By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Arab and Muslim American leaders expressed satisfaction with the visible role their communities played in the US elections, but had mixed views on the impact of the Arab and Muslim vote in this election.
“I think the Arab American vote was respected, was courted, and has helped change how the candidates address our issues, and that was historic,” said Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute and Chair of the Ethnic Council in the Democratic Party.
Zogby told Albawaba.com that the Arab American vote did not make a difference in the outcome of elections, “but we had an influence in how candidates viewed us, and how they viewed the issues we care about.”
Nihad Awad, Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Albawaba.com that the involvement of the Muslim community in this election was at its maximum. “Our objective was to create a voting bloc on the national level and we did,” he said
Awad noted that this is a strategic achievement (since) for the first time in the history of the US, the Muslim community came to endorse a presidential candidate and created a voting bloc. “Win or lose, the bloc has been created,” he said. “Sooner or later, we have to move onto the political radar screen. We cannot allow ourselves to be marginalized and ignored. We have to tell candidates that Muslim votes count,” he stressed.
To prove that the Muslim community has been galvanized, Awad said his organization has conducted a survey among Muslim voters and the initial results indicate that the majority of them voted for Bush. He said this was in response to the endorsement of Bush by several groups of Muslim American organizations on October 23.
Jim Zogby, however, takes issue with the bloc voting approach used by other groups. “Thess communities, both Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, did not vote as a bloc,” he said. “I have spoken with leaders in both communities, and I know that this community voted in a bipartisan way as they always do on both sides. I know that surveys are not scientific instruments.”
Zogby explained that the Michigan Arab American endorsement of Bush did not make a difference. He said the community should adopt bipartisan endorsements.“ The reason we have done that is because we have felt you do not want to be too gloating, or overcome by your sense of power when in fact you don’t have it. We didn’t need to pretend that we were going to make a difference when in fact we are not going to be able to. We make a difference in a local city election. But when you are 1 percent of the country, 3 percent of the vote in Michigan, and when the overall election is decided by 5-6 percent, then you want to be careful. These groups shot too high and I think they made a tactical error,” he said.
Awad expressed satisfaction that all the political candidates who engaged in Muslim-bashing during their campaigns were defeated in the elections. He said races in New York and Georgia went to the opponents of Muslim bashers, resulting in the defeat of those who seek to exclude Muslims from political participation.
According to Awad, Republican Senate candidate from New York Rick Lazio “shot himself in the foot” when he attacked Hillary Clinton for associating herself with “terror” groups. “He overdid it and exposed how bigoted he was and how he just tried to blackmail people and failed miserably,” he said. Lazio lost to Hillary Clinton by a margin of 12 percent.
Zogby warned that the community should not become boastful on such occasions. “In the case of New York, the tactics backfired on Lazio,” he said. “But we have a lot to do in New York, because neither candidate, Democrat nor Republican, treats us well.”
When asked to speculate on who is going to win the presidency in this election, Zogby declined, saying: “The only thing I can predict is that at the end of this situation we will have a divided government, and it will be very difficult for whoever wins to govern effectively. This is unprecedented and very difficult situation we are in today. The Congress is going to be even, the Senate is 50-50, and the electoral vote is still up in the air. We come out of a very split and angry partisan atmosphere with the last six years of Clinton, and this is not going to be pretty, whoever takes over.”
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )