This election, American Muslims are showing maturity.
Amid all the talk about the voting inclinations of Asians, blacks and Hispanics in the 2008 election, one group barely gets any attention: the six-million-strong American Muslim community.
In the 2000 elections, American Muslims were still largely a gullible political community, and a majority voted for George W. Bush. Eight years later, Bush’s support among the same community has evaporated.
Since 9/11, the United States has been involved in wars in two Muslim countries (Iraq and Afghanistan), with a civilian death toll of perhaps 100,000 — or more.
In addition, Muslim-Americans have had to endure religious profiling, special registration, mass hysteria and false arrests. Muslim visitors have been expelled from the country for the pettiest of violations, whereas visitors from other countries are allowed to stay here under the same circumstances.
In addition, we recall the farce that is the one-sided U.S. support for the Israeli government at the same time that the Bush administration uses the rhetoric of being an impartial peacemaker. And we deplore Washington’s support for dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
For these reasons, American Muslims have parted company with the Bush administration.
And this year’s Republican candidates have not been attractive, either.
Fortunately, the three candidates who had used the most vitriolic anti-Muslim language (Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney) have all dropped out of the race.
As for the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, he continues to promise “victory” in Iraq by increasing the level of troops and arms. And this is the same McCain who has said that America is a Christian nation, and that Muslims are less fit to lead this country.
Many American Muslims are genuinely invested in finding a candidate who actually sees the United States as responsible member of a global community, and not just a bully.
And that’s why the overwhelming support of the Muslim community now has shifted to the Democratic side, and specifically to Sen. Barack Obama.
Sen. Hillary Clinton generates little interest among Muslim-Americans. She favors an “undivided” (i.e., all Jewish) Jerusalem, which would signal even further suffering and catastrophe — even ethnic cleansing — for Palestinians who for more than a thousand years have called Jerusalem home.
And Clinton has signed on to a bill that makes war with Iran more likely, as it specifies that Iran is waging a “proxy war” against the United States in Iraq. It is this kind of language that got us ensnared in Iraq in the first place.
Obama, on the other hand, condemned Clinton’s vote on Iran and stressed diplomacy. Obama’s cosmopolitanism — raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, son of a white Midwestern mother and a Kenyan father — also resonates with many Muslims who want their president to be a global citizen, for a change.
When he began his political career, Obama courageously supported the idea that the United States should be a real honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. Over time, however, he has distanced himself from the Palestinian side.
Yet many American Muslims remain hopeful that a President Obama would bring his vision of peace and justice back to all the areas of U.S. foreign policy, including the bleeding wound that is Palestine/Israel.
Pundits, take note: Overwhelmingly, American Muslims will be casting their votes for Obama.
Omid Safi is professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He can be reached at email@example.com.