Geoffrey Fattah, Deseret Morning News, Feb. 9
Across the nation, Muslims are about to send a very strong message through the ballot box to President Bush: We want change.
Although in years past most Muslims have typically voted Republican — identifying with the party’s opposition to abortion and gay rights issues — this year the tide is expected to turn.
In a concerted effort, Muslim organizations in Utah and almost every other state have started voter registration drives and are encouraging Muslims to vote Democrat.
“There’s a lot more awareness now, an awareness of the need to speak up and be heard,” said Nadeem Tusneem, president of the Muslim Forum of Utah. Tusneem said many Muslims have grown wise to the way the political system works in the United States and are beginning to break the cultural taboo of speaking out.
“In most of their home countries they would be killed” for doing so, he said.
National Muslim organizations say about 6 million people who identify themselves as Muslims live in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau is not allowed to ask questions about an individual’s religion, so there’s no definite count.
Local numbers are just as difficult to come by, since area mosques say they have a difficult time keeping track of how many Muslims live in an area at any given time because there are many here on student visas who come and go.
Due to cultural influences and the fact many Muslims are immigrants, voting among Islamic communities has been fairly sparse, members of Utah’s Islamic communities say.
But time has changed that. Many have become U.S. citizens, and new generations of American-born Muslims may make them a political force to be reckoned with in the future.
It’s no secret that the pull of the effort originates from Bush’s war on terrorism after 9/11. Instances of discrimination, hate crimes and civil rights being traded for homeland security have become top concerns for Muslims, they say.
“I think the reason why people are becoming more involved is because after 9/11 a lot of civil rights were being abused. They felt a little helpless that their civil rights were being circumvented and felt there was nothing they could do,” said Rabiah Ahmed with the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit political action group.
Although Muslims and Democrats on the whole make strange bedfellows, Ahmed said feelings that Bush must be voted out of office have overcome all other issues for Muslims. “Most Muslims tend to vote Republican,” she said. “A survey we took last summer showed that Muslims would most likely vote for anyone other than Bush.”
Democrats have taken notice of this shift. Ahmed said her organization has been courted by several Democratic presidential candidates. Here in Utah, Democrats see Muslims as a welcome ally.
“This is a group that I think could certainly benefit by getting organized and involved,” said Utah State Democratic Party chairman Donald Dunn, “and it could certainly be good for us.”
Dunn said he sees no irony in a Democrat/Muslim alliance. “I think any time we can get more people registered and involved in politics it’s a good thing, and I would welcome any group to do that.”
Republicans say they see this as a disappointing loss but feel there is little they can do about it.
“They would normally be our constituency,” said Utah State Republican Party Chairman Joe Cannon, “but for the small matter of Iraq … I don’t think there’s anything we can do about that.”
Cannon said he would hope in the future the bridge could be mended and that Muslims would feel at liberty to vote for local Republican candidates.
Tusneem said his group plans to register Muslims to vote in the coming months via community festivals, through the Internet and through mosques.
Ultimately, the goal of the Utah Muslim Forum is to educate Muslims about democracy, Tusneem said. “We want them to understand the concept of democracy better. That they can make a difference, and if they don’t make their voices heard, somebody will make the choices for them,” he said.