What Muslim Vote?

11/12/2012 12:17 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013
FILE - This combination of 2012 file photos shows U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential candidate Mi
FILE - This combination of 2012 file photos shows U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Boulder, Colo. and Cape Canaveral, Fla. How unthinkable it was, not so long ago, that a presidential election would pit a candidate fathered by an African against another condemned as un-Christian. And yet, here it is: Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, an African-American and a white Mormon, representatives of two groups and that have endured oppression to carve out a place in the United States. How much progress has America made against bigotry? (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Charles Dharapak)

Muslims? What Muslims? On NPR, I heard a piece by Barbara Bradley Hagerty on how evangelicals who voted for Romney were outnumbered by those of other religious communities. A quarter of the electorate is white evangelicals, but it was outnumbered by those of other communities who voted for Obama: 95 percent of black Protestants, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 70 percent of Jewish voters, and 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated voters (the fastest growing segment). I kept waiting to hear the number of Muslims who voted for Obama, but apparently we weren't important enough to mention.

To be fair, American Muslims are a small percentage of the electorate (like Mormons), and the Pew poll referenced Muslims in the same category as other non-Christian faiths. Which in itself is interesting -- we're too tiny and statistically insignificant a group to mention in exit polls and voting polls, but apparently -- judging from the growth of anti-Islam legislation and fear-mongering rhetoric in this country -- quite large enough to overcome the Constitution and the federal government to impose "shariah law" on all Americans.

Nearly nine out of 10 Muslim Americans voted for the Democratic candidate in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2004. But the Muslim American community is a swing community; nearly seven out of 10 voted for Bush over Gore in 2000. Why? Partly because Bush met with the Muslim leadership and Gore did not. The Patriot Act and the war in Iraq changed that for Muslim Americans, as it did for many Americans.

Obama has not met much with Muslims, either, and this time around, Muslim support of Obama was not as enthusiastic as in 2008, due partly to unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan which have targeted funerals of drone victims, as well as rescuers who arrive to help drone victims. Even so, a pre-election poll estimated that 91 percent of Muslim Americans would vote on Nov. 6 and that almost two-thirds would vote for Obama.

One of the problems Obama has had with connecting with the Muslim community is that 30 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of all Americans still, incredibly, believe that Obama himself is Muslim. Less than half (49 percent) know the truth -- that he's Christian. I understand that the president cannot be seen palling around with Muslims, or even using his middle name much. However, those Muslim Americans who did vote for him in 2008 did perhaps expect better than targeted assassinations, drone attacks on civilians, and ratification of secret detention centers within the U.S.

Though the Muslim American community is small, large numbers of Muslims do live in swing states. Sam Bollier of al-Jazeera notes that in 2000, Bush won Florida by 537 votes; about 50,000 more Muslims voted for Bush in Florida than voted for Gore. Bush had actively courted the Muslim vote, and it helped him win the election.

All in all though, the ten most anti-Islam bigoted moments (as delineated by Salon) in the 2012 elections were instigated by Republicans. Just as women defeated rape deniers in Tuesday's election and voted for Obama over Romney by 16 points in the swing states, Muslims voted against Republican anti-Islam rhetoric, legislation (73 anti-Islam bills introduced in 31 states), and policies.

We might indeed be a community to watch -- not as "Islamists" or people trying to somehow impose archaic religious views on others (I've never tried to convert anyone, though I have certainly frequently been the target of conversion attempts by Christians), but as loyal Americans who value the right to vote and value the United States as a place where all our voices can be heard, where civil liberties are treasured, and where freedom of religion is a right. Citizenship in this country and the promise to follow its laws is a contract under Islam; therefore, following the laws of the country we live in is a religious mandate for Muslims. So just watch us vote.