Tag Archives: 2012 election

A Moment With…Omar Sacirbey

By Sarah Breger

A June 2011 Pew poll found that 76 percent of Muslim Americans approved of President Obama’s performance in the White House—a figure far above the national average. The Muslim American community also voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in 2004 and in 2008, a major shift from 2000, when more than three-quarters voted for Republican George W. Bush. Despite these numbers, many Muslims are disillusioned with the president and the changes they believe he promised but hasn’t delivered. While the Muslim electorate is far from monolithic, and its numbers make up just a small fraction of the country’s population, Muslim voting power may prove significant in a close election.

Moment’s managing editor Sarah Breger speaks with Omar Sacirbey, a Boston-based correspondent for the Religion News Service and other publications, on this often-overlooked portion of the electorate.

MM: You recently wrote an article on presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s support in the Muslim community. Is there a “Muslim vote” in America? What are some factors that contribute to the Muslim vote?

OB: There’s more diversity in the Muslim vote this time around than in past elections. There’s a number of reasons for that. The community is becoming more diverse in terms of immigrants and American-born Muslims, and Muslims who came here when they were very young. Regarding Ron Paul, there is a mix of factors as to why this is happening. One is disappointment in Obama. When Obama won the 2008 election Muslims were hopeful, but those hopes have been somewhat tempered. Now, three years into his administration, many Muslims are disappointed that he hasn’t gotten the United States out of Afghanistan; they’re disappointed that he hasn’t done more, in their view, for the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and they’re disappointed in regards to civil rights issues, such as the Patriot Act and policies on indefinite detention, and so on. When they hear Ron Paul, they’re turned on by his statements on getting the United States out of Afghanistan and out of foreign engagements altogether; his desire to cut aid to Israel, indeed, to cut all foreign aid in general but again that he is including Israel; as well as his strong opposition to the Patriot Act and what a lot of Muslims—and others—see as draconian civil rights policies.

MM: Do Muslim Americans align with his social policies?

OB: There’s a mix. A lot of people are willing to overlook disagreements on these social issues in favor of these broader issues. Just like maybe some “values voters” might be willing to overlook Newt Gingrich’s divorces in favor of his conservative agenda.

MM: And are there areas where winning the Muslim vote is vital? 

OB: It’s hard to imagine the Muslim vote being a “make or break” kind of a vote, but it could make the difference in some states where there is a fairly large Muslim population, such as Michigan or Ohio, which are swing states. Possibly even Pennsylvania, where the Muslim population is probably smaller than in Michigan or in Ohio, but perhaps still big enough that in a state that’s going to be closely contested it could make a difference. There’s also a fairly significant Muslim population in smaller states, like Iowa. Again, it’s hard to see them making a huge difference, but if it’s going to be a closely contested election, every vote really will count.

MM: Are there candidates who are actively courting the Muslim vote?

OB: In this field—no. Romney, Gingrich, Santorum are viewed by Muslims as pretty much anti-Muslim candidates. I think you’d be hard pressed to find Muslims who support these guys. We will likely see similar behavior from Obama as in the past election, where a lot of Muslims were disappointed that when opponents would say, “Oh, he’s a Muslim,” or has Muslim sympathies, he wouldn’t say, “Well, I’m not a Muslim, but what’s wrong with being a Muslim?” like Colin Powell did. A lot of Muslims were disappointed in that, but others understood it and are willing this time around to forgive him for that

MM: Will the recently proposed anti-sharia legislation and surrounding discussions factor into voting decisions or serve to galvanize the Muslim vote in any way?

OB: It wouldn’t surprise me, because it has become such a prevalent issue since the whole process was initiated in Oklahoma—a lot of Muslims really are upset by this. They consider sharia to be personal and private and don’t want any kind of mixing between religion and government. They’re really offended by these types of actions, and scared by what they consider to be ignorance and hatred of their faith by these people who are in government. The anti-sharia movement has been a catalyst for many Muslims to become more active, even just getting out more in their communities. If you have a kid in your local elementary school, you’re maybe that much more likely to go to a PTA meeting, to go to a school board meeting, just getting out there and being visible. I think if that’s been the case, then it stands to reason that there could be a backlash against this anti-sharia movement, and a desire by Muslims to stand up and vote against people that are advocating these kinds of laws could be a factor that gets them out to the polls in November.

