American Muslims are following this year's presidential election very closely. With an estimated population of three-and-a half-million people, they could be an influential voting bloc. Kimberly Russell reports.
Muslim and Arab-Americans generally supported Republican President George Bush in the 2000 election, but the U.S.-led invasion in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and domestic policies after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, have eroded much of the support. The polling firm of Zogby International and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., recently released a survey that shows 76 percent of Muslim-Americans now support Senator John Kerry, the Democratic Party candidate.
Imad Ad-Dean Ahmad, co-founder of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, a non-partisan Islamic think tank, says Arabs and Muslims in the United States are opposed to some of the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism policies.
IMAD AD-DEAN AHMAD, MINARET OF FREEDOM INSTITUTE
"The treatment they are getting in the case of civil liberties, with thousands of Muslims being arrested without even their identity being revealed to their friends and families and the general public. With the invasion of Iraq, a pre-emptive war that is a distraction from the war on terrorism, all these things have baffled the Muslim community."
But, the Bush administration insists that its anti-terrorism policies do not target Muslims and Arab-Americans. FBI Director Robert Mueller has said Muslims and Arab-Americans have been helpful, even providing translators in several anti-terrorist investigations.
ROBERT MUELLER, DIRECTOR, FBI
"We appreciate the help and support of the many in the American and Muslim communities who have already given us so much since September 11th."
Some Muslims and Arabs continue to support President Bush, because of reservations about Senator Kerry. They are unclear about Senator Kerry's stance on some issues, or find him too liberal. Many Iraqi- Americans also support the President, because they are pleased about the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The Muslim community in the United States, estimated to include almost 2-million registered voters, is diverse and culturally conservative. It includes immigrants from South Asia, Europe and Africa. Black Americans are also part of the Muslim community.
Zahid Bukari is director of "Muslims In The American Public Square," affiliated with Georgetown University. He says despite the tense sometimes, hostile environment that some Muslims believe they now encounter, they are using the current situation to gain more visibility.
ZAHID BUKARI, DIRECTOR, MUSLIMS IN THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SQUARE
"Not only did post 9-11 raise challenges, but post 9-11 also it gave them opportunity, the media contacted them, schools contacted them, multi-national corporations contacted them. Everywhere wherever Muslims can speak English, I think he or she was contacted by the media, by schools, by churches, anybody to explain their story."
This year's elections have mobilized Muslims to take part in politics. Again,.Zahid Bukari.
"On the one hand, lot of anxiety profiling, discrimination, and everybody feeling the pinch of those conditions. However, on the other hand, when we asked, 'would you take part in the political process,' 90 percent said 'yes'."
Muslim groups have been holding voter registration drives and candidate forums. Volunteers are also arranging transportation to the polls on Election Day. Muslim leaders say they expect the highest-ever voter turn-out from their community.