A Muslim response to the 2004 election

By A Janelle Scharon

Assalam Alaykum. As we woke up Wednesday morning (at least those of us that went to bed Tuesday night) to the unrelenting clamor of pundits and pollsters, the reality that the outcome of this presidential election has disappointed the Muslim electorate—and the far larger Muslim population in this country—seemed to sink in inevitably. Amid the news and projections, the upsets and sweeps, the Electoral College and the popular vote, somewhere between Ohio and Florida, seems to lie the hopes and aspirations of the Muslims in America.

To be sure, there were things that were somewhat uplifting this time, if only because of their contrast with the fiasco of 2000: the increased turnout, the relative lack of voting improprieties, and the larger participation by young and black voters. However, all these positives seem only to put in stark relief the dismay of Muslims at not seeing “their” candidate make the victory speech, especially after backing him by as much as 93 percent according to one poll.

The reality is that, despite all their attempts to vehemently oppose each other throughout the bitter and heated election season, Bush and Kerry failed to credibly (and sometimes even civilly) differ with each other on the issues, at least those that matter to the Muslims in this country. President Bush sought the occupation of Iraq; Senator Kerry would have done it too, but “differently.” President Bush unleashed the Patriot Act (with its evil cousin Patriot II in the works); Senator Kerry would have done it too, but “differently.” President Bush sent $80 billion of our taxes—money needed here for schools, Medicare, Social Security, creating liquidity and jobs in the cash-strapped and anemic markets—to Iraq; Senator Kerry famously voted against it before he voted for it. President Bush considers Ariel Sharon to be an ally in the “war on terrorism;” Senator Kerry claims that the Saudis wield the most influence on the US government and economy.

As far as the Muslims of this country are concerned, the race for the president of the United States was a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

President Bush would have pursued the great misadventure he calls “Operation Iraqi Freedom” exactly the same way, even if he had known there were no WMD before the war. Senator Kerry called it the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time and yet supported the bill authorizing war (2002), a war that consumed thousands of Iraqi lives as well as the lives of many non-Iraqi and non-combatants.

For all their pronounced dissimilarities—Protestant/Catholic, conservative/liberal, Southerner/New-Englander—it is difficult to find discernable ideological differences between Bush and Kerry. This was in no small part due to the stupefying, inarticulate stubbornness of the one and the inscrutable, sometimes incomprehensible “I voted against it before I voted for it” vagueness of the other. However, there was a deeper reason for this lack of contrast: with an electorate as viscerally divided as this nation’s, posturing takes precedence over position. You don’t have to disagree with your opponent’s position on any issue to assume a posture that is yet antithetical to his. Thus Kerry can be a liberal, Catholic, Massachusetts Democrat and still, in essence, favor the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and latent Islamophobia as does his conservative, born-again Protestant, Texan Republican opponent.

So what did Muslims actually lose yesterday? What might have they won had the outcome of the election been different?

The answer is: not much.

We voted with intensity and singular vehemence, as we should have. We did what we felt we should do in our innermost core. For some of us, I imagine voting for “our” candidate had a cathartic effect—the release of pent-up anger, dismay and hopelessness festered by three years of varied and continuing disillusionment and suffering. We did what we had to do. And it did not seem to amount to anything.

Skepticism is often enervating, sapping the mind of possibilities and stifling its ambitions under the weight of actual or imagined gloom. However, skepticism in the face of “defeat” can be quite invigorating.

So rest assured. The outcome of the election would not have mattered much if we had voted some other way, any other way. I do not mean that we didn’t have enough registered Muslim voters in Ohio to swing the majority in that state—that may or may not be true. I mean that had “our” candidate won somehow, the ideological similarities between him and the incumbent on issues that concern us would have made the outcome practically the same. When it came to our issues, we were not offered a choice to begin with.

I for one don’t intend to mope for or dwell on supposedly unfulfilled hope. I refuse to feel sorry for John Kerry’s loss. I know this will sound displeasing, even offensive, to many readers. To them I can only suggest the hope that is rooted in our faith, and sustained by a measured dose of skepticism against “what might have been.” Wassalam, Saleem Siddiqui.