Elections 1998: Elections 2000; Arab and Muslim Americans Can Forge a Viable Coalition

By Salman, Muna; Mustafa, Suliman | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

Elections 1998: Elections 2000; Arab and Muslim Americans Can Forge a Viable Coalition


Salman, Muna, Mustafa, Suliman, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


ELECTIONS 1998: Elections 2000; Arab and Muslim Americans Can Forge a Viable Coalition

One of the principal dilemmas facing Arab- and Muslim-American political organizers is the absence of a unifying vision that can combine Arab and Muslim voters in the U.S. into an effective voting bloc. From an Arab and Muslim leadership perspective, the Jewish vote in America is blessed with the greatest gift of all, a clarity of objectives and solid grassroots commitment. Can Arab and Muslim Americans find common ground to enter the 21 st century as key players on the American national political stage? Yes, if we leverage areas of commonality.

The Jewish lobby in the U.S. has a clear mission: to support the policies of the elected government of Israel no matter what, right or wrong. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is also a case in point of how simplicity and clarity of objectives translate into political potency.

With Democrats taking a drubbing over Clinton's private indiscretions and Gore's fund-raising tactics, the next presidential election promises to be a close one. Swing votes such as minority votes or single-issue voting blocs can tilt the scale in one candidate's favor. This upcoming presidential election could offer Arab and Muslim Americans a chance to flex their fledgling political muscles.

COMMON ISSUES

Typical of other Third World countries, Arab and Muslim states are hardly united in their policies and outlook. But Arab and Muslim communities in the diaspora have been welded together by outside forces. This unintentional coupling of "causes" proved a very positive development to both communities. The resulting almost doubling in numbers of voters espousing common issues has been a cause of celebration for visionary leaders in both communities.

Over the last decade, it has become apparent that both Arab and Muslim Americans have been joined together by their unfortunate circumstances and shared experiences in the U.S. The sense of being besieged brought upon by negative media images, government-sponsored civil rights violations, and gross double standards in U.S. foreign policy have all but united many political objectives of both communities.

Christian Arab nationalists, still considered the secular intellectual heavyweights of Arab America, see themselves as inseparable from Muslim Arabs and have mobilized to defend their community from anti-Muslim discrimination while continuing their campaign for justice in the Arab world. Muslim Americans who care deeply for Jerusalem's fate as well as ending the suffering of Palestinians and Iraqis cross paths often with Arab Americans of all faiths who have similar concerns.

On the domestic policy front, the task of finding common ground is less complex. On civil rights, both communities seem to have developed a solid consensus on key issues: end airport profiling, secret evidence, and job discrimination. On social issues the situation is a bit more complex. New immigrants tend to espouse a conservative social agenda. The later generations of Arab and Muslim Americans tend to shift toward the center over time.

On foreign policy, more effort is needed to build a common agenda. Arab and Muslim Americans have very diverse views on what constitutes the ideal state of affairs in the Arab or Muslim world. Those views include a pan-Islamic nation, secular pan-Arab nation, Islamic pan-Arab nation, Greater Syria, Syria out of Lebanon, Greater Jordan, Historical Palestine, 1967 Palestine, pro-Oslo, anti-Oslo, binational Israel, Islamic Palestine, independent Kashmir, autonomous Kashmir within India, Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Islamic Bosnia, secular Bosnia, independent Kosovo, autonomy for Kosovo, pro-democratization, pro-status quo, and all the possible permutations and combinations of the above positions and more.

Clearly, a realistic outlook on U.S. foreign policy should be sought without becoming bogged down with endgame scenarios and the political eccentricities of a few but vocal members of both communities. …

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