies of a Gore administration, and they fear that any balance Gore might bring would be lost with an Orthodox Jew as vice president.
"Al Gore made some outrageous statements in his speech before the AmericanIsraeli Public Affairs Committee on the issue of the peace process andJerusalem," Turaani said. Lieberman's influence could wind up pushing Muslims toward the Republican Party or toward Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, he added.
But some groups did stress that a working and respectful relationship hadalready been initiated with the senator.
Abuzaakouk added that Lieberman was one of the early co-sponsors of aSenate resolution that passed last week recognizing the importance andsignificance of the American Muslim community. The resolution reads, in part:
"Senate condemns anti-Muslim intolerance and discrimination as wholly inconsistent with the American values of religious tolerance and pluralism.... Senate recognizes the contributions of American Muslims, who are followers of one of the three major monotheistic religions of the world and one of the fastest growing faiths in the United States."