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Go down the list of pertinent issues on marriage, family values, and the defense of life 78 percent of Muslims are pro-life and you begin to wonder with all they have in common with other religious conservatives, including Catholics and evangelicals, why the Muslim viewpoint gets so little attention.
At a recent briefing at the Islamic Institute in Washington D.C., I was told that Muslim activists observed closely how lay Catholics were organized in helping elect President Bush they, too, want to organize as a political and cultural force. With six million Muslims in the United States and a very high degree of education, wealth, and political participation (i.e., voting), Muslim leaders think the time has come for their perspective to be heard.
Catholics leaders, notably Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore and Cardinal George of Chicago, already have a strong track record of meeting with Muslims and exploring areas of possible collaboration. Evangelical leaders have lagged behind in this respect.
Khaled Saffuri, President of the Islamic Institute, expressed his frustration at constantly being seen through the stereotypes of the Muslim terrorist or the enemy of Christianity. He explained that Muslims are in a very similar situation to that of Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century, who were seen as Catholics first and Americans second. “We are trying to understand what it means to be Muslim Americans.”
Thus far, Muslims evidently think being an American means voting Republican. In the 2000 election Muslims voted Bush/Cheney between 58 percent to 70 percent depending on whose poll you believe. According to the Tampa Bay Islamic Center, Bush got 88 percent of the Florida tally, or 55,000 Muslim votes. In Michigan, out of 168,000 Muslim voters, 84 percent went for Bush.
Grover Norquist, the well-known conservative organizer and activist, describes the Muslim community as “natural conservatives.” The stereotypes of terrorists and anti-Christian are ridiculous, he says, since only one out of six Muslims are of Arab descent, and, of the three million Arab-Americans, two thirds are Christian.
It is also a mistake, according to Norquist, to consider them a drain on the U.S. economy: “Muslims immigrants don’t walk across the border penniless they fly into airports, largely to attend American universities.”
No doubt their wealth may make it possible for some sort of Muslim Coalition to emerge along the lines of the Christian Coalition.
Muslim fundraising prowess was recently demonstrated by the short length of time it took for two million dollars to be raised for an upcoming PBS film on the life of Mohammed.
The Muslim leaders gathered at the Islamic Institute are ready to move forward but don’t yet know what form their grassroots initiative will take or how closely it will be tied to a political party. But you can bet that both Democrats and Republicans will be paying attention. A Muslim magazine called Islamic Horizons already exists with 100,000 readers, which provides a ready-made base for action.
A famous political organizer told me that once you have 100,000 members of a grassroots organization you are the “force the political parties have to contend with.” I would guess the Muslims I met with this week are on the verge of just such a breakthrough.