“Those organizations [AMT], frankly speaking, don’t represent their constituencies, and I
think they made a terrible mistake … I think they are not paying any attention at all to what
their constituencies are saying. I’m sorry, politics dictate that I should be gentler, but I think it’s
important to tell the truth.” – Jim Zogby, Executive Committee Democratic Party [i]
“Their decision to cast a protest vote for Kerry indicates that in their views Muslims cannot make a positive judgment on a crucial issue such as election. In fact, they have made a mockery of their intellect, as Muslim masses didn't wait for their decision to make their verdict known.” – Dr. Aslam Abdullah [ii]
In an interesting move, revealing the pressure that the American Muslim Task Force has
been feeling from the criticism that its endorsement is receiving from moderate and progressive
Muslims, the self-appointed political spokespersons for the community have responded to their
critics and tried to explain their actions.[iii]
Unfortunately the response is indicative of the highhanded manner with which these bodies
seek to run Muslim affairs even as they claim that they are representative and consultative in
My response to their response has two parts. The first part includes a general assessment
of their justification for the manner of the endorsement and the second part deals directly with
the response’s efforts to deal with some of the specific criticisms I have made of
their modus operandi.
Part I: Self-Congratulatory and Pompous
The response written by Mr. Tahir Ali, a member of the American Muslim Alliance whose
inability to raise money to maintain even a one person office in Washington DC has been the
butt of jokes for years in Muslim organizational circles, uses language that is remarkably
self-congratulatory and pompous. Consider the following gems from the piece:
“AMT inked itself in history” — I guess from now on along with the discussions of the
Philadelphia constitutional convention, the declaration of independence, the Boston Tea
party and the civil rights movement, American history text books will also devote a chapter
to the epoch making American Muslim Taskforce’s Presidential candidate endorsement in
“AMT has brought national organizations in synch with the American Muslim community”
If this is a reference to national American Muslim organizations, then I appreciate his confession
that the constituents of AMT were indeed out of synch with the community that it purports to
speak for. I only wish that he would acknowledge that this is still true as evidenced by the need
he feels to re-justify AMT’s decisions and glorify it. Such a defensive posture for an organization
that claims to be in synch with its representatives is revealing of its insecurity and not its synchronicity.
The best example of the self-glorification is the claim that “The AMT has built a stable bridge to
the American mainstream.” The claim is fantastic. AMT has already achieved the post 9/11 goal
of the entire American Muslim community. It has single handedly built a bridge, and mind you a
“stable bridge” – we need not worry about Patriot Act II and such even if George Bush is reelected,
since now we have a stable bridge with the American mainstream. Wonder why only Ralph Nader
would give them the time of the day and why John Kerry refused to meet with the body that is so
firmly bridged to the mainstream of America.
Mr. Tahir Ali must consider the American Muslim community; the best-educated sub-community
of the global Ummah, as pretty dim-witted if he thinks they will accept such exaggerated self praise
from him. The California based expert on Muslim electoral politics, Dr. Aslam Abdullah the editor
of The Minaret and The Muslim Observer, has repeatedly advised this very body not to
under-estimate the political sophistication of the community, but they are so convinced of their
own “sophistication, agility, skills, strategic and historic importance” [Tahir Ali repeatedly informs us of
these traits in his article] that they discount and continue to discount the suggestions and criticism
coming from within the community.
Tahir Ali claims that AMT has “received direct and indirect appreciation for its skill and
sophistication” in national and international coverage of their endorsement. He unfortunately fails
to quote a single source that has directly or indirectly appreciated their “skill and sophistication”. But he cannot contain his thrill and delight that Saturday Night Life, a comedy show, has appreciated their skill and sophistication in glowing terms. One of the comedians said “Good”.
But what is interesting is that serious analysis of their decision has been done only by
Dr. Aslam Abdullah, who was very generous and kind in his style but nevertheless scathing and
incisive in his criticism, and yours truly in national (Muslimwakeup.com, Ijtihad.org, iqra.typepad.com, muslimnews.com, chowk.com) and international media (Daily Times, Pakistan). There have been other postings also very critical on various blogs including AltMuslim.com, which is edited by Shahed Amanullah who was part of the AMT deliberations. Mr. Tahir Ali completely ignores these criticisms in his review of the press coverage of their decision. The Daily Times not only carried my critique but also published a report on how their endorsement was being criticized. [iv] But Tahir Ali refuses to acknowledge them.
