Islam, Muslims, and the 2012 Election

By Rusin, David J. | Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Islam, Muslims, and the 2012 Election


Rusin, David J., Middle East Quarterly


Just as the 20 12 elections maintained the status quo in Washington, D.C., so too did they reinforce decade-old trends concerning Muslims and the American political process: The Muslim population further solidified as a Democratic voting bloc, and parties' outreach efforts once again legitimized Islamists. However, 20 12 was notable for Islam's impact as a political issue in the presidential primaries and several congressional races.

Whether or not Washington experiences a power shift in the years to come, it is likely that the current relationship between Muslims and American politics will hold for the foreseeable future. Avoiding the pitfalls of this reality begins with understanding it.

CLINTON, BUSH, AND OBAMA: A BRIEF HISTORY

Much has changed since this journal analyzed the 1996 and 2000 elections, both of which broke new ground in the political engagement of Muslims. Though Muslims at the time still debated whether they should take part in American democracy at all, Khalid Duran described the 1 996 campaign as "the moment when the 'Muslim vote' first began to count in American politics. And Muslim Americans left no doubt that they hoped their involvement would be decisive for Islam in the United States." With quality data scarce in the contest between President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole, Duran concluded: "All that can be said with some certainty is that the 'Muslim vote,' such as it is, went more solidly for Clinton than did the nation as a whole."1

The question of participation having been settled, a number of Islamist groups launched the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee (AMPCC) in an attempt to speak with one voice. After an unprecedented level of outreach to Muslims, Republican presidential nominee George W Bush earned AMPCC's endorsement in 2000. Islamists were quick to take credit for his razor-thin victory over Vice President Al Gore, with one poll reporting that 91 percent of Florida Muslims had backed Bush. In his postmortem for the Quarterly, Alexander Rose warned of "unscientific and dubious self-administered surveys" but conceded that "it can be said with reasonable certainty that the Texas governor did better among Muslims than Dole did four years earlier." However, he cautioned that "what tilt there was to Bush in 2000 was most likely a temporary aberration caused by the election's unique nature."2

Rose's prediction proved correct as the attacks of September 11, 2001, catalyzed Muslim voters' return to the Democratic fold. While Bush kept meeting with Islamists and professed that "Islam is peace,"3 his military campaigns abroad and counterterrorism programs at home alienated many Muslims who had cheered his promises to conduct a humble foreign policy and end the use of secret evidence. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an influential Islamist group, released an "exit poll" claiming that 93 percent of Muslims had voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004.4 According to a 2007 study by the Pew Research Center, 71 percent voted for Kerry and 14 percent for Bush.5

Having increased their political footprint in subsequent years with the election of the first two Muslim congressmen - Keith Ellison (Democrat, Minn.) and André Carson (Democrat, Ind.), each of whom has exhibited Islamist tendencies6 - Muslims continued their move toward the Democrats in 2008 even though presidential nominee Barack Obama did not court them publicly. In one infamous gaffe, two hijab-wearing women were prevented from sitting behind the podium at an Obama campaign rally7 A20 1 1 Pew survey found that 92 percent ofMuslims had cast their votes for Obama nonetheless.8

As president, Obama shed his reluctance to embrace Islam. Efforts during his first term, which began with a prayer service featuring Ingrid Mattson of the Islamic Society of North America,9 included Obama's choosing al-Arabiya television network for his initial interview;10 erroneously labeling the United States "one of the largest Muslim countries";11 lauding the Muslim world in his June 2009 Cairo speech and declaring it "part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam";12 supporting the right to construct an Islamic centernear Ground Zero;13 backing Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin when she was accused of Muslim Brotherhood ties;14 pursuing policies that empowered Islamists in the Middle East;15 maintaining a chilly relationship with Israel;16 and stating that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. …

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