x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Record turnout by Muslims for election

US Muslims turned out in record numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON // US Muslims turned out in record numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama for president last week, according to new polling data, even though Muslim community leaders said some had felt marginalised during the campaign. Eighty-nine per cent of US Muslims surveyed cast their ballot for Mr Obama, a poll commissioned by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections found. Just two per cent voted for John McCain, his Republican rival, with the independent and third-party candidates receiving negligible support. Nearly two thirds of the 637 people surveyed by Genesis Research Associates identified the economy as their most pressing issue, distantly followed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ninety-five per cent said they had voted in the presidential election, the highest turnout ever reported for Muslim-Americans. At a news conference in Washington on Friday to announce the poll results, Muslim-American leaders congratulated Mr Obama on his historic election as the first African-American US president. But they called on him to make good on his campaign promise for unity and inclusion and asked him to reach out to Muslims early on and take steps to repair "damaged relations" from the eight years of George W Bush's presidency. Many Muslims say his administration has rolled back civil liberties and wrongly targeted them in the so-called "war on terror". "We're looking for inclusiveness in this new administration," said Agha Saeed, founder of the American Muslim Alliance and chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Mr Saeed himself, a native of Pakistan, was surrounded by FBI agents at an airport outside of Washington and asked what he had been doing there. It turned out he was in the capital for a meeting of US Muslim leaders with Mr Bush on the very day of the attacks, which was cancelled. Mr Saeed said the Muslim community does not want "lip service" but a real commitment to due process and equal justice. "We have major work to do in this country," he said. Mahdi Bray, the executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, referred to a "slight" many in the Muslim community felt during the presidential race. The word "Muslim" came to be used as a smear, with persistent rumours that Mr Obama - whose middle name is Hussein - was an adherent of that faith. His campaign forcefully denied it and affirmed he is a Christian. It was Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and a Republican, who finally said in the final days of the contest what many Muslims had hoped Mr Obama himself would: so what if he were Muslim? "Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian," Mr Powell said in response to a question about Mr Obama's religion. "But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" In Detroit in June, two female supporters of Mr Obama, both wearing headscarves, were prevented from standing behind him at a rally, prompting him to call them to apologise. Some supporters of Mr McCain regularly shouted "Vote McCain, Not Hussein" at Republican rallies. One woman said Mr Obama was an Arab, to which Mr McCain replied: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man." "We're determined to rise above these aspects," said Mr Bray of what he called the "bashing" of Muslims during the campaign. "We will not sit on the sidelines. Tell the bashers they can continue to bash, but we will continue to vote. For us, our votes are in play. For us, second-class citizenship is not an option." Mr Bray said grassroots Muslim groups had employed a "battleground strategy" - registering voters and making sure they showed up at the polls - that made the Muslim vote critical in some key states, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. In Virginia, which had not been won by a Democratic presidential contender since 1964, Muslim voter registration was up at least 11 per cent from two years ago, he said. Muslim-Americans have shifted their political affiliation over the past eight years - they voted for Mr Bush in 2000, then John Kerry in 2004 - and increasingly identify with the Democratic Party. But they do not vote just based on party. "It's clear that Muslims vote based on issues not on party or political concerns," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Although political participation by Muslim-Americans is increasing, Mr Saeed said, it is still far from representative; Muslims hold just a fraction of the more than half-million elected offices in the United States. This year marked the election of the first female Muslim to the state legislature in Michigan. At the news conference, Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, called on Mr Obama to move to restore the United States's "moral authority" throughout the world; protect its "core values"; and signal a willingness to appoint qualified US Muslims to positions in his administration. The poll was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.87 per cent. eniedowski@thenational.ae