In a major backlash against the Bush administration, key Arab
and Muslim political groups voiced unanimous support for Democratic
presidential nominee John Kerry with a string of election
endorsements this month.

But despite their backing of Kerry, many Muslim and Arab voters
may still be left choosing the lesser evil in the upcoming
election, as members of both groups say they still have
reservations over both candidates.

The Muslim tide against the president’s re-election
culminated yesterday when the American Muslim Taskforce — an
umbrella organization of 10 Muslim groups — endorsed Kerry,
calling for a “protest vote” against the Bush
administration. An expected 81 percent of the Muslim population
will back the Taskforce’s decision, according to a recent
joint Zogby International and Georgetown University nationwide
poll.

Earlier this month, both the Arab American Political Action
Committee and the Muslim American Political Action Committee issued
the same mandate for Kerry, citing similar reasons for the
endorsement, such as Bush’s foreign policy and the Patriot
Act.

Signaling this charge against Bush are polls that indicate a
wide dissatisfaction with the President’s policies among
Muslim and Arab groups. The Muslim population exhibits an
overwhelming disapproval, favoring Kerry over Bush by a 76 to 7
percent margin in the same Zogby and Georgetown poll.

Arab American opposition toward Bush has been less pronounced
but marked nonetheless, with 49 percent of the Arab vote supporting
Kerry, in contrast to the 31.5 percent for Bush, in the four
battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida,
according to another Zogby poll conducted in September.

With more than 9 million Arab American and Muslim votes in the
balance of an already dead-locked election which may hinge on blocs
of minority voters, the strong anti-Bush sentiment among Arabs and
Muslims comes as bad news for the president. Moreover, majorities
of both constituencies voted for Bush in the 2000 election.

Yet since then, many Arabs and Muslims have turned against Bush
because of common grievances over domestic and foreign policy. But
some still hesitate over selecting Kerry as a viable
alternative.

Delayed by about a week, the American Muslim Taskforce’s
endorsement came late due to worries over Kerry’s proposals
concerning the Iraq war and security issues.

AMT President Agha Saeed said that Kerry has not addressed
procedures that are “harassing Muslim Americans.”

“He also has not offered any plan to bring the troops home
(from Iraq),” Saeed added.

Doubts over the vagueness of Kerry’s messages impeded any
strong consensus from forming, said Yaha Basha, a member of the AMT
and a Bush supporter.

“It’s an endorsement with a lot of reservations, and
there’s still a lot of negativity about it. And (Muslims)
don’t expect that they are going to be that much better off
than with George Bush. … That’s the reason why the
endorsement was delayed — because they were afraid he would
be a disappointment,” he said.

But for AMT and the Arab American Political Action Committee,
frustration with the Bush administration compelled their
organizations to endorse Kerry.

Osama Siblani, AAPAC’s treasurer and former president,
said reneged promises, an unjustified war in Iraq, and
America’s reputation in tatters underline the reasons fueling
the disappointment and betrayal many Arabs and Muslims feel toward
Bush.

Built on a platform of arrogance and neglect, Siblani added,
Bush’s presidency backtracked on its 2000 election promises
to end racial profiling. The Patriot Act and its enforcement caused
a sharp rise in racial profiling, he said.

“In (AAPAC’s meetings) with him, he said to us that
racial profiling would not be used, and he was sensitive to our
concern. But what happened? We have had more secret evidence and
racial profiling since he was elected,” he said.

Further underscoring the opposition to Bush of many Arabs and
Muslims is the Iraq war. A nationwide poll by Bendixen and
Associates, a Florida-based consulting group, found more than 70
percent of both Arab and Muslim Americans rate Bush’s
handling of Iraq negatively. At the same time, 54 percent of Arab
Americans believe Bush misled America about the need for war.

Both Muslim and Arab groups say while Kerry does have
weaknesses, they judge Kerry’s policies superior and more
progressive than Bush’s. AMT President Saeed said,
“Kerry has at least taken half a step. But Bush stands
still.”

Not all Muslims and Arabs believe the endorsements reflect their
community, said Jafar Karim, national coalitions director for the
Bush campaign.

From the support he has seen in the Muslim and Arab communities,
Karim said, “I’m certainly not convinced of the
polling. We are seeing a lot of great support.” Karim added
that many Muslims and Arabs recognize Bush’s contributions
and are drawn by Bush’s consistency and his efforts to listen
to the community.

“This president has appointed more positions to Arabs and
Muslims then any previous administration,” he added.

Regardless of endorsements, Rackham student Haroon Ullah said
their impact will be minimal as he says Muslim voters at the
University will still remain in the category of undecided
voters.

“What you find is the majority of the community feels
alienated from Bush, and they feel he hasn’t been sensitive
to their concerns. And I think a lot of the endorsement is their
dissatisfaction with the administration, rather than a huge
endorsement for Kerry,” he said

As for Arab students, LSA junior Rama Salhi said the
endorsements don’t hold enough power to be the main
determinant of how the community votes, but definitely boosted
Kerry’s standing in the Arab American community.

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