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George, Jeb and the Muslim Vote

George, Jeb and the Muslim Vote

Oct 31, 2001

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
October 31, 2001 | Findley, Paul
Paul Findley, a member of Congress (R-IL) from 1961 to 1983, is the author of a new book, Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Images of Islam, available from the AET Book Club. He resides in Jacksonville, Illinois.

U.S. Muslims–a strong, new presence on America’s political landscape–are unhappy with the Bush brothers–George W., the man they helped win the presidency last November, and Jeb, who seeks re-election next year as governor of Florida.
Those in Florida threaten to express their displeasure next year by opposing Jeb’s bid. They find him inaccessible and are upset by the continuation of profiling by Florida police. They also see a public campaign against the governor’s re-election as a way to draw brother George W.’s attention to Muslims’ national agenda, which includes an end to the use of secret evidence in deportation proceedings, support of Palestinian human rights, and the appointment of Muslims to prominent administrative positions.
During the past few weeks, I encountered repeated evidence of a Muslim revolt against both the president and the governor. It was common talk among those attending national conventions of the American Muslim Council in Washington, DC, and the Islamic Circle of North America in Cleveland, as well as an Ohio convention of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
With Jeb Bush certain to face a strong challenge in his bid for a second term, the Muslim vote could be just as decisive in retiring him from Florida’s highest office as it was last year in clearing George’s path to the nation’s top job.
The president may not recognize it, but he is heavily indebted to Muslim voters. On Nov. 7, they gave him a huge plurality, estimated as high as two million votes. Exit polls showed a sudden, massive Muslim landslide for Bush. Polls taken early in the presidential campaign showed Vice President Al Gore the favorite. On election day, Bush received 70 percent of the Muslim vote nationally and 90 percent in Florida.
The national tide for Bush began only two weeks before the voting, when leaders of the four principal Muslim policy organizations called for a bloc vote for the Republican candidate. Muslims demonstrated remarkable discipline, departing from their normal tendency to support Democrats. Two of the four principal Muslim leaders who organized the bloc vote for Bush–Salam Al-Marayati and Dr. Agha Saeed–have long been prominent in the California Democratic Party.
In Florida, Bush’s Muslim plurality was nearly 80,000, and his plurality among first-time Muslim voters–estimated at 27,000–amounted to 50 times the 537-vote margin by which he won the state’s crucial electoral votes.
Despite their decisive role on election day, Muslims feel shut out by the president. Among their complaints:
Despite a campaign pledge, Bush has done little to end the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings.
On two occasions, the president has welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, frequently cited as a war criminal, to the White House, while refusing direct talks with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.
He has not met with Muslim leaders; the president cancelled a traditional White House event commemorating a Muslim holiday.
Vice-President Richard Cheney cancelled a meeting with officials of the American Muslim Council without re-scheduling.
Secret Service officers, acting on an erroneous tip of terrorist connections, ejected a Muslim student from a discussion group in the White House (see Aug./Sept. Washington Report, p. 47). Bush later apologized through a staff member, but gave no hint that the episode would be investigated and those responsible disciplined.
No Muslims have been appointed to significant positions in the Bush administration.
Muslims are undeterred by these disappointments. The threat to Jeb Bush’s reelection is only one part of their political agenda. They began preparations for the 2002 elections last December and have become prominent in the upcoming New Jersey gubernatorial contest.
Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Alliance and chief architect of the bloc vote, is upbeat. “We did not expect overnight successes in Washington,” he commented, “but we are confident of steady progress if we continue to work together. Muslims are in the political arena for the long haul. We are focusing our attention on next year’s elections, which will decide the control of the next Congress, and on the 2004 presidential contest, especially in the battleground states where partisan margins are narrow.”

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