Neither George W. Bush nor John F. Kerry will show up at the biggest
Islamic convention in North America this weekend, but their proxies will be
at the Chicago gathering to woo the Islamic Society of North America.
Vying for the support of tens of thousands of fellow Muslims is Muhammad
Ali Hasan, who has just launched MuslimsForBush.com. He must contend with
Shahed Amaah, who helped start MuslimsForKerry.com. The candidate who
is supposed to be there in flesh though is the only Arab-American in the
fray - Ralph Nader.
That worries Amaah. According to a recent poll by New California Media
and Amnesty International, Nader is polling as high as Bush among
Arab,Pakistani and Iranian Americans. "It's time to get beyond the protest
vote," says Amaah. "The alternative to voting for Bush could be staying
at home or voting for Nader, both of which help Bush."
Kerry does lead Bush 3 to 1 in the same poll, but Hasan of MuslimsForBush
thinks that American Muslims just don't have the facts. "After 9/11 there
was only one candidate who made it a point to go out on the air waves and
say terrorism and Islam are very different things. President Bush spoke out
against internment camps," says Hasan who met the President through his
father, a major player in the HMO industry and a big donor.
"President Bush said the right things," concedes Samina Faheem, executive
director of American Muslim Voice. "But a person's actions speak louder
than words." Jamal Dajani, director of LinkTV's Mosaic program, a roundup
of news from Arab television, agrees. "Arab Americans definitely feel
betrayed by Bush due to the Patriot Act, the war on Iraq and his biased
policies towards Israel, although the conservative ones identify with the
Republicans on issues such as abortion, marriage and the so-called moral
values," says Dajani.
In 2000, groups like the American Muslim Political Coordination Council
(AMPCC) strongly endorsed candidate Bush. The Council of American Islamic
Relations said Muslim support for Gore dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent
after that endorsement. AMPCC claimed the Muslim vote in Florida helped
Faheem says in 2000, Bush, unlike Al Gore, met with the Muslim leadership
and was very accessible. In his second debate with Gore he said, "Arab
Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence. People
are stopped and we've got to do something about it."
"Bush was a blank slate. Gore and Lieberman were steeped in years of
support for Israel. Since 2000 Mulims have had a crash course in politics
the hard way," says Amaah.
This time he believes domestic issues like civil liberties will outweigh
international issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict when Muslims go to
the polling booth. But Hasan contends that Bush has delivered for Arab
Americans. Bush, he says, complied when they asked that Rick Lazio, whom
they accused of being anti-Muslim, be kept off the Cabinet. He also named
as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, an Arab American. "Bush has been
bending over backwards for these guys and they are not giving him any
sugar," complains Hasan. "They need to wise up."
But other Arabs point out that high-profile Arab Americans like John
Abizaid and Abraham are all Christians. "The general attitude is (Abraham)
is essentially a token pick who has little real influence on policy," says
Nidal Ibrahim, publisher of Arab American Business Magazine.