What Happened to Islamophobia?
Ahmad, Meha, Islamic Horizons
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."
"Muslim Americans care about things outside of just personal interests," Tarin says.
According to the survey, the national budget was among top concerns for Muslim American voters, as was financial assistance, like loans. Although the less-than-thriving economy affects nearly all Americans, Muslim Americans particularly feel the hit.
"Muslim Americans care about the economy because that is impacted on a daily basis by the unemployment rate," Tarin says. "They are impacted because many Muslim Americans are small business owners. So they're very concerned about the opportunity for loans for small businesses."
Along with small business owners and entrepreneurs, Muslim American students are struggling to make ends meet when it comes to high tuition demands.
"Many Muslim Americans are worried about college loans and grant opportunities," Tarin says, saying that their concern may influence how they vote. "American Muslims are one of the most highest-educated groups in the country; they're trying to go to Ivy League colleges, they want to send their kids to good universities."
In fact, Muslim Americans are the second highest educated religious group (second to Jewish Americans) in the U.S., according to a 2009 Gallup report.
"Education is always a high priority, and those who don't have access to money, they want to make sure they have access to private loans," Tarin says.
Education, the economy, jobs, and immigration reform are all great, but what happened to Islamophobia? Do Muslim American voter no longer care about anti-Sharia legislation - which about two dozen states have proposed or passed some form of? Or what about the whole NYPD spying fiasco? And the Rep. Peter King hearings? Anybody remember Murfreesboro?
Is Islamophobia just so 201 1?
No, according to Elshishtawy. There are just other concerns that are more pressing for many voters.
"These issues are not more important than Islamophobia, but equally as important," Elshishtawy says. "For the American Muslim voter to point out that immigration, economy and national security as priority issues just goes to show that the American Muslim community is not pigeonholed into a 'Muslim-specific box."'
She says that Muslim Americans, who contribute to all facets of American life, deeming these issues as important just goes to show how multifaceted the American Muslim community is.
"Because we're a diverse community, there are a lot of issues we care about, other than Islamophobia," Tarin says.
He says he was surprised to find that Muslim Americans cared so deeply about primarlily domestic issues because, generally, he says, Muslim Americans are portrayed as a community that cares about foreign issues first and foremost.
He attributes the decline in focus on Islamophobia to the excellent work being done by NGOs, faith communities, and even some politicians.
"Islamophobia, we thought it would be higher on the list, but it seems like American Muslims are dealing with these issues well, and they're seeing fellow Americans come out and talk about this issue," Tarin says. "We've had people like Colin Powell, even the president has said a few things to kind of push back against this wave. We've had a lot of faith -based groups support us. [Muslim Americans] see Islamophobia as an issue, but they don't see it as something that is going to impact the way they Uve. I think American Muslims believe in America more than that. They think America will correct any wrongs that Islamophobia may throw their way."
But the research did yield some surprising results - not necessarily about the issues raised, but the emotional perspectives of the voters themselves. Though an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were planning on voting in November, many thought their vote held little sway.
"The thing that surprised me most about the poll results is how low the confidence of the American Muslim voter is, [they think] that their vote doesn't count," Elshishtawy says. "Compared to the number of those who responded that they would indeed be voting, the confidence number was low. I think this is something for the campaigns to definitely think about. At the end of the day, are they just looking out for votes, or do they actually care that people are voting based on knowledge of the issues?"
For now, it seems like Islamophobia concerns are not forever gone, but may take a backseat to more pressing voter issues.
"Am I worried about Islamophobia? Definitely," says Salem, as she hurries off to class at Columbia University. "But I'm also in school, and I'd like to be able to pay for it. And when I finish my degree, I don't want to have thousands of dollars in debt, and no job to show for it. That is definitely the stuff that keeps me up nights, and I'm hoping whoever I vote for, whoever is our president for the next four years, focuses on that."
Muslim voters care about the same things the general American public care
- Hoda Elshishtawy, MPAC
Am I worried about Islamophobia? Definitely," says Salima Salem, as she hurries off to class at Columbia University. "But I'm also in school, and I'd like to be able to pay for it."
Meha Ahmad is the copy editor of Islamic Horizons.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: What Happened to Islamophobia?. Contributors: Ahmad, Meha - Author. Magazine title: Islamic Horizons. Volume: 41. Issue: 5 Publication date: September/October 2012. Page number: 20+. © Islamic Society of North America Mar/Apr 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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