It is a little-noted irony about George W. Bush that he is the first U.S. president who owes his election to the votes of Muslims.

Bush, whose legacy will be defined by the wars he waged in Muslim countries, and who is less popular now with Muslim voters than any other segment of a disapproving American public, aggressively courted their votes in the run-up to the 2000 election.

He used a televised debate with Al Gore to criticize laws that allowed secret evidence to be used against terrorism suspects, unhappily describing “Arab-Americans (who) are racially profiled.”

The gambit, an unprecedented appeal to a minority that made up just 0.5 percent of the electorate, paid off.

In Florida — which he carried by just 537 votes — he won an estimated 20,000 more votes from Muslims than Gore managed. Ralph Nader, a Lebanese-American, secured an estimated further 15,600 Muslim votes in the state.

Seven years on, Muslim issues including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the profiling of Muslims at airports and elsewhere are central issues in national politics.

But despite two widely reported, recent major studies by the Pew Research Center and Zogby International, which stress the emerging power of American-Muslims, Muslims’ decisive role in the 2000 election seems more a blip than the emergence of a political trend.

Though the first ever Muslim congressman, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), drew headlines earlier this year when he was sworn in using a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, the relatively small proportion of Islamic voters across the U.S. means Muslims remain at the margins of national politics in all but the closest of races.

Even in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, where an estimated 30,000 Arab-Americans live, Muslims, who began emigrating to the U.S. in large numbers in the 1970s, are only beginning to flex their political muscle.


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