Muslims hampered without a lobby presence in US |
Arab News - 09 August, 2012
Author: Sabria S. Jawhar
Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that France is the paragon of secularism that promotes religious freedoms while maintaining a separation of church and state.
In their latest salvo against the Muslim community, French authorities fired four Muslim summer camp workers for fasting during Ramadan. Apparently the workers endangered children’s safety because they would not have the ability to react properly in a crisis.
I’m sure when France passes new legislation banning fasting during work hours, that they will not just single out Muslims but also include workers who are dieting and people who must fast before medical tests. Or maybe people who are not just hungry. We should give France a break since we all know that burqa ban in public and hijab ban in institutions are just misunderstand.
If you are not that naïve, then I must ask why Muslims allow themselves to be victimized. Sure, local Islamic organizations are raising a fuss, as they should, and the four workers are planning to file complaints with the Labor Department.
But the lack of outrage among Muslims over discriminatory practices against government workers, banning Shariah in all instances and the preventing the construction of mosques does not bode well for the future of the Ummah. There is an urgent need to organize to work with and inside governments.
Many Muslims loathe the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for its successful lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. to win favorable legislation that benefits Israel and American Jews. They do a remarkable job of advancing the cause of Israel, and use tough tactics to strike fear in US lawmakers who dare to oppose Israel’s interests. No US lawmaker wants to be labeled “anti-Semitic.” But as we have learned since 9/11, being identified as “anti-Muslim” doesn’t have the same sting. It gets you facetime on CNN and Fox News.
Muslim bashing has developed into a lucrative cottage industry with speaking gigs, stays at five-star hotels and travel to Europe to mingle with right-wingers. Anti-Semitism earns individuals a column in a neo-Nazi pamphlet and perhaps jail in France, which, by the way, never got over its embarrassment of sending thousands Jews to their deaths during World War II to satisfy their Nazi masters.
But I digress. I admire AIPAC for what it does for Israel. Any lobbying group that can get US lawmakers to give a standing ovation to Benjamin Netanyahu, but snub their own president wields immense power. But I don’t get why Muslims can’t get their act together to develop their own lobby. American political candidates like money just like everybody else. And AIPAC lavishes campaign contributions on candidates who express unwavering Zionist support.
AIPAC plays an integral part in helping the US exchange with Israel expertise in defense, counterterrorism and domestic security. Although it receives no financial assistance from Israel, wealthy donors support AIPAC. Arabs and Muslims have no such group and there is no political will to organize one. This makes AIPAC and similar Israeli groups that much stronger, although the US population of Jews and Muslims are roughly the same at between 6 and 7 million each.
A uniform Muslim lobbying group could present a socio-political platform, but working against the concept is the diverse ethnic groups and religious views of Sunni, Shiite, and Muslim sects. This in itself makes it virtually impossible for a unified voice to push legislation that guarantees the rights of Muslims and to strengthen anti-discrimination laws.
Turkey may lobby the US on behalf of its government, and Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US certainly benefits Saudis. Yet these efforts fail to reach deep inside the domestic issues Muslims face in the US and to effect foreign policy on other Muslim countries. Consider the waves of campaigns throughout the US by small communities opposing the construction of mosques or the non-existent threat of Shariah used as a legal standard.
Government’s can impose their will on domestic issues, but Muslim lobbyists can make a difference. For now, Muslims must rely on such groups as the non-Muslim American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center for protection of their rights. Other non-Muslim civil rights groups take up the cause in Europe.
Fawaz A. Gerges, who holds the Christian Johnson Chair in International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence University in New York, said recently that the Israeli lobby is a “well-organized” and “well-recognized” influence that “is taken seriously by the foreign policy establishment.”
He added, “The Muslim community does not possess the political, institutional and financial prerequisites to make a difference in the American political arena. It takes time, organization, and institutional building to do so.”
Unfortunately for Muslims, a late start in developing a strong lobby organization comes with baggage. Many Americans and American lawmakers conflate Islam with terrorism. Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s recently launched an effort to identify alleged Muslim subversives in US government, And Fox news network’s recently characterized the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as a “lobby” to attempt to intimidate the media.
Any effort to create a lobby is met with accusations of Muslims organizing a syndicate or a Muslim mafia. But without a unified effort established now — not next year or the year after — will only make success that much more difficult to have our needs addressed in the West.