On Capitol Hill, in the Rayburn Building, on June 29, 2004, a standing room only audience listened to a panel of experts discuss the potential of the Muslim-American vote, about 1.5 to 1.8 million and growing, on the coming 2004 presidential election. The Forum was co-sponsored by the Council for the National Interest (CNI), a grass roots organization with its main headquarters based in Washington, DC. The CNI has been fighting gallantly for over 15 years for a new direction for U.S. Middle East foreign policy that is motivated by our genuine “national interest,” and not by what the powerful Israel First Brigade dictates. Ex-Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-CA) is its feisty chairman (rescuemideastpolicy.com).
The other co-sponsor of the impressive event was the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). It is the largest non-profit Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. and it is led by its Executive Director and co-founder, Nihad Awad (http://www.cair-net.org/default.asp).
Awad revealed how in the 2000 election, a voting bloc was created within the Muslim-American community for the first time and that a decision was made to endorse George W. Bush, Jr., the then-Republican Party nominee for president. “Definitely, there is a feeling (today) that the Muslim communities, Muslim voters, are not satisfied with the performance of that administration, whether on domestic issues, like civil rights; or foreign policy issues, like… the Iraq War and Afghanistan,” he underscored.
In key states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, Awad said, from informal surveys the group has taken via e-mails and faxes, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), the expected Democratic presidential nominee, has a large lead in preference from Muslim-American voters, over the incumbent president. Some results, in Pennsylvania, for example, show Kerry running as high as 57 percent favorable, to only 2 percent for Bush. Awad emphasized that the electoral endorsement process is ongoing and that no final decision has been made by the America Muslim Task Force, an umbrella group, that embraces eight Muslim-American organizations around the country. That decision, to endorse or not, Awad believes will be made in October, 2004. One thing, however, is clear, he concluded, “The Muslim-American community wants Sen. John Kerry to be a better candidate.”
Egyptian-born Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, an educator and activist, was another panel member. He said, “We need this country to continue to be a great power, not an empire. We can lead the whole world by our values, not by our guns. We can see it in Iraq, where we are trying to deliver democracy. The problem isn’t democracy, the problem is how we are trying to deliver it.”
Ibrahim, who has taught engineering courses at the U. of Maryland, College Park campus, added, “We are looking for Civil Rights on the domestic front. On foreign policy, we are looking for human rights. These are American values and they are also the values of the Muslim-American community.”
It was Ralph Nader, however, the Independent candidate for the presidency, who took center stage at the forum as a panel member. He went for the jugular. He said, “The American electorate is subverted by a commercial election process where money is king. Our elections are put up on the auction blocks to the highest bidder. Elections were never meant to be for sale.”
Nader also praised the U.S. Supreme Court decisions yesterday in the cases dealing with Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and the Guantanamo Naval Base detainees. He said those decisions were “welcomed” since they, at least, placed “restraints” on the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft Gang. He accused the administration, after 9/11, of “violating the rights of innocent people and disgracing our Constitutional system.” He blasted it, and its use of the USA Patriot Act as a tool, for conducting “a dragnet policy of law enforcement.” He urged the one million members of the American Bar Association, “to stand up for the rule of law.” He said that with a few notable exceptions, like Professor David Cole of the Georgetown U. Law Center, “They have not been doing that.”
Candidate Nader said the war in Iraq was started without Constitutional authority. He said that under Art. 1, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “only the Congress can declare war.” Nader concluded, “Our country was plunged into the war in Iraq based on a platform of fabrications, deceptions and lies now thoroughly and completely documented.” He urged “a responsible withdrawal of both U.S. military and corporate forces from Iraq over the next six months” and the replacement of the Coalition Forces by independent peacekeeping forces, until such time as “security can be secured” in Iraq.
CNI’s President, Eugene Bird, was a panel member, too. He said, “Al Gore ignored the Muslim vote in the 2000 election, right up and till the last moment, while George W. Bush, Jr., courted it.” Bird is also a journalist and a former U.S. diplomat. He added, “Close to 64,000 Muslim-American votes in the disputed Florida contest went to Bush, in 2000.”
Edward Peck was also a panel member. He is an ex-U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, a well know scholar and a former WWII paratrooper. “Imposing democracy on Iraq is a form of dictatorship. The U.S. has loss its credibility around the world and this includes our Secretary of State, Colin Powell,” he said. Peck also ripped the Israelis for “their 37 years of totally disregarding our values” by their subjugation of the Palestinians. He mocked the idea of the U.S. turning over so-called “full sovereignty” to the Iraqis, while at the same time, building 14 military bases on their land, without the permission of the Iraqi people or its government, and also leaving them with Paul Bremer-inspired “Edicts” about how they are supposed to run their own country. Peck wondered, “What are the Iraqis in charge of?”
Finally, it is certain that at this stage of the presidential campaign, that the Muslim-American community leans heavily towards Kerry over Bush. Nevertheless, Nader is its favorite son. He averages around 25 percent of their votes in the surveyed key states. If Kerry doesn’t shape up on the important issues that the Muslim-American community has articulated, issues that are also central to the hearts of tens of millions of anti-Iraq-War Americans and individuals concerned about human rights in Israeli-Occupied Palestine, he could be in for a very unpleasant surprise, a la Al Gore, come November 2, 2004. Bush, of course, won’t get their votes either, but, if push comes to shove, Nader sure could.