Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
March 9, 2012
The presidential candidates of both parties are competing for cash and votes on every front, with one possible exception.
Muslim Americans, particularly conservatives, say they feel slighted this election cycle. Rather than court Muslims, Republican candidates have been competing for the toughest stance on national security and openly discussing whether Muslims should be allowed even to serve in their administrations.
“I’m very unhappy with the Republican Party. I’m hanging on with a string,” Seeme Hasan, a Colorado-based Muslim whose family has donated more than $1 million to the Republican Party and its candidates over the years, told Roll Call, a weekly newspaper on politics published on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC..
Still, Hasan said she would not vote for President Barack Obama because he has repeatedly disappointed her. She cited two examples: His decision to keep open the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his recent approval of the defense authorization bill with controversial new detention policies.
“Obama may say, ‘I’m friendly with Muslims,’ but all his actions from day one have been very unfriendly to Muslims,” she told Roll Call. Hasan is supporting former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Her husband, Malik, runs HealthTrio, an electronic medical records firm with business ties to the Georgia Republican.
Many Muslims will likely disagree with Hasan. Some 64 percent supported Obama in a recent Pew survey. But many admit to being unimpressed with their choices.
“Some members of the Muslim community are saying we should take a stand and say we support the Green Party,” said Naeem Baig, chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce, a coalition of a dozen national Muslim organizations. The Green Party got much support from Middle Easterners in 1996 when its candidate was Lebanese-American Ralph Nader.
The group endorsed Obama in 2008, but Baig said many members feel let down because of Guantanamo and the defense bill.
“Why should we trust such an administration that makes promises and doesn’t keep its promises?” he asked. Obama pledged in his 2008 campaign to move the prisoners from Guantanamo to the mainland US and put them on trial in the regular judicial system, but Congress barred him from doing that.
Some community leaders have discussed throwing support behind Rep. Ron Paul because of his stances on civil libertiesy issues and foreign policy, but questions about Paul’s viability have kept many from doing so.
Several Muslim donors have so far held off on supporting any of the current candidates. Amanullah Khan is a Texas doctor who has given more than $110,000 to political causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry until Perry pulled out of the Republican primary, but Khan has not given to any of the remaining contenders.
Ray Mahmood, a Virginia businessman who has hosted Vice President Joseph Biden at his house for fundraisers, has given about $150,000 to Democratic candidates and causes. But the most recent public records show he has not donated to Obama’s reelection campaign yet.
California businessman S. A. Ibrahim backed President George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama four years later, but he hasn’t yet stepped into the current presidential race either. Ibrahim has donated more than $50,000 across party lines.
In 2000, 70 percent of Muslims backed Bush, who was the first presidential candidate ever to visit mosques and Muslim events and to actively seek the Muslim vote. Four years later, after the invasion of Iraq, a similar percentage supported Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The community backed Obama even more resoundingly, giving him 90 percent of its vote in 2008. The fact that he had a Muslim father may have helped, but Obama was also seen shunning Muslims because of GOP attacks asserting that he was a secret Muslim.
Muslims make up less than 1 percent of the population, but large concentrations live in key electoral states such as Ohio, Michigan and Virginia.
The current presidential contenders have not made any public efforts to reach out. “Unfortunately, there is no effort so far to get the Muslim vote,” said David Ramadan, a Republican Member of the Virginia House of Delegates who was born into a Muslim family.
Primaries tend to focus on the base, Ramadan told Roll Call, saying he expects the eventual Republican nominee to make more outreach efforts to ethnic communities, including Muslims, during the general election. He said Romney has an advantage over his GOP rivals as a Mormon who can relate to religious minorities.
Though many Muslims are immigrants with ties abroad, a survey conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2008 found that Muslims vote based on domestic priorities such as education, civil rights, health care and jobs.
The community teeters between the parties depending on the issue, according to Robert McCaw, CAIR’s government affairs coordinator. “There’s a conservative vein that could be taken advantage of, but, in the current political climate, it’s not,” he said.