What We’re Reading: Election Edition

by Sarah Breger

The Highlights

The new issue of the Jewish journal Sh’ma, which focuses on “the Jewish electorate in 2012,” is full of interesting pieces worth checking out. Of note is an essay by historian Jonathan Sarna on the role of the Jewish vote in past presidential elections. Sarna writes that the 1868 election was the first election that saw a focus on the Jewish vote; Republican candidate and Civil War hero General Ulysses S. Grant worried that his 1862 order expelling all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi—his military district—would come back to haunt him.

On the contrary, Sarna writes:

In fact, a number of prominent Jews supported Grant, preferring his message of unity and peace to the openly racist message of his Democratic opponents, who opposed Reconstruction and promised to abolish black suffrage. Jews in that election faced a conundrum that may sound familiar to readers today: Should they vote for a party they considered bad for the country just to avoid voting for a man who had been bad to the Jews?

Two other noteworthy bits of trivia from the article: The great Jewish switch to the Democratic party only came in 1928, and Jimmy Carter captured only 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980.

On Our Desktop

  • The wonderful Ariel Levy’s New Yorker profile on Callista Gingrich.
  • The Christian Right is dying.
  • Proof that feathered hair and floral dress shirts will, in fact, go out of style one day.

Go East, Mr. President

by Maddie Ulanow

We’ve passed the first two weeks of November, and the 2012 presidential elections are now just a year away. It seems the campaign is already in full swing, and Israel is already an issue on the table; Republicans are scrambling to defend it and place President Obama’s Middle East policies in a bad light, and Obama is similarly grasping at straws to defend himself.

In response to Republican claims that he “threw Israel under the bus” (from Mitt Romney) and that his policies are “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” (courtesy of Rick Perry), the President’s supporters have claimed he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done for Israel, and the President himself gave a highly political, heavily worded speech at the United Nations seemingly designed to pull the Jewish vote back in his favor. Because that’s what a lot of this is about, isn’t it? The Jewish vote.

Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, but that support is now slipping steadily (along with his support from other groups). A May survey revealed that only 12 percent of Jews surveyed viewed his policies as pro-Israel, while after his UN speech 54 percent–a significant jump, but still low. Republicans would love to sway pro-Israel Jewish voters wary of Obama’s policies, particularly in swing states such as Florida.

Amidst all this political back and forth, accusations left and right and a president struggling to maintain his simultaneous image as a light for the Arab world and also an ally of the Israeli democracy, Obama has yet to visit Israel during his presidency.

Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter each visited during their first terms, setting a Democratic precedent. But Obama hasn’t been since he was a candidate in 2008, leading some to wonder if he sees Israel as a mere political tool. According to Politico, the White House says they want to reserve a trip for when “the president can advance the peace process,” but current efforts have fallen to pieces and a 2012 trip risks being seen as a political maneuver–which it is, essentially. In theory, an Israel trip would build confidence amongst the Jewish base and reaffirm his stance as their ally.

In light of the recent news buzz surrounding French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Obama’s private conversation, in which Sarkozy called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and Obama responded with unenthusiastic remarks about Netanyahu, Obama needs to go to Israel not just to score political points, but to re-solidify his commitment to a long-time ally. Republicans will no doubt jump on his failure to defend Netanyahu, and the comments cast doubt on unity between Israel and its Western allies. But Obama needs to visit Israel not just to score political points, but to see just what Netanyahu may or may not be lying about. He needs to see the settlements, revisit the rocket-battered villages in the south, meet with members of Knesset and see the situation from the ground before he decides who’s a liar, who’s telling the truth, and who else is just as desperate for political points as he is.

At this point, if Obama doesn’t go before 2012 –which doesn’t seem likely, after his trip to Europe and upcoming tour of Hawaii, Indonesia and Australia–it will seem like a political move. And it will be. But if he wants to protect the Jewish vote, and to truly understand facts on the ground, it is a necessary one.