Thursday, November 6, 2008

POST OBABA VICTORY ANALYSIS: What should Muslims do in the brave new world of an Obama Administration?

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 6, 2008 – There is, understandably, a huge wave of euphoria sweeping across the nation, and throughout the world, after Barack Obama's historic Nov. 4 victory in the U.S. Presidential Election.

Also notable is the that the 2008 Presidential campaign also makes the history books as one of the longest and most expensive presidential campaigns – pitting a veteran Republican maverick and "war hero" backed by powerful conservative interests against a previously unknown, first-term Senator and African American with Muslim ancestry.

But the more obvious cause for celebration stems from the fact that for the first time in U.S. history an African-American major party candidate was not only nominated, but actually won the election.

The Obama victory, celebrated by virtually all political progressives, comes after eight years of a truculent and increasingly unpopular Bush administration. The victory comes also in the context of a national financial and market crisis, rising unemployment, a ten trillion dollar national debt, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are draining the national treasury.

As the world celebrates with us, we must pause to ask; what does this mean for Muslims in America and what does this new political zeitgeist compel Muslims to do?

I contend, first of all, that Muslims should exhale a collective sigh of relief as the Bush administration fades into history.

Our joy over the election results should be tempered, however, with a critically needed strategy to consolidate and amplify both our political strength and our legitimate presence in civil society.

Not to diminish that the Muslim community has a lot to be happy about. An Obama administration means, first of all, a new Department of Justice, with (hopefully) a great deal more respect for civil rights and greater willingness to enforce the laws that guarantee equal protection.

The Guantanamo prison camp and torture abomination is likely to be dismantled, and it is likely we will see a more progressive policy in the U.S. Department of Justice regarding protection for immigrant rights, especially those of Muslim immigrants and Latinos.

President Obama will also be in a position to appoint federal judges that can counter-act the right-wing stacking of the judiciary under President Bush, and restore some modicum of objectivity and fairness to the courts.

We might also look forward to a potential shift in resources to enhance education, health, and the internal infrastructure with more emphasis on job creation and positive environmental stewardship and conservation compared with the deplorable record of George Bush and Company.

The numbers aren't in yet, but if Virginia is at all typical of trends in our wider community, it's quite likely to be reported that something in the range of an approximate 90% Muslim American vote went for President-Elect Obama.

The number of registered Muslim registered voters in Virginia, for example, exceeded 72,000 persons in the 2008 election. If 80% of this number voted and 90% of those votes went for Obama, then it is likely that Muslim Democratic votes provided a large component of the margin of Democratic victory in the key battleground states.

While Muslims are a relatively small part of the overall electorate, the bloc voting tendency points to the importance of concentrated and mobilized Muslim votes in close elections.

It can also be observed that Muslims leveraged their voting power by forging new and potentially powerful strategic alliances with, for example, Latino communities, labor activists, and African-American civil rights activists.

In the 2008 election campaign, it is clear that the convergence of shared interests within the Muslim community gave birth to larger, progressive collaborations with other political forces to help move the nation beyond the legacy of the Bush administration.

Yet more sobering realities remain.

While the Muslim community voted in large numbers, our impact on a possible shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East leaves something to be desired.

It is no secret that the policy statements from both President-Elect Obama concerning Israel and Palestine – especially Obama's recognition of Jerusalem as the de facto capital of Israel – reinforces the status quo of American regional foreign policy at the expense of a more even-handed and democratic discourse that recognizes not only Israeli security rights, but Palestinian national and human rights as well.

In the course of his marvelous campaign President-Elect Obama made a concerted effort to directly reassure Jewish voters of his sensitivity to their concerns; in comparison, however, Muslims received no such consideration.

There is also the question of challenges to the legitimacy of the American Muslim identity itself.

We remember that Obama campaign staff members removed Muslim women in hijab from a photograph with the candidate – an action that subsequently resulted in a public apology. However, the incident signaled to the Muslim community a "don't-get-too-close-to-Muslims" policy that may carry over into the Obama administration as positions of power are assigned.

Added to these concerns is the ambivalence shown by the Obama campaign on the issue of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President-Elect Obama's endorsement of American military strikes inside Pakistan raises enormous anxiety and concern for Muslim advocates who seek to demilitarize our foreign policy and create non-violent approaches to building new and better relationships with Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and other majority-Muslim states on the current American military target list.

However, none of these concerns should dampen our hope and enthusiasm at this moment of monumental political change in America. But the realpolitik of our position requires clear vision, sound policy analysis, and above all, continuous Muslim political mobilization and coalition-building work to assure that a progressive Muslim-American agenda is not subsumed, or even lost, in the mix of regime change in Washington.

So let's congratulate President-Elect Obama for his extraordinary victory, and let's share in the happiness that most of the world is feeling.

But as Muslims, let us also continue to strategize and organize, not only for our own community, but for an even more progressive vision of real peace and a better future for all of America - and all of humanity.

MAS Freedom (MASF) is a civic and human rights advocacy entity and sister organization of the Muslim American Society (MAS), the largest Muslim, grassroots, charitable, religious, social, cultural, civic and educational organization in America – with 55 chapters in 35 states. Learn more here. To donate click here.
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