Top US Muslims Election Priority: Economy
By Ayman Qenawi, IOL Staff
Like every other cross section of society, American Muslims are weighting their best choice for the Oval Office, judging rivals Barak Obama and John McCain on a set of issues, mostly domestic.
“Right now I’m leaning towards Obama,” says Taneeza Islam, a young American Muslim lawyer.
“Being an African-American male, he brings a perspective to politics that is inherently different from a Caucasian male perspective,” she explains.
“His ideas of helping the poor, having some sort of universal health care, tax breaks for the middle class are very important to me.”
Hussein Khatib, Director of Al-Aqsa Institute of Minnesota, has been voting in various elections for the past 20 years.
“I am planning to vote for Obama, just because he is the best among what is available,” he said.
“I think that he is a fresh breath to the political process, and have a better understanding of the diversity of this world, which will enable him to work better with the diverse groups in the US and the world.”
Barbar Khan, a Muslim cabbie in Miami who has been living in the States for the past 25 years, will also vote for Obama.
“Many Muslims will do the same,” he said.
Khan believes McCain would be a bad choice for American Muslims.
“It will be the same Bush policies. We have had enough of that.”
Asma Lori Saroya, a crime victim services coordinator, agrees.
“The Bush administration violated the very principles this nation was founded on and have created an America that is much different from the one I grew up in,” she said.
“The new president will have to repair the damage.”
America is home to between six to seven million Muslims making up less than three percent of the 300-million population.
More than two millions of them are registered voters.
Sixty-three percent of American Muslims are Democrats or leaning in that direction, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Politics.
Only 11 percent of US Muslims are Republican.
American Issues “Civil rights, economy and healthcare are priorities for US Muslims,” Thakur told IOL. For most American Muslims, domestic issues top the election priority lists.
“I think our country needs to refocus on domestic issues because it is lacking,” says Islam, the young Muslim lawyer.
“We are seeing states losing industries. In Michigan, where I am from, automobile industry has vanished in the last 5 years and people are suffering,” she notes.
“I see those with no health care, no job and on welfare. These are real problems for this country and I want this country to do well because this is my home.”
“Civil rights, economy and healthcare are priorities for US Muslims,” asserted Mukhtar Thakur, radio and TV producer.
For Khatib, the Minnesota community activist, the economy and healthcare are high on the priority list.
“The economy is in shambles, especially the housing issue, and the failure of the most prominent of financial institutions such as Bear Sterns, Fanny May and Freddy Mac’s. The deficit is close to $500 billion and the auto industry is in jeopardy due to the slum in sales and the spike in oil prices,” he said.
“Health, education and social services are suffering and facing challenges, and might not be able to meet the demands of the future.”
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll last week showed that 48 percent of those surveyed said McCain and Obama’s economic policies would be the most important issue when deciding whom to vote for.
But when it comes to who is the better choice to fix the economy, Obama is their pick by a 54 percent to 43 percent margin.
Obama is proposing to pump $75 billion into the economy via tax cuts and direct spending targeted to working families, seniors, homeowners and the unemployed.
“It is rather unfortunate the level of ignorance and animosity to Islam in this country, says Khatib. The stance of both Obama and McCain on Islam is also of major importance to many American Muslims.
“It is rather unfortunate the level of ignorance and animosity to Islam in this country, and that applies to most presidential and senate candidates,” says Khatib, the Minnesota community activist.
“They claim to differentiate between extreme and moderate Muslims, but in reality Islam is under attack from politicians and the media due to the control of the neoconservatives and the pro-Israel lobby.”
Still, he believes that Obama’s background gives him a better understanding of Muslims’ issues and might bring about a better atmosphere of harmony between the various racial, ethnic and religious groups.
Obama is the son of a Muslim-turned-atheist Kenyan father and a white American mother that did not practice religion.
Born in Hawaii, he lived from ages 6 to 10 in Indonesia with his mother and Muslim stepfather.
Saroya, the crime victim services coordinator, argues that Obama’s record as Senator proves he is Muslim-friendly and practices what he preaches when it comes to unity and diversity.
“As Senator, he hired Muslim staff and he visited mosques.”
Anwar Abdel-Karim, a Muslim professional living in Minneapolis, believes neither Obama no McCain will associate himself with Islam or accept anything from Muslim groups.
“As American Muslims, we all stand with the war on terror, but we need to agree on a definition for the word ‘terror’.”
Obama has so far shied away from meeting Muslim imams publicly, unlike the rival candidates in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
He has yet to visit a mosque, despite his repeated visits to churches and synagogues.
Obama’s campaign has also snubbed invitations from Muslim and Arab-American organizations to arrange a meeting with the Democratic nominee.
The Illinois Senator, who aspires to become the first black president in US history, has failed to send a surrogate to any Muslim event.
“Muslims are weak, others are strong and for improving his chances to win it seems that it is unwise to align himself with any Muslim group or community,” said Khatib.
Abia Ali, a financial worker who will not be voting in November because she is not a US citizen yet, is very critical of Obama.
“Obama is worse than McCain, because at least McCain is telling you up front his feeling against Islam and Muslims,” she said.
“In order to please other majority of Americans, I am afraid Obama might harm Muslims and Muslim countries harder. Obama thinks that as long as he is pleasing the majority, he should not care about Muslim American nor Muslims around the world.”
Foreign Policy “Obama is worse than McCain, because at least McCain is telling you up front his feeling against Islam and Muslims,” Ali said. Washington’s foreign policy and its tarnished image, particularly in the Muslim world, is also of concern to many American Muslims.
“Foreign policy is probably a main factor that I base my vote on, although I believe that this is a very complex issue for any President to deal with considering the extend of the Zionist lobby’s power and control of American foreign policy, specifically when it has to do with the Middle East,” said Khatib.
“I am just as angry and frustrated as any Muslim due to the bias and absurdity of Obama’s alliance to the Zionist opinion regarding the Palestinian issue in specific and the general issues of the Muslims,” he added.
“Peace in the Mideast will not happen without having the US as a full partner in the process. Leading the negotiation, giving assurances to both sides and acting in good faith, similar to what former President Carter did in 1980,” believes Thakur, the radio and TV producer.
“Iran should be engaged diplomatically.”
Islam, the young woman lawyer, also cares about the foreign policy agenda of the new president.
“I appreciate Obama’s willingness to dialogue with all nations in the Middle East (like Iran) instead of just making threats (like current administration).
“I don’t support McCain because I don’t believe his strategy is right. And as you infer he is polarizing…more so than Obama.”
She, however, puts her priorities in perspective.
“Bing a Muslim is just one part of me, though a very important part of me. But I’m also an American, woman and attorney,” said Islam.
“It will take time and effort by Muslims to make a niche here and have our voices heard. I will not vote on Muslim issues only because there is a greater good that needs to be achieved here.”
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