By Dr. Aslam Abdullah
Muslim citizens of America have as much freedom to express their opinions as other Americans. The question is how do we exercise that right. We can argue that the institutions meant to give us the opportunities to express our views are a facade, as they donâ€™t really serve people, or we can use these institutions to express our opinions, no matter how feeble they may be.
The forthcoming November 7 elections offer one more opportunity to Muslim Americans to make their voices heard quietly. The fate of thousands of aspirants for public offices is at the mercy of American voters and as conscious citizens Muslims can be a part of determining the destiny of such people.
Ideally, we would have preferred a Muslim institution to help people make a better and educated choice. Ideally, we would have liked to develop a better understanding of candidates, issues, propositions and other election related matters. However, we lack an effective institution that can provide us fair and balanced information about elections. Our media is still in its infancy, and it lacks resources to study, analyze issues and inform readers of alternative choices. Our organizations are still in their adolescence, unable to effectively educate their constituents on the real dynamics of democracy.
Certainly, at some point of our efforts to make our voices heard, we have to devote part of our resources and energy in strengthening our media and creating institutions relevant to our needs, but for the time being we have to rely on what we have and what we can do.
In the forthcoming elections, from a Muslim American perspective, four issues are of great importance.
The number one issue, least talked about by candidates and political parties, is civil rights. Recent legislation has virtually ended the privacy of individuals, and has made a huge dent in the process of safeguarding freedoms. We had long cherished the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty. Under the new laws, people–or at least some people–are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Thus, when we make our choices on November 7, we must ensure that the candidates we are voting for stand for those freedoms that have been taken away from us.
The second issue is the economy. Despite the fact that stock market is rising and more jobs have been created, we are a nation living in trillion of dollars of debt. The deficit size has tripled over the last six years. Most of the jobs created in the last six years are in the defense industry. In order for these jobs to sustain, we as a nation have to be constantly in a state of war. Thus we must ascertain that those who represent us have an understanding of the economic issues we face.
The Iraq war is the third issue. The war has caused us a severe financial burden. It has resulted in the loss of almost 650,000 civilian lives and nearly 3,000 US soldiers. Despite three yeas of US presence in Iraq, the violence has not subsided. In fact it is on the rise. Stability is nowhere in sight, and political chaos is prevalent.
Thus on November 7, we must ascertain that the people we are supporting have an understanding of the ground realities in Iraq, and that they are willing to make bold choices to help us out of the situation.
The fourth issue is corruption in our houses of legislation. It is no secret that our representatives regularly and continually trade political and economic advantage in return for favors of cash and in-kind payments. What we know is only the surface. There are more than 30,000 lobbying groups working in Washington. There are approximately 66 lobbyists for every congressperson. This is frustrating as it defeats the very purpose of democracy.
In the early stages of democracy the average size of a congressional district was no more than 20,000 people. Now a congressional district is as large as 6 million people. Our representatives have lost touch with their constituents, and lobbies have taken over. Thus, on November 7, we must ensure that the candidate we are choosing reflect the options of voters rather than that of paid and biased lobbyists.
Illegal immigration is the fifth issue. We are a nation of immigrants. We need to make bolder choices on the issue. We must devise a policy that is fair to new immigrants and that provides people wishing to settle in America fair choices through legal means. Those who have illegally entered the country must not be denied their basic human rights regardless of the method they chose to enter the country. Thus, on November 7, we must elect those who view immigrants not as aliens but as human beings deserving a humane status regardless of their legal status.
Additionally, we must also be watchful of those candidates who have spread anti-Islamic sentiments during their previous tenure in office. There are many congressmen who have openly shown hostility towards Muslims. Regardless of their party affiliations they must be given a clear message, that the Muslim voters of America will dispose of congressâ€™ racists and bigots by means of elections.
Elections are as much about oneâ€™s consciousness as they are about political empowerment. We must be willing to listen to our conscience more than to the demands of political expediency. After all, when we exercise our freedom, we have to be mindful of something else, i.e., the highest Authority to Whom we all are accountable for every choice, as little as it can be, that we make in every aspect of our life.