Muslim Outreach Proves a Tricky Issue for Obama Campaign


Inayal Lalani, an activist with the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, didn't wait for the question to be raised. He volunteered that, despite some rumors, Barack Obama's campaign was not "shunning" the Muslim community.

The same point was made repeatedly at the caucus' Democratic National Convention luncheon in Denver on Monday by Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Andre Carson, D-Ind., and Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, among other representatives from the Obama campaign.

"There is an unfortunate impression among many in the Muslim community that Obama has been distant," Joshua DuBois, Obama's national religious coordinator, admitted. That's not so, Dubois says. But the fact that so many speakers addressed the issue showed the strained relations that Obama has with that community.

Nuanced Outreach

For Obama it is a delicate matter. He is struggling to win over the blue-collar voters in swing states he will need to win. But in doing so he has appeared to distance himself from the multicultural coalition that helped him win the nomination in the first place. His vice presidential choice, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is a 65-year-old white Catholic with roots in Scranton, Pa.

Relations with Muslims are also tricky due to viral e-mails claiming Obama is a closet Muslim. Though his father was a lapsed Muslim, he was raised by his secular white mother and her parents. He now attends Christian churches.

His campaign created a page on his Web site called Fight the Smears to debunk such rumors, but some Muslims at the luncheon took umbrage at the notion that being called a Muslim is a smear. . .

With polls showing a tight race with Sen. John McCain, Obama has reason to soothe Muslim concerns. The exact number of Muslim Americas often is disputed. A 2007 Pew survey put it at 2.35 million. There are substantial populations in swing states such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.

In 2000, George W. Bush is believed to have won a slight majority of the Muslim vote via aggressive outreach. Since 9/11, they have shifted and now identify about 2-1 Democratic. Many cite war on terror policies, claiming they have been unfairly singled out.

"Our major concern is the erosion of human and civil rights," said Dawud Walid, a Michigan activist. He said he wants to see an Obama administration revisit the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping.

Walid, a former John Edwards fan, now supports Obama but rather tepidly: "I don't think the Muslim community has any reason to doubt (Obama's) commitment."

Ellison and Carson, the only Muslims in Congress, tried to reassure the audience. They noted Obama endorsed and did ads for both of them in their recent campaigns.

Ellison also noted that "this is the first time ever that Muslim Americans have gathered together as a group at a Democratic convention."

Yet he also had a word of caution.

"I'm a liberal Democrat and proud to be one but don't forget that parties are vehicles," he said. "The Muslim community cannot be captured by any one party."

Many heads in the audience nodded along.

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