The State.Com South Carolina – July 29, 2004
U.S. Muslims grow more politically active
By KAUKAB J. SMITH
BOSTON - Provoked by what they see as civil-rights violations after the terrorist attacks of 2001, U.S. Muslims are growing more politically active and sophisticated. The number of Muslim delegates to this year's Democratic National Convention has grown by 60 percent. Forty Muslim delegates, including a Maryland woman, are representing 20 states at the 2004 convention, up from 25 Muslims at the Democratic convention four years ago.
The selection of Erum Malik, 43, of Ellicott City, Md., is an example of how greater numbers of Muslims are engaging in shaping public policy through grass-roots lobbying, voter registration drives, fund-raising and running for office since Sept. 11, 2001, community leaders said.
"There has been a historic and unprecedented under-representation of Muslims in government in America, from the county to the federal level," said Saqib Ali of North Potomac, Md., a computer engineer active with the nonpartisan Montgomery County, Md., Muslim Council. "We have been a politically immature community," Ali said. The terrorist attacks "jolted people out of their complacency," he said.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim groups were "naive" about the workings of the American political system, said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an Islamic think-tank in Bethesda, Md. Ahmad said he believes strong Muslim support helped deliver Florida to George Bush in 2000, with exit polls showing an overwhelming percentage of Florida Muslims voted Republican. Many Muslims came to regret their support for the Bush campaign when they became subject to profiling, arrest and registration after the attacks, Ahmad said.
"People are beginning to realize ... they need to get their act together and get into politics," said Mushtaque Mirza, an executive board member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, who helped organize an event honoring Muslim convention delegates at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge. "I think Muslims are getting more politically aware."
Part of that political awareness has meant Muslim voter registration has shifted from the Republican Party toward the Democrats, said several Muslim delegates from Texas and Minnesota gathered at an Islamic Society event Tuesday.
In Texas, for example, mostly South Asian Muslim groups have registered thousands of voters and encouraged community participation, leading to Texas bringing the single-largest number of Muslim delegates - seven - to this year's convention.
Muslim groups also have developed more sophisticated political tactics recently, forming coalitions and conducting interfaith dialogues in a way that would have been impossible four years ago, Ahmad said. "Muslims have to let people know they're a swing vote if they want to be effective," Ahmad said.
About 0.9 percent of all 4,332 convention delegates this year are Muslim, compared to 0.75 to 2.25 percent of the U.S. population….
Boston Globe – July 28, 2004
An awakening for US Muslims
DERRICK Z. JACKSON
Hashim Raza is a 38-year-old physician from St. Louis who, like a majority of Arab-Americans, voted for President Bush in 2000. Raza has voted Republican in every presidential election starting with Ronald Reagan in 1984. ``I was always attracted to the Republican message of self-accountability, personal responsibility, low taxes, and staying out of international affairs,'' Raza said. This year, he will vote for Democrat John Kerry. ``After 9/11, things started adding up,'' he said at a reception Tuesday for Muslim attendees to the Democratic National Convention hosted by the Islamic Society of Boston. ``Muslims were unfairly targeted; we were presumed guilty; Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Cheney acted like they have no use for Muslims. The Republican Party has become a refuge for far right religious extremists. I believe people like Bush senior and (Bob) Dole were moderates. But now I feel the party has excluded me.''
A year ago, Arif Gafur, a 52-year-old engineer for Shell Oil in Houston, did not know anything about being a delegate to the convention. Before 9/11, he and many of his professional friends were never involved in politics. But the aftermath of the terrorist attacks where many Muslims were detained, made him concerned. ``America is the best country in the world, but it's not easy to be a Muslim,'' he said. The invasion of Iraq, which Gafur said was ``unnecessary,'' pushed him and several other South Asian Muslims to register 1,000 voters and elect delegates to district, state, and national delegations. Of the about 5,000 delegates to the convention, about 40 are Muslim and six are from Texas, including himself. ``Sometimes, on Middle East policy, Kerry seems to come across as Bush Lite,'' Gafur said. ``But on domestic policy, with the Patriot Act and the racial profiling of Muslims, the Muslim community was awakened to the fact that we had to get involved.''
The Arab-American awakening could play a significant part in the Democrats' drive to put the Bush presidency to sleep. In the 2000 elections, Bush pledged to end profiling of Arab-Americans. Other Arab-Americans were put off by Gore's choice of Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, as his running mate, fearing the choice signaled an unacceptable pro-Israel tilt by the Democrats. ``To many Muslims, Bush just seemed to work harder for our vote,'' Gafur said.
In 2000, Bush won 46 percent of Arab-American votes, compared to 38 percent for Gore and 14 percent for Ralph Nader. But now, a July tracking poll conducted by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute found that only 25 percent of Arab-Americans say Bush should be re-elected. Only 9 percent of Arab-Americans say Bush's policies concerning Israel and Palestine are good or excellent.
