The relationship between US presidential candidates and the American Muslim community is hardly as seamless as it is with other religious or ethnic minorities. This at least, is true in the tense climate of the post 9/11 era. Muslims across the world are watching the current US election campaign with great interest, as well as a degree of trepidation, for the outcome of the election would be critical in determining foreign policy issues that affect Muslims the world over in significant ways.
Thorny issues such as Gitmo, The Iraq war, the proverbial "war on terror", the status of Muslims in the West and the continued controversy over the true message of Islam in the Western media affect American Muslims almost universally. Some therefore, have taken it upon themselves to influence the political process by participating and campaigning in the current presidential bid.
But to the constant chagrin of secular and liberal Muslim, it is the more conservative elements of the Muslim community that have come forward with a plan and agenda to galvanize the Muslim vote in the forthcoming election. While secular Muslims may feel the need to be heard in the political sphere, they are hardly as organized or politically engaged as their more radical counterparts. For example, no organization of the caliber of the Muslim Canadian Congress, just north of the border, exists in the United States. This Canadian organization has taken Islamists head on. It has worked hard to ensure the preservation of secular society in Canada, often at great risk to the safety and security of its avante garde. On the other hand, the doctrinaire orthodoxy among Muslims has made inroads into the social, political and economic fabric of American society, pushing for greater religious accommodation through increased visibility in the political process.
CAIR, an orthodox Muslim organization with suspected links to radical elements, recently issued a statement urging Muslims to vote because "Voting gives voice to concerns of particular interest to all people of conscious. From the war in Iraq to the Palestinian Israeli conflict, the Patriot Act to Gitmo, many Americans hold strong views regarding domestic and foreign policy. Constructive criticism in that regard falls on deaf ears unless gift-wrapped in a package like a ballot."
Another politically active organization which has come under suspicion for its alleged links with extremists, is the Islamic Society of North America, commonly known by its acronym "ISNA". Ingrid Mattson, its current female president, worked in Afghanistan with the Mujahideen and at one time proudly claimed to have represented the Afghanistan Islamists at the UN. Incidentally, the same Ingrid Mattson was present at the 2008 Democratic national convention.
And it is in this arena that American politicians have shown considerably naivete. They have blindly accepted whoever claims to be a moderate Muslim as being genuinely so. The truth is somewhat different. ISNA, for example believes in the introduction of Sharia, the all-inclusive Islamic law, a position which is undoubtedly absolutist in its political and social ramifications.
Additionally, these organizations have attempted to stifle First Amendment rights, such as the freedom of speech, conscience and religion, often targeting any one who dares oppose their absolutist ideology. They continually work to modify existing legal structures by proposing parallel legal courts, with obvious negative repercussions for women. They also support the doctrine of jihad privately while paying lip service to the cause of peace and harmony in the world publicly.
A few prominent American Muslims have warned against this cultural assault on American institutions by local Islamist organizations.
They have come forward to support Sen. Obama as opposed to John McCain as they view the forty-seven year old senator as a voice for peace and stability. Himayun Mirza from Boston writes
" There are rich Arabs and other Muslims who come from the privileged and ruling classes, hence they vote with Republicans. On the other hand, the have-nots like Palestinians and other progressive and secular Muslims always see more in common with the Democrats"
Mohammad "Mike" Ghouse writes in his blog "Obama believes in a strong America, both morally and militarily. He will restore our lost dignity in the community of Nations, and without shedding the American blood he will seek the cooperation of Nations to work with us for a prosperous world with least conflicts. McCain will not get this in his life-time. We cannot be secure if we keep threatening others nor can we have the peace when we frighten others."
The challenge for whoever is elected to the White House, lies in recognizing true moderate voices among Muslims. These are Muslims who applaud American values, as they are staunch advocates of freedom, democracy and pluralism. Sadly, the more conservative elements, errantly seen as the only authentic Muslims have been courted by American politicians for too long. Perhaps both Senators Obama and McCain need a fresh look at the many complex dynamics of intra-religious conflict among Muslims. They are certainly not united in their support for any one particular candidate and their vote on election day will reflect such deep-rooted fissures.