What Happened to Islamophobia?

Article excerpt

Research shows Muslim Americans care more about immigration and economy than Islamophobia.

AS WE MARCH INTO THE HEART OF THE 2012 ELECTION, WE will hear more and more about the import of voting in the "best interests of the Muslim community" by paying keen attention .to the holy trinity topics - Islamophobia, anti-Sharia laws, and foreign policy toward Muslim countries. Muslim organizations will drill these three issues into the media and the minds of the community, trying to convince them it is these topics Muslim Americans must care most about.

But has anyone ever asked the voters themselves?

A recent poll conducted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a public service agency that works to enhance political and civic participation of American Muslims, listed the top 10 issues voters said they cared most about. Foreign policy was only Ño. 6. Religious freedom was all the way down the list at No. 9.

Surprisingly, Islamophobia didn't even make the list.

According to the MPAC research, a majority of Muslim American voters listed a candidate's stance on immigration reform as their chief concern when deciding who fo vote for.

"I think how immigrants are treated, and the process for applying for citizenship, is appalling," says Salima Salem, 25, a graduate student in New York City. "We make it extremely difficult for immigrants to apply for citizenship, it's a long and arduous process with a lot of red tape. And when they're not citizens, they're criminalized socially."

Haris Tarin, director of MPAC in D.C., says it's completely natural for immigration to be a top concern for Muslim voters in the U.S.

"A lot of times people think immigration is only a Latino American issue, but Muslims have been immigrating here [for decades]," Tarin says. "I think immigration is an extremely important part of the agenda. It is something that impacts beyond the Latino American community."

No. 2 on the list of voter concerns? The environment.

"The whole country was practically on fire this summer," says Hanaa Shafei, 31, of D.C., who plans on voting this fall. D.C. regularly saw 100-plus temperatures and high humidity this summer. "Almost the entire ice sheet surface of Greenland melted. I don't want a president who is going to ignore the global warming crisis."

The concern over the environment was followed by taxes/national budget, national security, and foreign aid - rounding off the top five concerns of Muslim American voters.

"Sometimes it looks like Islamophobia is more prevalent in the media than in my day-to-day life. But what does concern my day-to-day life? A job," says Tariq Khan, 29, of Baltimore. "I'm working two jobs right now, part-time. I have a Bachelor's in psychology; this is not where I thought I'd be at 29 [years old]."

Khan says voters need to get their priorities straight by voting day, Nov. 6.

"What people need to understand is - we're not voting for a president to help the Muslims, or Palestine, or Syria, or Egypt," Khan says. "We need a president who can help the American people. Because that helps us, too. Foreign policy is important to America's interests (and it would be wonderful to have a president who can help countries like those in the Arab Spring), but I can't let that be a deciding factor in who I vote for. Jobs at home have to take priority. We need to work."

According to Hoda Elshishtawy, legislative and policy analyst for MPAC's D.C. branch, some of the findings are not so surprising.

"Muslim voters care about the same things the general American public care about," Elshishtawy says. "Our poll shows that issues like the economy, immigration and even the environment are things that affect American Muslims just as much as Americans of other faiths. The job market and economy are affecting all Americans, and so it does not surprise me that it would also be a priority issue for American Muslims as well. …