CC ISSUE: FEB 2012 Last updated: Feb 24, 2012
Political Diversity in the Muslim Community: Perspective from College Students
Muslims come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. They are a heterogeneous people, hailing from as east as Malaysia and as west as Canada. More than their cultural difference, however, Muslims differ in their political leanings and ideologies.
As we approach the 2012 presidential election, the future of the country as a superpower has been put under a microscope. The Crescent interviewed two young people on what they think in regards to political life, the issues and how the Muslim community can benefit from joining the dialogue.
Naureen Rizvi is a junior at the University of Chicago, currently majoring in public policy and statistics. She said her political views may not fall into the mainstream of a two-party system, as she considers herself an Independent. She says the issues are huge when it comes to who she votes for.
“I am very interested in the candidates’ stances on international issues,” Rizvi said. “With the United States’ relationship with countries liked Iran, Syria and Pakistan, you wonder – what are we going to do to respond?”
In addition to world affairs, Rizvi also noted domestic issues as a concern. The recent stall in Congress for a vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act sparked shutdowns across the web.
“I would want to know the candidates’ view on SOPA and PIPA,” Rizvi said. “It’s been put on the table, and it’s not gone.”
Rizvi also discussed several domestic and local government issues she thinks Muslims should examine when choosing a candidate.
“We’re in need of major criminal justice reform because so much taxpayer money is going to prisons, yet we have high recidivism rates,” she said. “If we’re talking about Chicago alone, we also see a segregated city with racism. The kind of question we should ask elected officials is, how can we work towards racial equality?”When it comes to Muslims voting for a candidate, be it congressional, presidential or other office, she senses strong, emotional, knee-jerk responses in place of substantive solutions to keep officials accountable for their campaign promises.
“As a Muslim, I don’t want to hear apologetic politicians. I want them to back their claims, especially some of these GOP presidential nominees,” Rizvi said. “I want to hear their opinion on an economic turnaround. I’m graduating in a year and I want to hear some solutions on how my peers and I are going to find jobs after graduation.”
Rizvi leaves readers with an important piece of advice this election season.
“Don’t jump onto the political bandwagon,” she said. “I care what politicians think about my religion but I want that to be built in their political platform; for instance, instead of saying, ‘I love Muslims,’ but then subject, for instance, Muslims to extra airport screenings.”
Rizvi also said Muslims must get involved in government in any capacity they see fit, as she sees it as an asset to work as a policy consultant or lobbyist.
“When you get back to Capitol Hill, you see relationships being built. Why can’t the Muslim community also enjoin in it? We end up creating something that would give us a holistic life experience,” she said.
Yazan Elkhatib is a project engineer at Hamilton Sunstrand in Rockford. He thinks Muslims need to get more involved in their local politics.
“If we don’t care about politics and voice our opinion, they will look at us and say Muslims don’t vote, and that they don’t care about what happens in their government.”
Elkhatib used a foreign policy as an example.
“Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Elkhatib said. “We’re hearing Newt Gingrich say that the Palestinians are an ‘invented people,’ and that there is no such thing as Palestine.”
The fact is, Elkhatib says, is that certain Jewish community-supported lobbying groups are pouring money into supporting Israeli government’s policy and convincing others that the Israeli occupation is a good thing.
“They (lobbying groups) have support of the Jewish community, and then the feel like ‘we’re set,’” Elkhatib said. “Muslims have to get involved. It’ll improve the situation in the whole world.”
Elkhatib said he feels the Muslim community doesn’t always look to one factor when electing a representative.
“The majority of the community bases their decision off their own economic and social situation, but a good number don’t look at the issues facing the larger Muslim community as they should,” he said. “There are a set few who attend the mosque on a regular basis are more likely to care about the community’s interests and views.”
Elkhatib said that is something that needs to change.
“In order to have a better life, you have to lead the community,“ he said.
When it comes to riling up our community, however, Elkhatib agrees emotional reactions are important to acknowledge.
“I think Muslims go look more toward religious views when they vote for a candidate,” he said. “If they said anything bad about Muslims or a Muslim country, Muslims will look into that before the candidates’ political platform. We look at the politics, but his or her views towards Muslims and what they are doing to helping their Muslims is almost always at the forefront.”
Ekhatib said his political leanings aren’t always black or white.
“In the past, I tended to side with Democrats, but I am an independent and whatever candidate I think is better for the Muslim community is the person I will support,” he said. “I don’t look at a political party to choose a candidate. Otherwise, you’d be following a leader blindly.”