It’s volatile these days, that “M” word. And the hostility toward Muslims has never been higher, with an unprecedented acrimony in our national conversation as well as a crescendo of attacks on mosques, Muslim homes and cemeteries.
Soon after the Sikh temple shootings and the burning down of a mosque in Joplin, Mo., Rep. Joe Walsh (R, Ill.) spoke to a town hall meeting and said, “There is a radical strain of Islam in this country … trying to kill Americans every week.” Soon after his speech, shots were fired at a Morton Grove, Ill., mosque.
Arizona Republican congressional candidate Gabriela Saucedo Mercer was born in Mexico and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. According to Mercer, “If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them they look Mexican or like a lot of people in South America. And those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States. So why do we want them here, either legally or illegally?"
Interestingly, mainstream media report this Islamophobia but choose to ignore the KKK-style firebombing of a Florida Muslim family home, repeated desecration of an Illinois cemetery and shooting at the Morton Grove mosque, among other assaults.
Instead of underscoring that we are a nation of immigrants, that our diversity is our strength and our Constitution promotes harmony, the Republicans are generating votes whipped up with hate and fear-mongering.
And just as I was feeling alienated with all these verbal and physical attacks, along came the Democratic National Convention and I felt the comfort that my children do have a place in the land they were born in, and the only one they have known.
Only four Muslim delegates attended the Democratic National Convention in 2000; 24 attended in 2004, 43 in 2008, and this year a whopping 100 were there. This is opposed to the handful of Muslim delegates that were at the Republican National Convention this year.
The Republican Party is 89 percent white; the Democratic National Convention was full of color in more ways than one.
While the Christian, Jewish and Sikh faiths were invited to bless the two conventions, neither invited a Muslim cleric. Yet while the Republicans avoid the “M” word, President Obama invoked it loud and clear: “From Burma to Libya to South Sudan, we have advanced the rights and dignity of all human beings, men and women; Christians and Muslims and Jews.”
The issue of God and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been missed in the platform at the Democratic National Convention and a voice vote was taken three times to include them. When the vote for the Jerusalem issue was called there were many ayes from the crowd and there were loud nays as well, with the camera zooming in on the Muslim delegates.
There are 6 million to 8 million Muslims in the United States, with large concentrations in the swing states of Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their vote can be critical in this election, especially with the polls showing such a tight race.
Muslim-Americans voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008, but the last four years have been palpably disappointing. According to a Gallup Poll President Obama’s job approval rating in his first 100 days in office was 85 percent and in November 2011 it had fallen to 76 percent -- still higher than what he receives from the public overall.
Many Muslim-Americans feel disillusioned by President Obama’s foreign policy: the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the civilian toll of endless drone attacks in Pakistan and the threat to veto Palestinian statehood in the United Nations. The promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has gone unfulfilled as well. The Obama administration has also continued the policies that are seen as targeting minorities such as police surveillance of Muslims and mosques.
Not long ago some Muslims still stinging from the Palestinian statehood veto threat, the sense of virtual internment that they feel, could well have voted Republican. But with the crescendo of hate-speech from Republican legislators and the cold shoulder from Romney and Ryan, most now feel that Obama is their only choice.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) the first Muslim congressman, was articulate: “The Muslim community doesn't have a real choice in this election, because Romney is awful and completely stands in opposition to the interests of the Muslim-American community. If there's anything about Obama you don't like, triple it when it comes to Romney."
The rise in the number of Muslim delegates at the Democratic National Convention signifies increasing Muslim civic engagement as well as the greater acceptance of Muslims in the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party should go on overdrive to garner the Muslim vote. We could swing the election and this in turn would catapult Muslim-Americans as a vital political group -- a symbiosis made in heaven.