Thursday, October 25, 2012

The swing vote of American Muslims is up for grabs in the 2012 elections

By Aref Assaf | The Examiner | October 8, 2012 | [Original Article]

Most polls indicate that this presidential race will be one that goes down to the wire. In certain swing states, block votes of minority groups will prove decisive. American Muslims, polls also reveal, will be critical for the victory of either Obama or Romney in at least three states; namely, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. But in already-decided states, like the blue state of New Jersey, the community has flexed its political muscle in not only local races but also in congressional battles. It was not a long time ago when fatwas (religious decrees) were calling for a total boycott of voting or political participation. Now, American mosques are a haven for political participation and civic engagement. A recent survey of Americans mosques reveals that, in fact, the more mosque-connected American Muslims are, the more civic-minded and politically proactive they become. Princeton Professor Amaney Jamal strongly supports the thesis that American mosques are central to the rise of the community as a viable player in all things politics. "{T}he mosque, similar to other religious institutions in the United States, takes on the multifaceted role of mobilization vehicle and school of civic participation."

Despite being very diverse and far from monolithic, the American Muslim constituency is growing faster than any other religious community and has become increasingly visible and sophisticated in its political calculus. The numerical growth is facilitated by both the cumulative effect of successive immigration waves from war-torn Muslim countries (such as Iraq and Lebanon). Additionally, growth is the direct result of the higher-than-average birth rate amongst Muslims.

Unprecedented numbers of Muslim Americans are serving in elected office, from Congress, mayors, judges, to boards of education in municipalities across the US. While party affiliation is strong, migration, mainly from the Republican Party has increased the number of American Muslims who are Independent. A 2009 CAIR poll showed that the percentage of Independent Muslims has increased from 31% in 2004 to 36% in 2009.

According to "Engaging American Muslims", a 2012 report by the ISPU, voter registration and turnout has increased over the past decade and today, 1.2 million Muslims are registered to vote. In addition, local Muslim leaders are promoting voter registration drives and encouraging Muslim communities to become more civically involved. The numbers quoted here are based on Pew Research figures, but most Muslim organizations such as CAIR argue that "Estimates of a total Muslim population of 6-7 million in America seem reasonable in light of the figure of 2 million Muslims who associate with a mosque."

At lease since 911, Arab Muslim Americans have slowly but steadily found their voices and grievances best represented by Muslim organizations such as CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR has not shied away from taking on government agencies accused or engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric or practices. More dramatic is the precipitous decline financially and politically of established Arab American organizations such as the venerable American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the American Arab Institute. Arab Muslims especially religious ones who view their political potential through the collective energies of Muslims from many parts of the Muslim world have fueled the unparalleled prominence of Muslim organizations. New Jersey is ripe with examples where Arab Muslims are in the driver seat on all matters relating to civic and political engagement.

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