Black Americans comprise about 40% of the U.S. Muslim population. So in his introductory remarks at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America, Mehdi Bray (meh-DEE BRAY) made a wry reference to the problems Muslims of varying ethnic backgrounds face these days:
"I find myself in a post-September 11 environment; I have to worry about driving while black and flying while Muslim."
With that, Mr. Bray, who is executive director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, launched a discussion of what the various political parties offer Muslims in this election.
Agha Saeed (AH-ghah Sah-EED), chairman of the American Muslim Task Force, referred to a post-September 11 atmosphere of hostility to Muslims in America. Among extremists, he said, there is this opinion:
"The real weapon of mass destruction is Islam, and therefore Islam itself must be destroyed."
That was far from the opinion of the various political party representatives who addressed the conference. Steve Rauschenberger, a Republican State Senator from Illinois, cited his personal experience:
"The power of the prophet has touched my family directly. I just want to share a story with you. I have a niece who was raised a Episcopalian all her life. She went away to university out in New York City and three years ago, she converted to Islam and our family is proud of her. You changed my nieces' life, you changed my family and our understanding of Islam, and the Prophet."
Mr. Rauschenberger added that Muslims can change other lives as well. You have a great opportunity to reenergize the United States, he said. We are excited that you are here and look forward to watching the contributions you can make to America. Mr. Rauschenberger then quoted from the speech California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave at the Republican nominating convention in New York:
"To my fellow immigrants listening tonight, I want you to know how welcome you are in this party. We Republicans admire your ambition. We encourage your dreams. We believe in your future. One thing I learned about America is that if you work hard and play by the rules, this country is truly open to you. You can achieve anything."
Joseph Moore, a Democratic Alderman in Chicago, also related a personal experience that brought him closer to the Muslim community. He noted that he represents the 49th ward of the city of Chicago, the Rogers Park area:
"Those of you who are familiar with my city and my neighborhood know that Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods, not only in the city of Chicago but in the entire nation. We have people literally from every corner of the globe. We have a history of being a port of entry for immigrants and we have among our community many people of the Muslim faith, who contributed much to the vitality of my neighborhood.
Mr. Moore cited Democratic Party objections to the war in Iraq and to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which is directed at terrorism but has upset Muslims in some instances of its enforcement.
"This is the most important election that I have faced in my lifetime and perhaps in the history of this nation. The stakes has never been higher for this nation or the world and the stakes has never been higher for the Muslim community. I give you the United States so-called U.S.A. Patriot Act, an act that has been used indiscriminately against immigrants, in particular, immigrants from the Muslim world."
While agreeing with these Positions, Jo Chamberlain, a leader of the Green Party, said neither of the two major parties were effectively dealing with them:
"Those two parties are now speaking with one voice. They are not speaking for people like me. They are not speaking for many of you and your community who don't want violence and want their civil rights. Both of the candidates running for this presidency voted for the war. They voted for the U.S.A. Patriot Act. The Green party stood and will continue to stand against those things."
While not attending the conference, Jack Spencer, Senior Policy Analyst at Washington's Heritage Foundation said Muslims should not consider either the war in Iraq or the U.S.A. Patriot Act directed against them.
"The war on Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. It has nothing to do with Religion. It has everything to do with dictatorship and the tyranny and the terrorism that spawned through dictatorship. And what the U.S.A. Patriot Act did was allowed law enforcement to use the same sort of tools that they used to catch drug dealers and other white collar type criminals and apply those same tools to international terrorists."
As the Chicago conference indicated, American Muslims have a wide choice of political options this election year and political parties that are anxious to please them.