By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Four major Muslim American groups announced their endorsement of George W. Bush for president, citing his outreach to the Muslim community and his stand on issues of concern to them.
Political analysts in Washington believe this endorsement may tip the election scale in Bush’s favor because the estimated six million Muslims in the US constitute a potential swing-voting bloc in states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Bush’s endorsement was announced in Washington by the American Muslim Political Coordinating
Council Political Action Committee, which include American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Leaders of the alliance said they based their decision to endorse Bush on his initiative to meet with them and for promising to address Muslim concerns on domestic and foreign policy issues. They also noted that Bush challenged the use of "secret evidence" in immigration trials at the second presidential debate, a practice that has worked mainly against Arabs and other Muslims deported for unspecified political and security reasons.
Hassan Ibrahim of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington told Albawaba.com that for the first time in American history, the US has to deal with a new term called “ the Muslim vote.” “We hope that Bush would win, and at minimum the Muslim community in America would come out a winner by being recognized as one of the players whose interests have to be taken into consideration,” he said.
He estimated the Muslim community to be between 5-8 million people. “We are mobilizing the community nationwide to vote in this election, and we hope to get 70 percent turnout and exceed the national average of 50 percent,” he noted.
A poll published by the Arab American Institute last week revealed that 40% of Arab Americans will vote for George W. Bush against 28% for Vice-President Al Gore, with 15.5% voting for Ralph Nader, candidate of the Green Party, who is of Lebanese descent.
Meanwhile, an influential Arab American Political Action Committee in Michigan endorsed Bush for president, a step considered by observers as significant news in a state where the presidential race is nearly a dead heat. Members of the committee said their unanimous decision to support Bush was mostly about politics, not ethnicity. They said Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore had failed to show them he cares about the Arab vote, while Bush went out of his way to do so.
Although Arab Americans in general say their endorsement of Bush is not influenced by Gore’s decision to select Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, some members admitted they were uneasy about Lieberman. They contend his faith as an Orthodox Jew is deeply intertwined with his political beliefs, especially his longtime support of Israel.
Hassan Ibrahim said the reason for his organization’s endorsement of Bush is that he has been very responsive to needs and issues of the Muslim community. “We got an excellent response from the Bush campaign in the form of recognition in the second debate and being clear on issues important to Arab and Muslim Americans like the secret evidence,” he explained.
Ibrahim said the decision was also based on issues related to the Middle East and the biased position of the Clinton Administration. “For the last eight years, we have seen the administration more than ever before taking the Israeli position, and did not really facilitate even-handed approach. We hope that a change in the administration would bring a more solid approach to really make something that would last,” he said.
Ibrahim said the Lieberman factor was not a reason for the decision. “Lieberman on many occasions has attended Muslim functions and he echoed support for issues of concern to us, like the secret evidence for example. But we did not again feel that him being on the ticket would facilitate positive change in the US policies in the Middle East,” he noted.
Khaled Saffouri, Executive Director of the Islamic Institute in Washington, told Albawaba.com that the four groups endorsing Bush represent major political Muslims organizations in the US. “This endorsement will help in the momentum that Bush is trying to carry with other groups and associations,” he said.
Saffouri believes the decision to endorse Bush will make a difference in who wins the White House. “The elections are going to be so close, it is very obvious that whoever wins is going to win with no more than 2 percent of the vote. All the polls in the last two days are showing push ahead by 2 points,” he explained.
Saffouri stressed that the Arab and Muslim communities have 1-4 percent of the vote in four swinging states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. “That’s why the candidates are interested in our vote” he said. “Bush mentioned in the national debate the “secret evidence” law that abuses Arab Americans. No one has ever mentioned the Arab community in a public forum, and also met with the Muslim community leadership repeatedly.”
According to Saffouri, Gore did meet with Muslim and Arab American groups on several occasions, but he was seen as more biased towards Israel. They explained to him that the issue of Jerusalem is much bigger than playing in domestic politics. Saffouri thinks Gore cannot alienate the Jewish vote because he still gets large financial support from American Jewish groups.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )