Arab and Muslim Voting Bloc May Tip Balance in Tight US Elections
By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
For the first time in US history, Arab and Muslim Americans will be voting next week as a bloc in a race that is so tight that they can make a difference in US presidential elections.
Last week, a political alliance of four Muslim organizations endorsed George W. Bush for president, a step that upset the Democratic Party and pushed the White House to make angry phone calls to Muslim American leaders in protest.
Slam Al-Marayati, National Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which endorsed Bush, told Albawaba.com that Arab and Muslim Americans have enhanced their activism and have taken a step towards their acceptance into American politics.
He said the decision by Hillary Clinton to return political contributions from Muslim American sources “is part of the Zionist campaign to intimidate and silence Arabs and Muslims in America.”
Marayati has been the target of the pro-Israeli groups who pressured the White House earlier this year to withdraw his nomination by the Clinton Administration for membership of the Federal Commission on Terrorism.
The following are excerpts from the interview that was conducted by telephone to his office in Los Angeles:
Q- Your organization endorsed George Bush last week. Why him and not Gore?
A- Mainly because of his accessibility. He has met with Muslims twice; he has openly talked about Muslims and mosques, and he spoke against secret evidence [which is used against Arabs in trials]. These things are very important for our community.
Q- Many people are going to vote on the basis of the candidates’ positions on the Middle East. Is this going to be a factor this time?
A- No, because both parties are equally poor on that level. There might be an argument that George Bush is less pressured by the pro-Israel lobby, I don’t think it will make a difference. In the big picture, it is a matter of degrees, not a matter of who is better or worse.
Q- The Muslim voting bloc that you are trying to build, what impact it would have on future elections?
A- If it comes down to close contests, candidates will solicit our support. In fact we got a lot of calls from the White House complaining about the decision, because they wanted the endorsement for Al Gore. They were upset because of our decision to endorse Bush.
Q- What was your response to them?
A- We explained to the White House, that the Clinton Administration was very good in terms of being open to Muslims. But because Gore has separated himself from Clinton, he lost our support.
Q- What was Bush’s reaction to your endorsement?
A- We had several calls from the Republican National Committee for the Bush campaign thanking us for the endorsement. They were very pleased with that.
Q- Can you make any predictions as to who is going to win this election?
A- Too close to call. Every time I make a prediction, I am wrong, I don’t want to change anything.
Q- Why did Hillary Clinton return Muslim American contributions to her Senate campaign?
A- Because of the politics of New York, and because she was pressured and intimidated to do what she did. She is a victim of this process and she bares the consequences. My feeling is that she will lose support from both Muslims and Jews.
Q- Who do you think is behind this campaign of intimidating Arab and Muslim donors and digging into their history?
A- This is part of the Zionist campaign to intimidate and silence Arabs and Muslims in America and anyone who wants to listen to us in America. It is very clear they want to maintain their monopoly and stranglehold on American politics.
Q-How do you explain George W. Bush returning a $1000 donation from an American Muslim leader?
A- Which indicates that this was orchestrated. If both camps are doing the same thing at the same time, then it points to an orchestration in this kind of campaign.
Q- How can this be orchestrated if they come from two competing parties who are not working together?
A- And yet, they do something simultaneously. This is no coincidence, especially after Dr. Agha Saeed [Chairman of the American Muslim Alliance] was successful in unifying the Muslim voting bloc. In their statement, they are quoting Dr. Saeed in a statement he made three years ago, so why now? The Zionist lobby is behind these attacks.
Q- Are you optimistic about the future of Arab and Muslim Americans in the United States?
A- I am happy for one reason. I see Muslims and Arabs becoming more politically sophisticated. I really don’t care about the campaigns. They are becoming more sophisticated in responding to attacks against Arabs and Muslims in the US media.
Q- Are they responding in a good way?
A- By and large we are responding. We have got a front page New York Times piece [on Hillary Clinton donations]. Ten years ago, we never dreamed of getting this much publicity. In a way, Hillary Clinton saved us $50,000 by getting us front-page coverage in the New York Times.
Q- So you see the attacks on Arabs and Muslims as a positive development?
A- Definitely, because they will always attack because the pro-Israeli lobby is instigating these attacks and people on Capitol Hill march to their orders. That’s a reality in American politics and the more we expose that reality, the better it is for all Americans. If we Muslims and Arabs stick to truth and justice, then things will eventually be positive for us.
Q- Do you think these attacks will intimidate Arabs and Muslims in taking part in the political process?
A- No. You cannot intimidate people who have a conviction and truth and justice on their side. I think in time, truth and justice will prevail.
Q- How is this going to affect how the Arab and Muslim Americans vote in the coming elections?
A- If anything, it will enhance their activism. In Michigan, we see the Muslim vote going to Bush. And if Bush wins Michigan, this would mean Arabs and Muslims have really taken a step towards their acceptance into American politics.
Q- Are Arabs and Muslims organized well enough to get their message across to the American public?
A- Actually we find both Arabs and Muslims are heavily involved in politics and the media. I think the problem is one of organization. In the next presidential elections we are going to see more involvement of Muslims in both politics and the media. The issue is we need to be more coordinated. This voting bloc is an indication of that coordination.
Q- The pro-Israel editorial writers in the American press are dominating the scene, with little exposure for the Arab point of view.
A- I think that is changing. We are at a transition point in getting more Muslims and Arabs involved in the media. Of course the pro-Israel groups still have the advantage in terms of where we are today. The issue is: they cannot hurt us. Whatever the Pro-Israeli lobbies do, it backfires on them. The only time we get hurt is when we hurt ourselves. And that comes when we hear the rhetoric and the typical emotionalism from our leaders. That doesn’t do us any good and hurts us.
Q- Do you think the killing of the two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in recent clashes hurt the Arab image in the West?
A- Yes it did. In that particular situation, you have oppressed people, and they are reacting to the occupier. In Romania, the same thing was done against Chechesco. So they can’t say Palestinians are violent people. That is a racist attitude and a double standard. But in general, we have to move away from that situation. I am more concerned about the rhetoric of violence we hear in Muslim countries. We need to put a check on it because it does not help us -- Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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