Saleh Mubarak is Syrian-American. He’s 49, a Tampa engineer, a former longtime Republican.
And he supports Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president, following a trend in the country’s Arab-American community.
“The American image in the outside world has been damaged, and we want someone who will reach out to others and say, ‘Let’s sit at the table and talk,'” said Mubarak, who emigrated from Syria in 1981. “That’s what attracted me to Obama. He said, ‘I will sit with Iran, I will sit with anyone.'”
Polls by Zogby International show that Arab-Americans overwhelmingly support Obama. Although Obama is Christian, he lived in predominantly Muslim Indonesia for a few years with his mother and stepfather.
Obama’s campaign had to defend against attacks on his patriotism and deflect repeated false reports spread on the Internet that he is Muslim.
“The biography, the empathy factor, they feel Obama understands the community,” said James Zogby, a senior analyst for Zogby International and founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C., organization that researches politics and policy in the Arab-American community.
Arab-Americans also remember a line in Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Zogby said.
“If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties,” Obama said.
The 3.5-million Arab-Americans are not a uniform community. They are a complex group of immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries in southwest Asia and North Africa who share a common cultural heritage. More than 50 percent are Lebanese. The majority of Arab-Americans are Christian, Zogby said.
They make up about 1percent of the national vote and 11/2 percent to 2 percent of the vote in Florida.
In 2000, George Bush won the Arab-American vote. Today, far fewer say they will vote Republican, a result of the war in Iraq and Bush’s support for Israel. Antiterrorism measures like the Patriot Act, which have been criticized at times for unfairly targeting law-abiding Muslims and Arab-Americans, have further eroded support.
Twenty percent of Arab-Americans said they had been discriminated against since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and two-thirds said they were afraid that they or their children would experience discrimination if the current trends continue, Zogby said.