Muslim- and Arab-Americans Contemplate Another Vital Bloc Vote in 2004

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The story of the bloc vote began 10 years ago, when a number of Muslim- and Arab-Americans and their supporters decided to make elections more effective for their community. The idea was that all members of the community would work together to ensure that they did not cancel out each other's votes every four years.

The idea was first broached at a convention attended by representatives of all the other Muslim- and Arab-American organizations. It did not seem too complicated at first-but the devil was in the details.

At another conference not long afterward, members of the same groups held a private organizational meeting. They agreed to invite members of the Democratic and Republican parties to exploratory meetings, with the hopes of determining for whom Muslim-- Americans might eventually vote in 1996.

After listening to the concerns of the two parties, it seemed that the Republicans were more receptive to what Muslim Americans had to offer than were the Democrats. It was clear that the Democrats were more concerned about alienating the Jewish vote than garnering any Arab or Muslim support.

When the discussions were concluded, the problem emerged that many of the Arab- and Muslim-Americans were predisposed to be Republicans or Democrats first, Arab- or Muslim-Americans second. The bloc vote quickly foundered over those realities. Although it appeared briefly that the Muslim-and Arab-- Americans wanted to meet in Chicago to endorse the Republicans, at the last minute at least two of the major Arab-American groups backed out. An endorsement, therefore, was never made, and once again Republican and Democratic Arab- and Muslim-Americans simply canceled out each other's votes.

Four years later, it was clear to all Muslim-- Americans concerned about making their voices heard that there had to be some ground rules. Happily, by this time some of the smaller Muslim groups had amalgamated, so that the number was no longer quite so unwieldy as four years earlier. An umbrella group, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council (AMPCC-PAC), was formed to represent every Muslim American organization.

After everyone had their say, it was agreed that a very small number of Muslim Americans-the AMPCC leaders-would select which party would get the entire community's vote. This time, something happened to make the decision even simpler: national Democratic Party candidates would not even participate in the discussions, because they did not believe the Muslim-American groups would be able to implement the bloc vote in the 2000 elections.

The decision, therefore, was simple. Because only the Republicans made informal promises to take Muslim-and Arab-American concerns into policy considerations, Muslim Americans, and many Arab Americans, went Republican.

The result was astonishing: in the extraordinarily tight 2000 election, the bitterly contested vote finally went to the Republicans. In short, the bloc vote made the difference between George W. Bush's election and Al Gore's defeat.

One cannot say for sure how many people actually followed through with the bloc vote, but it was very apparent that, in Florida, a great number of Muslim- and Arab-American voters took the bloc vote seriously, and decisively influenced the election. Obviously, some Democrats now realize that if they had understood the strategic importance of the Muslim-American community, they might not have discounted its vote.

In the subsequent two years, many Arab-- and Muslim-Americans have been deeply disillusioned with Bush's foreign policy decisions, which seem regularly to tilt toward Ariel Sharon's viewpoint rather than that of Palestinians and their American supporters. They also are appalled that, despite his campaign assurances, the Bush administration has made extensive use of profiling and secret evidence in the wake of 9/11. …

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