Political Memo to American Muslims

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

November 9, 2004

It is time for American Muslims, American Jews, American Hindus and Buddhists, American Christians who are moderate, secular and liberal, to come together to form a moderate and pragmatic center, eschewing the aggressive anti-religiosity of the extreme left, respecting the religiosity of the right, to restore balance, and preserve American democracy and its traditionally balanced relationship with what Alexis de Tocqueville called its first institution—religion.

For American Muslims the comprehensive victory of political Christianity in the American elections holds many lessons if only they are willing to learn.

For months Muslim leaders and organizations bragged that American Muslims were going to vote for Kerry in large numbers, refusing to acknowledge that there is a constituency for Bush in the Muslim community, thus alienating not only George Bush and his millions of supporters but also those Muslims who support Bush. I had consistently argued against any endorsement, but our wise leaders chose to issue a strangely worded “qualified” endorsement of John Kerry which was welcomed by neither camp and much pilloried by moderate Muslims.

American Muslims, who have less than 2 million votes [six million Muslims are not all adults and citizens], seem to be under the illusion that they are the only people who have understood and discovered the power of block voting. The Christian block has sent them a message that they can ignore only at their peril.

The analysis of leading Muslim organizations was very weak, party-centered and focused only on issues that concern American Muslims or Muslims abroad. American Muslims cannot become effective players if they do not immerse themselves into the politics of this country and engage with it as an inside player and not as an outsider manipulating it for partisan gain.

American identity is gradually changing. What we saw on November 2 was just the tip of the iceberg. American Muslims have to think hard about what position they wish to occupy in the New Republic and fight even harder to get it. American Muslims must respect the diversity within the community and use it as a strategic asset rather than trying to impose a false unity that will crack under pressure.

American Muslims will likely face a tough future. President Bush has clearly conveyed that he sees his electoral victory as an endorsement of his agenda. He will renew the Patriot Act and may even expand it. He will continue to seek regime change overseas with increased vigor. Some of our homelands may have to contend with the enhanced energy in the White House.

We cannot fight this agenda on all its fronts. We must prioritize and throw all our energies behind the key issues. My recommendations to Muslims is to dump ideology, especially the Islamist ideology which is the mirror image of political Christianity, and adopt a pragmatic approach designed to protect the American Muslim community and work towards integrating it with American mainstream. Forget foreign policy—focus on local issues. Build local bridges, local relationships.

Most importantly, launch joint projects with local churches and synagogues, and I do not mean “dialogues.” Engage in civic and social projects. Nothing integrates more than doing things together, fighting battles together.

Teach our children to be proud Americans and proud of Islam, curb the anti-American discourse. Community leaders must learn to be able to distinguish between criticisms of government policies – this is healthy and necessary—and simple anti-Americanism—this is dangerous and will undermine the community.

We must learn about American history and American present. It is important to know and understand what is happening in this country of ours. American Muslims have tried to cerate a sophisticated and a rich Islamic ghetto in America, engaging with America only on our terms, it is time to come out of this ghetto and meet America on its terms.

There is a battle raging for the soul of America, lets partake in it and leave our mark on what America becomes.