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Muslims in America Feel Betrayed

November 05, 2000|MANSOOR IJAZ | Mansoor Ijaz, a Muslim American of Pakistani descent, is chairman of an investment firm in New York

America's 6.6 million Muslims have finally come of age. Last week, an umbrella organization of Muslims throughout the U.S. united as never before and endorsed George W. Bush for president. The announcement marks one of the more compelling paradoxes of the 2000 presidential sweepstakes.

For eight years, President Clinton and the Democrats reached out to America's Arab and Muslim communities. In return, we worked hard to assimilate ourselves and played by the rules to develop an intelligent, unified voice. Our cultural and religious distinctions made our issues unique. Whether on immigration reform, racial profiling at airports or the FBI's use of secret evidence to detain and deport us, we offered important insights on crafting solutions for these problems.

We bought in to the concept that Democrats offered an umbrella of diversity and friendship. Then, nomination in hand, Al Gore turned his back on us. His version of diversity collapsed under a Buddhist temple fund-raiser and the paranoia of his staff, many of whom feared Asian Americans were Chinese spies and Muslim Americans were terrorists. Until last Sunday, when political expediency demanded that he meet with Arab Americans in Michigan, Gore had steadfastly refused to meet any organization with a trace of Arab or Muslim ties.

Why? Cynics among us believe Gore could only match the Republican money machine by pursuing the deep pockets of the American Jewish community to the total exclusion of Arabs and Muslims, a condition that became more urgent with the explosion in Middle East tensions. The more enlightened among us wondered whether Gore's racial and religious divide was a new brand of subtle class warfare in the U.S. The new Democratic message seemed to be you can play only if you pay.

American Arab and Muslim communities no longer can be ignored in such a demeaning way. According to pollster John Zogby, 62% of the 6.6 million Arab and Muslim Americans are registered to vote. Battleground states like Michigan, where 9% of all voters are of Arab descent, and even Democratic strongholds like California, where more than 370,000 American Muslims will vote this year, could swing on the back of the Arab-Muslim bloc.

This bloc may not yet match the Jewish American community's money and organization. But it will certainly negate much of the benefit Gore got by naming Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate. After all, we still live in a country where a millionaire media mogul's vote is exactly equal to that of a Pakistani taxi driver in Queens.

The deep sense of betrayal pervading our communities at the Democrats' arrogance and intransigence cannot be easily undone. We recognize that U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world, already challenged by Islam's extremist fringe abroad and anti-Semitic hate-mongers at home, could become a serious source of political and economic instability if moderate Muslims in the U.S. are cast aside. Jewish Americans would do well to understand this phenomenon too.

Bush seems to recognize this when he tempers the faithful American support of Israel with a need to maintain loyalty among Arab and Muslim allies. By engaging moderates among us and substantively addressing our issues, he demonstrates that not every Arab is a terrorist and not every Muslim is a "Jihadist." He thereby becomes accountable to us as citizens and we to him for policing our own ranks and choosing our leaders wisely.

The American promise of equality and opportunity has been summarily dismissed by an arrogant Gore campaign that must now face the ultimate test of the very democracy it claims to want to uplift.

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