Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Historic Muslim- and Arab-American Bloc Vote a Coveted Political Prize

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Historic Muslim- and Arab-American Bloc Vote a Coveted Political Prize

Article excerpt

Historic Muslim- and Arab-American Bloc Vote a Coveted Political Prize

Delinda C. Hanley is the news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Cynics may say U.S. Mideast policy is mainly the result of the electoral weight of the American-Jewish community, which, like other ethnic groups in their respective areas, can have a disproportionate influence when its interests are at stake. The year 2000 elections saw the birth of a new electoral community that may soon have a say in American Mideast policy.

Adding to the suspense of this year's election has been the emergence of the Muslim- and Arab-American communities, which has begun to flex its political muscles. In response to its growing influence and potential clout, both presidential candidates, Republican Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore, pledged to end two forms of discrimination: the use of secret evidence to deport immigrants, and ethnic profiling by airlines.

Muslim- and Arab-Americans made their first major political mark in what turned out to be the closest presidential race in American history. Great numbers of Muslim- and Arab-Americans voted, they voted in a bloc so as not to cancel each other out, and they finally put themselves on the U.S. political map. Muslim- and Arab-American leaders demonstrated the discipline to turn their communities out to vote. Muslim- and Arab-American turnout was high in the pivotal states of Florida, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. No longer can there be any doubt that this country's estimated six million Muslims represent a powerful swing vote that future candidates will ignore at their peril.

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 7 election, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), comprising the four major American-Muslim organizations--the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslim Council (AMC), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)--surveyed their members to learn which political issues were of most concern to them. Responses indicated that domestic civil rights issues and education were of the highest priority, with peace in the Middle East and Kashmir also of importance to voters.

In conjunction with its voter survey the AMPCC also launched the Hisham Reda Voter Registration Drive--honoring the memory of one of the first Muslim-American political activists--registering eligible voters in mosques, on college campuses and at various community events.

Next AMPCC approached each candidate and asked for his stand on those political issues their community had identified as important. Governor Bush met with AMPCC leaders on Oct. 5, the first time a presidential candidate had stopped in Dear-born, MI for the purpose of soliciting support from the Muslim-American community. After that historic meeting, even longtime Democrats like Mike Perry, the former Democratic chairman of Michigan's 16th congressional district, were impressed by Bush's accessibility. The governor praised the community for its contribution to America and said that, as president, he would maintain an open line of communication.

During the Oct. 11 televised presidential debate, watched by tens of millions of Americans, Bush raised the issue of airport profiling and said he would support a bill introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham (D-MI) to abolish it. Also during that debate, Bush recognized the unfair application of the "secret evidence act" to Arab Americans, saying the practice should be repealed.

Saying he was forced to return to the White House for meetings on the unfolding crisis in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Vice President Al Gore canceled a scheduled Oct. 13 meeting with Arab-American leaders.

Ten days later, at an Oct. 23 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, AMPCC announced its endorsement of George W. …

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