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This is the first time in the history of US elections that the media and politicians have started talking about Muslim votes. The fruits of Muslim participation are already on the horizon: successful campaign against the Secret Evidence Law by Muslim political activists resulted in a bill which was passed by the judiciary committee. In an election year, getting it that far is an achievement for Muslim activists.
It is the first time that an essentially Muslim issue (secret evidence) became an issue during a presidential debate. Although it is a civil rights issue, Muslims are the primary victims and they are the ones leading the battle against the abolition of the secret evidence law. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush brought it up during the debate.
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore later issued a statement supporting legislation to amend the law.
The opposition to racial profiling was considered an "African-American" issue invoked by essentially Democrats. Well, Bush became the one to not only support that but to point out that its new victims are Arab-Americans. It is the first time that Muslims throughout America have registered in large numbers to vote. In some large gatherings I was surprised to note that 70 to 80% of hands went up when the audience was asked how many of them were registered voters.
It is the first time that major Muslim organizations have endorsed a candidate.
It is the first time that most of the major newspapers are writing about Muslim votes and campaign donations, etc.
It is the beginning of a long process of empowerment. No one should think that the road is going to be easy. Muslim empowerment is necessary for America to move forward on the path of justice at home and abroad.
Other communities have played this game for a far longer period of time. Muslims have just started learning it.
For a while it will look as though we are taking two steps forward and one step backwards. One such incident is Hillary ClintonÕs recent return of Muslim money.
Hillary Clinton's move forward then backward
In 1993, I was invited to lunch by America's first lady, Hillary Clinton. A nice gesture but there was a problem - it was Ramadan. This was when I was leading the Kosova Task Force, USA, the first Muslim alliance at the North American level.
In response, I politely declined by writing her a letter explaining why I could not attend and how Muslims fast during Ramadan.
Fast forward a few years and Mrs. Clinton wasn't holding lunch at the White House for Muslims during Ramadan, but something more accommodating - Iftar. This symbolism was later followed up by an Eid gathering there which is now one of the routine symbolic gestures offered by politicians throughout North America to Muslims.
Another show of respect was when Mrs. Clinton and her daughter wore scarves on their heads while visiting Muslim countries.
A further step forward was when Mrs. Clinton declared that she supported Palestinian statehood.
In 1998, the first lady spurred controversy when, while speaking to a youth group in Geneva by satellite, remarked, "I think it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state." She added that it was "very important for the Palestinian people" and for the "broader goal of peace in the Middle East."
But last February, she decided to run for a seat in the Senate in the state of New York, where Jews make up 12 percent of the electorate.
This may have played a role in why Mrs. Clinton recently turned down over $50,000 from the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), a Muslim political organization, for her campaign.
However, the AMA have demonstrated political maturity as they denounced the decision.
"The participants in Boston fundraiser and AMA have been greatly appreciative of Mrs. Clinton's willingness to include all Americans in the American public life. Therefore, contrary to assertions by Ed Koch and others, AMA has not, nor will it, seek to undermine the First Lady's campaign, particularly in view of Lazio's xenophobic and divisive approach, they said in a public statement after Clinton's decision.
"We are, however, deeply troubled that Mrs. Clinton has accepted accusations about a major mainstream Muslim organization by a New York tabloid without inquiring about the accuracy of those accusations."
This is only another reason for Muslims to vote. Muslims must realize that these groups who are working to marginalize Muslims are the same groups that have maintained a monopoly over America's policy in the Middle East for the last several decades.
In this New York style smear campaign, ethnic and religious stereotypes, distorted information, partial citations, and complete fabrications are used as tactics of intimidation.
Interestingly enough, two groups are gleefully pointing out the return of Muslims donations. One of them is a number of Muslims who are using the incident as a slap on the face of those Muslims who preach participation in politics, or in their terminology, "sucking up" to the system.
Two steps forward, one step back. How Muslims can move forward without going back.
This is why Muslims must remember to vote on November 7, vote as a bloc to be counted, vote according to the united Muslim decision. Support the endorsement by the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC).
This vote is not about Bush or Gore. This vote is about Muslim empowerment.
It is about unity.
Our voice will be recognized only when we are counted.
Muslims in America have taken one step forward with the endorsement of George W. Bush for president. Now, let's deliver the votes needed to ensure that he wins or at least that his margin of loss is reduced.
This way, whether Bush wins or loses, Insha Allah (if God wills), we will have taken two steps forward, with many more ahead in the future.
However, remember, it is just the beginning of a long process of empowerment. One vote has never given anyone everything.
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I know that probably the largest number of racists and religious bigots are sitting in some of these parties. I know that all have declared Israel to be their friend. However, we have to begin somewhere. You cannot make demands for everything when you have just begun the journey.
This is new territory for Muslim leaders. May Allah grant wisdom to Muslim leaders who are participants in this process that they remain steadfast in their intentions. I request that all of us pray individually and in our Masjids: May God not let their personal gain become higher than the gain for all human beings. That they do not let the Muslim community's interests force them to stand against the truth and justice. May they serve the interests of all human beings. May Allah save them from the corruption of this process.