It is interesting that Tahir Ali does not address the substantive criticism of the “protest vote” idea. Critics
have pointed out that the language of the endorsement, not the endorsement itself, will alienate John Kerry.
Has the Kerry campaigned welcomed the endorsement. The AMT website does not report any such
welcoming statement. Tahir Ali neither reports nor deals with Jim Zogby’s comments reported on the top
of the page. An unusual oversight from someone who scours “national and international media” and
comedy shows in search of praise for AMT’s “sophistication and skills”. Zogby is probably one
ranking member of the Democratic Party who is most sympathetic to American Muslim issues and he
seems to have no respect for the political skills of AMT. He made the following interesting comments to
“The Muslim groups don’t know what it means to work in coalitions. If they really prioritized the issue
of civil rights, as AMT claimed from the beginning, then they would have needed to demonstrate that
commitment by seriously working together with African American, Latino, Asian, Women’s, and even
gay rights groups. They didn’t, and they probably won’t in the near future since they are held back
by these organizations’ socially conservative leaderships that would rather make nice with an
anti-immigrant group than be caught dead supporting a woman’s right to choose.” [v]
Also why will Kerry work with AMT or with the Muslim community of he took AMT as their
representative voice when it says “we are voting for you only as a protest against Bush”. Tahir Ali
has no answers. His strategy seems to be, ignore all the criticism and latch on to any praise, even if it
comes from comedians. Aslam Abdullah nailed the AMT on this issue [I am sure AMT must be
familiar with the survey that Abdullah is referring to since they claim to be in synch with the community].
Contrary to the appeal of AMT asking Muslims to cast protest vote, Muslim masses are supporting Kerry for his agenda and integrity. In a poll conducted by the Muslim Observer of its readers before endorsing Kerry, revealed that some 65 percent of likely Muslim voters support Kerry for his domestic agenda including health care reform, fiscal discipline, no taxation policy, education reform, social security preservation, and Supreme Court judge’s appointment. They also identify with his approach to deal with the Patriot Act in order to protect the civil liberties of all Americans. A vote for Kerry is based on the understanding of Muslim voters of his agenda and programs[vi].
Part II: Misinformation and Subtle Deception
Tahir Ali’s response is obviously endorsed by AMT since it is the only venue where it has been published
so far. In his response he seeks to challenge my criticism that AMT is not representative and is self-appointed. He tries to achieve this by saying that
(1) We are a united and representative group that has reached a consensus in a very sophisticated and skill
(2) According to surveys 81% American Muslims support our agenda.
Let me address these issues point by point. But I must preface this by pointing out that Tahir Ali has been
very deceptive in his response and is deliberately misleading the Muslim community and the mainstream community.
1. His deception is obvious from his refusal to acknowledge that there has been strong criticism of the
AMT endorsement from many quarters within the Muslim community raising serious issues about his
claim of representing consensus.
2. He does not acknowledge that members of the Democratic Party have been very critical of AMT
[see the Jim Zogby quotes in this article].
3. He tries to suggest that the “protest vote” reached unanimously, his exact quote see his pt. (1)
“Every decision was made unanimously.” This is an outright lie. There was no consensus.
On October 19, Rachell Zoll an AP reporter wrote that AMT was leaning against endorsement. [vii]
Then MPAC, now the largest and the most influential Muslim political action group withdrew from the
coalition so that AMT could issue a reluctant endorsement of Kerry [viii]. MPAC has subsequently decided
to not issue an endorsement and I applaud their decision. Withdrawal of MPAC and it subsequent public
position distinct from AMT’s clearly belies Tahir Ali’s claim that “every decision was based on
consensus. ” Consensus emerged by excluding everyone who disagreed!
It is remarkable that Tahir Ali completely glosses over the withdrawal of MPAC.
