US Muslim Civil Rights in 2012 Elections

By Umar Lee
Freelance Writer — Missouri, US

American Muslim - Reuters
US Muslims are heading to the polls also thinking about civil rights abuses against them and a growing climate of Islamophobia.(Reuters)
US Muslim Civil Rights in 2012 Elections

Heading into the 2012 US election cycle, US Muslims face the same issues as their fellow citizens: unemployment, a sluggish economy, educating their children, dealing with crime, etc. However, US Muslims are heading to the polls also thinking about civil rights abuses against them, a growing climate of Islamophobia, and a recent wave of violence aimed at Muslims.

In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 the Presidential Administration of George W. Bush set forth a wide-array of policies aimed towards Muslims in America as part of the “war on terror.” This included the closing of Muslims charities such as the Holy Land Foundation for alleged ties with designated terrorist organizations, strict monitoring of financing for Muslim organizations, increased surveillance of the community, deportations, visas for Muslims foreign nationals not being renewed, prosecutions and the jailing of popular Muslims figures, and other controversial moves that upset US Muslim leaders.

Eroded Trust

In 2008 the widespread support of the US Muslim community to the campaign of Barack Obama was fueled by the understanding that he would not only roll back the unpopular tactics of the Bush Administration regarding the Muslim community in America, but that he would also end the wars in the Muslim countries. With the continuation of the Bush-era polices, many US Muslims are entering the 2012 elections with far less enthusiasm for Obama. Incidents such as federal-informants entering mosques in “entrapment snares,” the bullying of Muslim immigrants by law-enforcement, and the New York police surveillance of the Muslim community has deeply eroded the trust that many US Muslims have in their own government. Meanwhile, anti-Muslim forces in America are increasingly more aggressive and organized.

Anti-Muslim forces in America are increasingly more aggressive and organized.

The “Anti-Shari’ah” Movement started by the anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi has led to the banning of shari’ah law in many American states. These laws prohibit the legal recognition of weddings, divorces, wills, and shari’ah-based business agreements. The laws are differently written in each state; but the most egregious to Muslims is the Tennessee version which technically, if taken to the letter of the law, bans the practice of Islam altogether.

A Missouri draft bill that had also been used in other states specifically stated the adherence to the Hanafi, Malaki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Jaafari, and Salafi schools of thought should be made illegal. This bill was later altered and the anti-shari’ah efforts in Missouri were ultimately defeated due to the opposition of Democratic lawmakers from St. Louis and Kansas City who participated in a Muslim Day at the state capitol to oppose the measure.

With support from the Tea Party and the Republican grassroots these bills have at their core the argument that Islam is not a religion but rather “a violent political ideology,” as Christian minister and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson stated. In each state, as these efforts have gained strength, local Muslims have aligned with civil-rights organizations, most notably the American Civil Liberties Union, to oppose these efforts.

Hate Speech and Empty Heads

The anti-Muslim hate speech is amplified online where many US Muslims find themselves the victims of Islamophobic cyber-bullying.

The campaign against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in Lower Manhattan led by anti-Muslim bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer has descended into a nationwide campaign against the expansion of existing mosques and the building of new ones. Planned new mosques in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Tennessee, Florida, and California faced stiff and vocal opposition, sometimes leading to acts of vandalism and violence from opponents. Using the American legal process, the planned mosques were able to go forward for the most part.

Yet, in Joplin, Missouri, an established mosque was burned to the ground after being targeted in repeated attacks. Just as in the case of the anti-shari’ah movement local Muslims have organized to defend the mosques and found allies of all faiths. An online fundraising drive to rebuild the Joplin mosque was wildly successful with money coming from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Hate speech against American-Muslims is also increasingly on the rise and is at a level that, Muslim leaders complain, would not be tolerated for any other group. Right-wing talk-radio hosts such as Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Dana Loesch, and Sean Hannity regularly take to the airwaves with anti-Muslim hate-speech and the FOX News cable station has been the repeated target of complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Muslim advocate groups. The anti-Muslim hate speech is amplified online where many US Muslims find themselves the victims of Islamophobic cyber-bullying.

Mainstream Muslim voices have limited access to the media and the Muslims on television and radio are often marginal. North Carolina-based Muslim civil-rights activist Jibril Hough of the Bureau of Indigenous Muslim Affairs (BIMA) has complained about Zudhi Jasser, a neo-conservative “who could hold a convention of his followers in his living room,” being a regular guest on programs. Asra Nomani, Irshad Manji, Michael Muhammad Knight, and other marginal figures on the left (and in the case of Knight an apostate and Manji a non-observant Baha’i) with no degree of expertise are often called in the liberal media. Organizations such as CAIR, BIMA, the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and others have complained that this shuts out the mainstream Muslim community from discussion of the affairs of the community thus making the civil rights situation worse.

Muslim Vote: Romney or Obama?

There are US Muslims encouraging Muslims not to support either candidate due to Republican overt Islamophobia and perceived covert Democratic Islamophobia.

The Tea Party and right-wing of the Republican Party, having been the biggest force for Islamophobia, have turned most American-Muslim voters away from supporting candidate Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates. Yet, there are some Muslims in the US supporting Romney on the basis that he is better for the economy which will help all Americans, and a religious-conservative closer to the social views of most Muslims; however, on the issues of wars in Muslims countries and the civil rights of US Muslims there is no tangible difference between Romney and Obama.

There are others, such as Bay Area Muslim activist Hanif Mulazim encouraging Muslims not to support either candidate due to Republican overt Islamophobia and perceived covert Democratic Islamophobia. This is a faction that largely supported Republican candidate Ron Paul in the presidential primaries or did not vote at all.

Muslim defenders of the Obama administration argue that Muslims have been hired to key positions in the government (such as Huma Abedin the wife of the staunchly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner) and well-known Muslim figure Shahed Amanullah who has been brought into the State Department to promote “cultural diplomacy.” They argue that the Democratic Party is the party of civil rights and has fought for the rights of other minorities in the US at various times in history and if Muslims support Obama and other Democratic candidates in a “bloc vote” the community will be rewarded in a second-term.

Experts are predicting that most Muslims will vote for Democrats because that is the only party reaching out to the Muslim community in any kind of organized effort for the vote and willing to have any kind of dialogue with Muslim leaders.

Related Links:
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Umar Lee is a writer based in St. Louis, Missouri; he may be reached at umarlee@gmail.com.

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