This could spell trouble for Bush if there are tight races in battleground states like Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where Zogby predicts a half-million Arab-Americans will vote. It is trouble because families like the Khan family of Toledo, Ohio, have personally felt the sting of Bush's post-9/11 policies, even though they are the embodiment of the American dream.
None of the attendees or delegates were naive that Kerry completely supports their views. Kerry has angered Arab-Americans for agreeing with significant parts of Bush's Israel/Palestine policy and his vote authorizing Bush to invade Iraq. What they hope is that Kerry's pledge not to be a unilateralist will mean he will at least listen to Muslims before acting….
Christian Science Monitor - July 29, 2004
A very Arab view on very American politics
By Dante Chinni
Hafez Al-Mizari is waiting for his interview with Peter Jennings when his cellphone rings. It's the Washington Post. They would like to talk to him, too. Add in the interview requests earlier from Variety and a local television station and you have a busy day. And it's only 1 p.m.
Mr. Mizari is answering questions about Al Jazeera's FleetCenter sign, which was quietly removed, when no one was looking, by someone associated with the Democratic convention and taken to a warehouse in the distant suburbs for "aesthetic reasons." It's OK, he says, not completely sincerely; the sign was about getting the Arab news channel publicity - and considering all the interviews it's been just as effective in absentia.
Mizari has spent a lot of time talking to journalists lately. As Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera, he is as much an interviewer here as he is an interview subject - on a lot more than just his lost sign. As the head of the 16-person cultural lightning rod that works out of a trailer in the ABC News area near the FleetCenter, his role as spokesman may be more important than his role as journalist.
"It's good that we are here," he says. "It makes it clear to people that we're covering a legitimate story, if there is such a thing as legitimate and illegitimate stories." He smiles. "But it is a bit self-referential. The media covering the media covering the media."
And yes, through one lens Mizari's press rounds could be the ultimate example of the nation's and the news media's own navel gazing. As foreign coverage, reporting on the world outside our borders, declines, we spend more and more time looking at ourselves, or looking at the world looking at us.
But there are reasons Al Jazeera has grabbed the fascination of the media here. Its coverage, which few of us will watch or understand, may be the most important reporting on this convention and this election.
The US may wish to bring democracy to the Middle East, but as it tries it is Al Jazeera that will probably have the most control over the discussion. The network is the window through which much of the Arabic-speaking world - 40 million viewers, according to the station - sees the US.
The strained relations between the Qatar-based channel and the US are well-known. During the Iraq war, the Bush administration said Al Jazeera had a strong anti-American bias and asked the channel's largest shareholder, Qatar's leader, to intervene. A US bomb hit Al Jazeera's Baghdad headquarters, killing one reporter.
But in 2004, the channel's audience is bringing something new to its viewing, an interest in what is going on in American politics. An interest that extends even to the four days of Up With People going on in the FleetCenter.
"The interest in the election in the US this year is light-years beyond where it was in 2000" when the network covered that presidential race, says chief correspondent Mohammed Alami, who like Mizari is an American citizen. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have heightened interest in the presidential race. The network's 16 reporters and staff covering the convention here are more than its Arabic-language competitors Al Arabiya and the US-funded Al Hurra, combined.
Since January, Al Jazeera has been broadcasting a weekly one-hour program called "Race for the American Presidency." After initial skepticism within the channel that people would tune in, it has become a success, Mr. Alami says….
MAS Freedom Foundation - July 28, 2004
MAS training tested at Democratic convention
Among the 38 Muslim delegates to the Democratic National Convention is Asad Zaman, the Muslim American Society’s Minnesota Chapter administrator.
Zaman commented that the schedule for a state delegate is rigorously regulated by many activities coordinated by his state’s delegate leadership and numerous media interviews. However, Zaman says he has been able to engage his state delegate leader, who happens to be former vice president Walter Mondale, on important issues concerning the Muslim community.
“I am glad that I was able to complete the MAS Freedom activist training course and get a convention briefing from MAS Freedom Foundation before coming to the convention,” said Zaman. “It has really helped me to stay focused on the issues. “It was also wonderful to meet other Muslim delegates who also received the MAS Freedom’s activist training and convention briefing.”
To date, MAS has trained over 2,000 civic and political activists, and has also provided political briefings and consultations to various Muslim delegates attending the Democratic national Convention.
MAS Freedom has asked delegates to focus on various issues, including President George W. Bush’s administration’s violations of civil rights and liberties affecting the Muslim community, the need for presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign to greatly improve its outreach to the Muslim community, sensible budget priorities, and the need for a balanced foreign policy in the Muslim world.
The Freedom Foundation is the public affairs arm of the Muslim American Society (MAS), a national grassroots religious, social, and educational organization