American Muslims and Politics of Bloc Vote
By Shafi Refai, President, United Muslims of America
American democracy has to go through the ritual of the presidential elections every four years. This year happens to be the election year. The media would trump up the praise for the greatest democracy on the earth. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on the campaign advertisements. Yet a large number of Americans would not even care to vote. The question is, why? Perhaps the reason is their feeling that no matter who they vote for the things would not change. This year’s choice between Bush and Kerry would confirm their apathy. The difference between the two major parties – Republican and Democrat – has narrowed to such a degree that they are hardly distinguishable from each other. There is the need for the multi parties system. There are other parties but for foreseeable future only two parties will continue to control the power.
Last election in year 2000 was not better than this year with the choice of Bush or Gore. Most of the American Muslims voted for Bush because Bush had agreed to repeal the Secret Evidence law under which many Muslims were harassed. President Bush had scheduled a meeting with the American Muslim leaders in the afternoon of September 11, 2001 when he was going to announce his plan to repeal the law. That meeting never materialized because of the terrorists attack in the morning of that fateful day. Subsequent to the attack Bush embraced the neo-cons in his administration and adopted their plan ‘The Project for New American Century’. We know the rest of the story. Needless to say that many Muslims are not happy with the performance of President Bush and are eager to see him leave the White House.
American Muslims leaders once again are working hard to prepare the Muslim community for the election. E-mail has become a common mode of communication. The community members are urged to register to vote. The criteria are being developed on the basis of which they would recommend which candidate to vote for. It is dejavu all over again. It is not uncommon for the politicians to promise things in the heat of the election and then go back to doing the business as usual. American Muslims lack the political clout to hold the politicians responsible for what they had promised before the election.
In USA it is the corporate America that buys the politicians and the politicians in return buy the votes of the common people through the advertisements. The greatest beneficiaries of the system are the TV, radio and the print media. Howard Dean has learnt by hard way that it is not easy to win an election with the grass roots support only without the blessing of the media.
American Muslims are estimated to be around 2% of the population. Many of them are not the U.S. citizens and many of those who are the citizens are not registered to vote. Many of those who are registered to vote do not even vote. With these meager records, we are not going to create a significant political clout merely by a bloc vote. The politicians are not unaware of this fact.
The elected politicians usually follow the policies determined by the parties much before the elections. The Muslim community is absent from the political parties and other institutions where the opinions are shaped and the policies are formed. The involvement in the political parties does not come cheap. Few of the Muslim activists who get involved in the political parties get burnt out with the constant demand on their pockets and the time.
The Jewish population in the U.S. is not much larger than that of the Muslims. However, we do not hear about their bloc vote. It is said that 50% of the Democratic Party funding and 30% of the Republican Party funding comes from the Jewish sources. Besides, they have established their presence in White House, Capitol Hill, Wall Street, Hollywood, Media, and Academia. These are the institutions which shape the opinion of the American people.
American Muslims can learn a good lesson from the experience of the Indian Muslims. In India there is about 12% Muslim population. For fifty years they voted en bloc for the Congress party for the fear of the fundamentalist Hindu party without getting anything in return. The Hindu party used Muslims support for the Congress party as an appeasement of the Muslims by the Congress party and garnered the support of the majority community at the great peril of Muslims.
There is a great need for the Muslims to get involved in the complete political process and not just to wakeup at the time of the election. And there is a need for the Muslim leaders to make our community face the reality, rather than keeping them under the illusion that they can make the difference with a bloc vote.
April 14, 2004