I interviewed Dr. Aminah McCloud a prominent African American Muslim scholar of Islam and community
leader. She told me that the American Muslim Taskforce does not include the American Muslim Society
(African American), the single largest American Muslim group in North America. She also had interesting
thoughts on the issue of the protest vote and the qualified endorsement of John Kerry. She said and I quote:
“Many in the African American Muslim community see problems with both candidates but they would not
say that we would normally vote for Bush but since we are upset with him we will vote for Kerry, this is
not their sentiment at all.” [ix]
I also interviewed Faizan Haq, the General Secretary of Pakistan American Congress the largest
Pakistani umbrella group. He told me:
“Pakistan American Congress trusts the Pakistani American community to make an informed decision
and has decided not to endorse any candidate. Also we do not consider the American Muslim Taskforce
as an organization that represents us.” [x]
In response to my article, “American Muslim Leaders Insult John Kerry and Alienate George Bush,” which
criticizes AMT’s ill-advised protest endorsement, Shahed Amanullah, who participated in the AMT
deliberations had this to say on a public forum:
“Muqtedar, I argued many of these same points at the AMT meeting, but to no avail. The Muslim working
within and for the Kerry campaign, including myself, couldn’t agree with you more.” [xi]
He makes an additional point besides exposing the lack of consensus within AMT. He also suggests that
AMT’s backhanded endorsement of John Kerry is embarrassing Muslims who are working for the Kerry
campaign. I think it is apparent that neither was there a consensus within AMT, nor is there a carte blanche
for representation for AMT from the American Muslim community. They do not represent two of the largest
American Muslim groups, The American Muslim Society established by Imam Warith Deen Muhammad and the Pakistani American Congress. I could go down the line and call all other communities, the Iranians,
the Turks, the Bangladeshis, but that would be overkill.
4. Both AMT and Tahir Ali point to the Zogby poll/MAPSProject poll to claim that 81% of American Muslims
support “AMT’s election plan”. This is a deliberate attempt to mislead people into believing that a large percent of people actually support AMT’s strategies and follies. The poll says that 81% Muslims support their “agenda” and both Tahir Ali and AMT report it as supporting their “plan” this is deceptive; it is unacceptable and unIslamic! [xii] According to AMT’s website their agenda is:
Our ‘civil rights plus agenda’ is broadly organized under three categories: a) civil and human rights,
b) domestic issues of peace and general welfare, c) global peace with justice, prevention of war,
and United States relations with the Muslim world.
Who will not support this? I am surprised that Muslims did not respond by advocating 100% support for this.
I support it completely and so will most people in America, including those, who might erroneously think that members of the AMT are basically agents of Hamas and Al Qaeda. Senator Carl Levin a few days ago, made comments supporting this agenda in one of my classes, would he also support AMT and their plan?
This shameless ploy alone is indicative of the duplicity of the members of AMT. Why didn’t they ever conduct
a survey asking whether American Muslims trust them and will take their advice? They had 8000 people who
attended their session at ISNA they could have distributed a questionnaire there and got a carte blanche.
American Muslims have realized the importance of civil rights and have therefore shown support for candidates from the Democratic roster in this election. American Muslim support for John Kerry is a positive vote for Kerry and the recognition that the forces on the right in this country are a threat to their civil rights; since groups aligned with President Bush, some evangelical Christians, many neoconservatives and anti-immigration groups are promoting Islamophobia in this country.
The American Muslim taskforce does not represent a large section of the community. Even those it claims to represent were appalled by the nature of their endorsement recognizing that it does more harm than good for the American Muslims. Do not take my word, call Muslim groups and leaders and listen to them express anger and displeasure at the lack of sophistication, lack of skills and political acumen in those who claim to represent us.
The best thing for the Muslim community to do is to avoid trying to manipulate the system, avoid swinging from one party to another like a monkey chasing a banana, work with both parties, individually vote your conscience and above all understand and appreciate the democratic spirit of this nation. I have discussed the merits and problems with block voting in detail [xiii] and maintain that not endorsing while being deeply engaged at many levels is a better strategy, some groups like MPAC and the Pakistani American Congress, and most groups in mainstream America seem to understand this.
PS1. Memo to John Kerry: All the best and may you win in November, inshallah. Many American Muslims have worked with you, contributed to your campaign and will vote for you. Those of us, who support you, support your agenda and our vote for you is a positive vote
PS2: Memo to Bush: You have been unduly harsh on us, but still some of us support you and will vote for you. If you win, please keep that in mind.
FLASH: Islamic Society of North America, the biggest member of AMT has recently announced (Oct. 22, 2004, two days after AMT’s annoucement) on its website that it does not endorse any single candidate, again belying the AMT claim that it represents all its constituencies and that its decisions were reached unanimously. I quote their posting specifically relevant to AMT’s announcement.
“ISNA firmly stands by and reiterates its standing policy, in its capacity as a religious, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, to (1) not support, endorse or oppose the candidacy of any persons seeking election to public office, and (2) not permit any organization to support, endorse or oppose any political candidate in its name.”
I am sure that ISNA will now take some kind of formal or informal action against AMT for claiming that ISNA is included in its “protest endorsement” of John Kerry.