Sama Wareh registered to vote for the first time last year. But not for real. Just for extra credit in political science.

This time it’s different, the college student said as she marked “independent” on a fresh registration form.

For Wareh, of Anaheim Hills, and thousands of other Arab Americans and Muslims in Orange County, the 2004 election is taking on the aura of a defining moment.

“We’re waking up,” said Wareh, 20, a film and zoology student at California State University, Fullerton. “We know we’ve got to become more involved in the society we live in.”

Some of her community’s concerns mirror the general population’s – the cost of housing, education and health care. But in the wake of Sept. 11, local Muslims say their faith has been maligned, their loyalty unfairly questioned.

Islamophobia, they believe, is on the rise.

Muslims take responsibility for some of that. They are coming to realize, Wareh said, the only way to be recognized as full-status Americans is full participation in civic life. And that means more than just voting.

Arab Americans and local Muslims already vote in large numbers. An estimated 79 percent are registered and 85 percent of those say they vote, according to a 2001 poll taken on behalf of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Local political activists believe the power of their community’s bloc vote helped put George W. Bush in the White House four years ago. Bush won Muslim votes overwhelmingly in Florida, where he claimed the presidency with less than a 600-vote margin.

The community cast those ballots on the advice of trusted voices, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Word spread to voters over the Internet, at Islamic centers and through popular, ethnic newspapers, such as Al-Watan and Arab World in Anaheim and An-Nahar in Whittier.

“It was what he said, particularly opposing the use of secret evidence, plus, frankly, Gore ignored us,” said Omar Zaki, who oversees politics for CAIR in Anaheim.

This time, their votes won’t be won as easily, rank-and-file Muslim voters say. They are searching for a better understanding of issues and candidates – a stronger say in whom they will support.

“We want to create a model community with 100 percent voter registration,” said Aslam Abdullah, a political adviser and founder of the newly-minted Muslim Electorate Council of America. “That’s what we are aiming for. We are doing the extensive work needed to bring in as many voters as possible.”

It’s been months now since Orange County Muslims could go to a community event or even some private parties without running into someone with a voter registration form in hand.

Registration tables pop up outside Little Gaza restaurants along Brookhurst Street. Community members are volunteering as poll workers. Imams preach on voting”¦

ACTION REQUESTED: Please contact Ann Pepper and the Orange County Register and thank them for an accurate and positive coverage on issues relating to the American Muslim community.

Ann Pepper
Religion Columnist
Phone: (714) 796-4945

The Orange County Register


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