Many Muslim and Arab-Americans have expressed frustration that U.S. President Barack Obama made promises in his 2008 campaign that he was unable to keep. That includes closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and pursuing policies that would ease the profiling of Muslim-Americans. But this voting bloc is also not confident that Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama’s rival in the November election, is a better choice. During a recent journey to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Romney made comments that offended many Palestinians and Arabs worldwide.
VOA’s Mohammed Elshinnawi spoke with Saba Shami, president of the New Dominion Political Action Committee, and Nihad Awad, executive director for the Council of American Islamic Relations, about the Muslim-American demographic and their voting preferences.
What do Muslim-Americans think of Obama?
Shami: “We feel that [Obama] attempted to mend the [U.S.] policy with the Muslim world. However, we also feel that the changes in the Muslim world have not helped the president in formulating a clear policy. I think the Obama administration did not anticipate some of the unrest and revolutions in the Arab world. Therefore, most of the action taken by the U.S. government was reactive as opposed to well-thought or well-planned action toward the new realities on the ground in the Muslim world.”
Listen to more of Saba Shami’s insights (3:30):
Awad: “From the indications we have been looking at, American Muslim voters are unenthusiastic about the lack of delivery on some promises made by President Obama and the level of enthusiasm to participate in the election is low compared to previous years, in particular to 2008, when about 92 percent of Muslim-American voters voted for Obama.”
Will Muslim-Americans vote for Obama?
Shami: “There are two levels: One emotional and one practical. The emotional level is that, no matter how you look at it, it remains that [his] middle name is Hussein. The practical level is that yes, a vast majority of Muslim-Americans are clearly not rich people. Therefore, some of the policies that he instituted and pushed for – such as the health care plan and tax breaks for certain income brackets – do affect the Muslim population, just as it affects the rest of America. Our interests are often more served by our support for a Democratic candidate than a Republican.”
Awad: “American Muslims feel closer to the Democratic platform than the Republicans’. This is because the anti-Muslim propaganda and bigotry has been mushrooming within the Republican Party’s platform, through the presidential candidates. Even recently, through the GOP [Republican] platform, we have seen anti-Muslim sentiments built on misinformation. Resorting to fear-mongering is evidence of a lack of leadership, indifference toward American Muslim votes and American values of inclusiveness and equality.”
Listen to more of Awad’s information on the Muslim American demographic (3:20):
What will encourage Muslim-Americans to vote?
Shami: “It takes more than a quick answer. It’s easy in the sense that so far, Romney has offended every Muslim-American every step of the way in his dealings with the Arab and Muslim world – such as the way he dealt with the Palestine issue. He made some statements the dumbest Arab-Americans would find offensive.”
Awad: “There is a long list of issues that, in order for the Obama campaign to secure these votes, Muslim-Americans have to see some solid initiatives that will assure them about the rights and demands in terms of better policies toward the American Muslims, inclusion and even better foreign policy toward the Muslim world.”
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.