Disillusioned by Obama, Muslim Voters Face Tough Choice
New America Media | 9/13/2012, 2:34 p.m.
At a time when U.S. Muslims and mosques are increasingly under attack, some Muslim Americans say Obama has not taken a strong enough stance against Islamophobia.
The Democrats' inclusion last week of support for marriage equality and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their official party platform may have further disillusioned some Muslim voters, who were already critical of Obama's failure to properly address the discrimination their community has faced.
"If the convention recognizes same-sex marriage, I wouldn't give them [Obama-Biden] my vote. It could be that I won't vote at all," said Mohamud Yussuf, editor-in chief of the Somali magazine Runta in Seattle.
Four years ago, Obama enjoyed overwhelming support from Muslim voters - 89 percent of the population voted for him. There is currently no polling data indicating the percentage that intends to vote for Obama this November, but politically active community members agree that enthusiasm for his candidacy has waned.
In particular, many say they are disappointed by the way Obama has shied away from addressing an apparent rise in Islamophobia spreading throughout the United States.
In the last two weeks of Ramadan alone, there were nine incidents of attacks on mosques across the country; and during the 2011-2012 legislative cycle, a total of 78 anti-Islam state laws were introduced, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Meanwhile, Obama, in an effort to respond to false claims by some conservative activists that he practiced Islam, has repeated on several occasions that he is not Muslim.
"Instead of saying there is nothing wrong with being Muslim, he just likes to distance himself, making it like being a Muslim is a crime," said Yussuf.
Zahra Billoo, a Muslim civil rights attorney in the Bay Area, agreed that Obama has not been vocal enough as a "result of a fear of being called a secret Muslim."
"He has visited mosques in other parts of the world, but not a single one in the United States," said Billoo. "The Daily Beast had a story a few weeks ago about the half dozen Islamic institutions that have been attacked recently. Imagine that had happened to churches and synagogues and then imagine the president would not speak about it, or visit one of these sites."
In fact, Obama hasn't been silent on the issue of Islamophobia; Muslim Americans note that he has spoken out on several occasions against anti-Muslim attacks. But they say his defense of Muslims has been more limited in scope than what the community would like to see.
For example, Obama defended Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, praising her as "an American patriot" in response to charges by Republican Representative Michele Bachmann that she was secretly tied to Muslim extremists. But Zahir Janmohamed, a Muslim former Congressional staffer, noted that Obama's defense was singularly about Abedin.
"What about the run-of-the-mill 20-year-old Muslim kid who has just come to D.C. who wants to work for Congress? That's the kid we have to defend," said Janmohamed. "No one stands up for them. It's a very chilling environment. I blame Obama in many ways for his complete unwillingness to stand and up and recognize his role."
Some Muslim Americans also believe that their needs are being ignored, while Obama makes an effort to meet the demands of other minority voters.
"He has made concessions to various special interests or minority groups in the last year to win over their vote - suspending the deportation of Dream students, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell - but I haven't seen a concession like that to the Muslim community," Billoo noted.
And while there was a record number of Muslim American delegates at the DNC last week, Muslim voters noticed that there was not a single Muslim speaker at the convention.
"We've got two Muslim members of Congress - neither of them is speaking," said Janmohamed. "These conventions are always the chance to spotlight someone who deserves a national profile. Surely one of these Muslim candidates is a good person to put up there."