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U.S.: Muslims Present At Republican Convention, But Influence Unclear

  • Robert McMahon

Muslim-Americans voted in favor of George W. Bush's presidency four years ago. But opinion surveys indicate that since then he has alienated many of them through the antiterror policies that followed 11 September 2001. At the Republican Party's convention in New York this week, Muslims made a notable early appearance, but their overall presence has been low-key. Arab-American party activists, who form a larger presence at the convention, say they believe a second Bush administration would address civil liberty issues at home and press Middle East peace.

New York, 2 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "Oh you who believe, be careful of your duty to God and speak the right words. He will put your deeds into a right state for you and forgive you your faults. Whoever obeys God and his messenger will indeed achieve a mighty success."

Quoting from the Koran, Imam Izak-El Mu-eed Pasha, the Muslim chaplain of the New York City police department, gave the opening prayer at the Republican Party's national convention this week.

Moments later, Zainab al-Suwaij, an Iraqi-born American, spoke out forcefully in support of the Bush administration's war to topple Saddam Hussein.

These were signature moments for Muslim-Americans at a convention that focused on backing President George W. Bush's strong national security posture since the 11 September terrorist attacks. There have been few other formal occasions at the four-day convention for Muslims to lend their voice to the party in power.

Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said there has been a lack of outreach by Republicans to Muslims, who number nearly 7 million in the United States.

Bush attracted Muslim voters four years ago in large part because he campaigned against the use of secret evidence in immigration cases, allowed by a 1996 law. Hooper told RFE/RL that this election season, Kerry has appealed to more Muslim voters by speaking out for civil liberty protections for Muslims who feel victimized by antiterror laws.

The Democratic Party platform this year calls for revisions to the USA PATRIOT Act, a controversial antiterrorism law, to "better protect the privacy and liberty that law-abiding Americans cherish."

Hooper: "The difference would be on the domestic front in terms of civil liberties and outreach. The Democrats have tended to do more in terms of outreach to the Muslim community. And the one who's done the most outreach is Ralph Nader."

Nader is an independent candidate who will appear on ballots in several key U.S. states. He is of Lebanese descent.

Polls show Muslims and Arab-Americans, one-third of whom are Muslim, generally favor Kerry over Bush by a nearly two-to-one margin.

But Arab-American Republicans interviewed by RFE/RL said they believe the party is listening to their core concerns.

Among them is George Selim, a young Arab-American delegate from Virginia: "I'm pleased with what I see so far, but by no means satisfied. I think there needs to be a greater outreach effort done to ethnic minority communities from the Republican Party, especially to the Arab-American community. But nevertheless an effort is being made and that's what's important to see."

George Salem, an attorney who founded and chairs the Arab American Institute, has been active on Republican presidential campaigns tracing back to Ronald Reagan. Salem, a Christian Arab, said Arab-Americans have access to the highest levels of the Bush campaign. He said a key issue has been their call for revisions to the PATRIOT Act: "We have serious issues with the Patriot Act, and I hope it is tailored in a way that better addresses issues of combating terrorism and victimizes innocents less. That is a serious issue -- whether they be Muslim charities or whether they be individuals who are suspected."

Another party activist, Egyptian-born Muslim Shirene El-Abd, expressed understanding for the administration's security challenges in the aftermath of 11 September.
Polls show Muslims and Arab-Americans, one-third of whom are Muslim, generally favor Kerry over Bush by a nearly two-to-one margin.


Like Salem, El-Abd said she believes the party is becoming responsive to the concerns of Muslims and ethnic Arabs in the United States: "We as a community tend to be conservative and we tend to care about issues pertaining to taxes, health care, and education. And we feel that the president has done very well on these particular areas. The disappointments have been with regard to the policy in the Middle East and with some civil rights issues. There seems to be a diligent effort on behalf of the Republican Party and the administration to correct that situation."

At a high-level gathering of influential Arab-American Republicans this week in New York, Congressman Darrell Issa of California noted Bush's support for a sovereign Palestinian state. He believes the president is poised to bring great change to the Middle East: "This man's legacy has to be bringing about peace in the region. Peace and security for the Israelis, peace and prosperity for the Palestinians, a Palestinian state, a democracy in Iraq. All of these will be part of this president's legacy and I think he's going to be just as determined to achieve peace as he was to end Saddam's tyranny."

Arab-American Republicans say they are planning party outreach efforts in the "battleground" states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, which have sizable Arab-American populations.
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