Muslim Voters and the Hillary-Obama Primary Contest

Muslim Matters

Muslim Voters and the Hillary-Obama Primary Contest

By Kaleem Kawaja

The Democratic Party Presidential Primary election contest between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barrack Obama is in full swing. Her impressive wins in the primaries in the important states of Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island have enthused Senator Clinton’s campaign and has stopped the earlier impressive momentum of Senator Obama who had earlier recorded a string of victories in caucuses and primaries in several states. The see-saw close contest between the two frontrunners and the upcoming primaries in the important states of Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina in coming weeks are generating a lot of excitement among not only Democrats but Independents and Republicans also.

In the weeks since February 5th – Super Tuesday – the Democratic Party’s primaries have become the focus of much electioneering and excitement. That excitement has swept up the American Muslim voters also. As the media is bringing up more news about the past records and positions of both candidates, the electorate at large is continuing to refresh its views and positions in this razor thin race that may go down to the wire to the Democratic Party’s Denver convention itself.

One expects that like voters of other religious denominations Muslim voters will be in all camps; John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama. It was expected that McCain having differed from President Bush on several key issues e.g. immigration, campaign finance reform, abortion, the Guntanamo Bay prison and the conduct of the war on terrorism, and having positioned himself only slightly to the right of the Center, some Muslim voters may support him. But the picture of the community is otherwise. Today you will find only a handful of Muslims supporting John McCain, perhaps because of his pro-Iraq war stance. When we turn to the Democratic primary contest between Clinton and Obama the expectation is that Muslim voters will look at the detailed backgrounds of both candidates, their experience and electability in the November election, in making a decision for the most important job on earth.

Surprisingly what we find is that quite a large number of Muslim voters, including the well educated folks, are getting swayed into the Obama camp. They seem to pay no attention to the fact that as President Bill Clinton did provide significant support to belaguered Muslims around the globe, namely Bosnia, Kosovo, Russia, China, the Muslim nations in Africa, and that he made a sincere effort to resolve the Palestinian problem in 2000. Instead a lot of Muslim voters seem to have developed a tunnel vision. In their tunnel vision what they see are emotional factors; namely Senator Obama’s middle name ‘Hussain’; his late father being a Muslim; him being a colored person; and his very idealistic rhetoric.

Surprisingly when news broke about the frequent, overblown, anti-American and very harmful rhetoric of Senator Obama’s long time pastor and close friend Rev Jeremiah Wright (“God Damn America”, “praise for the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorist attack on US”, “allegations that US Government disseminated germs of lethal diseases like HIV in the African-American community”), it was strange to see quite a few Muslim supporters of Senator Obama not cringe from it, look the other way, or find alibis for it, rather than condemn it. Also Muslim voters are ignoring the fact that Senator Obama is maintaining a lot of distance from the Muslim community to the point of not even recognizing the sizeable existence of Muslims in US; is the only Presidential candidate who unilaterally proclaimed more than a year before the election that as President he will unilaterally bomb Pakistan; and has expressed strong support for Israel vis- a- vis Palestinians. One wonders if Muslim voters have reflected on the possibility that if elected President, Barrack Obama may, in his own interest, under pressure from conservatives and other anti-Muslim lobbies, totally ignore the interests of Muslim Americans?

At the same time in discussing Senator Clinton’s campaign with Muslim voters I often hear some of them mention with distaste her relations with the American Jewish community, and her suitability as President in view of her female gender. Also, many of them believe negative rumors about her background without verifying them.

Such one-sidedness by a significant proportion of US Muslim voters against Senator Clinton in a close primary contest, with so many primaries to go, makes me wonder why our Muslim community is not more balanced and mature. We should undersand that the Jewish people in US are another immigrant religious minority like us that has worked itself into an influential position in US society with sheer hard work and after struggling against much prejudice and many odds. In the 1400 year long global history of the Muslims, except for the last sixty years, Muslims and Jews have always gotten along very well. Yes, the brutal activities of the state of Israel in behaving in a beastly manner against the Palestinians in the last sixty years is abominable. We should appreciate the fact that in both Israel and US a significant number of Jews oppose the harsh policies of Israel towards the Palestinians.

We American Muslims and our children are destined to live in US for a long time to come. Is it logical for us American Muslims to maintain such intense antipathy and allergy towards the very influential and well entrenched US Jewish population that, the mere support of many (not all) US Jews to Senator Clinton’s campaign is making us oppose her without properly reviewing the merits of her candidacy and her electability in November?

In the 2000 Presidential election the American Muslim voters made a similar error of judgment when they overlooked the many strengths of the Gore-Lieberman ticket, and were swayed into the Bush-Cheney camp simply because George Bush promised to review the government policy of profiling of Muslim passengers at US airports, and because Lieberman was a Jew.

Does it not behoove the well educated American Muslim voters, that like other US mainstream population, they look dispassionately at all the merits of the candidacies of both, the senator from Illinois and the Senator from New York, and that consequently they be divided in the two camps somewhat evenly as is happening in most communities and places in US? America’s other minorities eg the Jewish- Americans, and Americans of other faiths and ethnicities eg Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Indian-Americans are about evenly divided between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Should not Americsn Muslim worry that most of their community being in the favour of one candidate it may earn them the alienation of a significant number of mainstream Americans, which is harmful for their future in America? The time to think and act is now.

The writer is a community activist in Washington DC. He can be reached at


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