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Secular Left, Religious Left, and American Muslims

By Ali Eteraz
Posted on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 11:32:01 PM EST
Tags: left, american islam (all tags)

The secular progressive left (Kos), the religious progressive left (Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian), and a host of people in between (Atrios), are having a discussion about the role of religion in politics, and specifically, within the Democratic Party. I thought that as an American Muslim in the center left I should at least try to enter the discussion.

First of all, why does it even matter what an American Muslim thinks about the role of religion in the Democratic Party? Since the goal is to win elections, what does the voice of the small number of American Muslims who vote Democrat, really mean to either the secular left, or the religious left (which is largely Christian and Jewish).

Are we worth listening to for a few thousand votes here and there? 

The answer, of course, is yes, in age when not just Senatorial (Webb in Virginia), but Presidential (Florida 2000) elections are being determined by a few thousand votes.

However, the answer is yes for another major reason: in the current political landscape, it is Muslims who are, in one way or another, implicated in the news, and it is Islam which, in one way or another, part of the political metanarrative. Every hot spot in the world is somehow connected to Islam & Muslims. Not only that, but even within the United States, Islamophobia (he actually uses the words "I fear"), anti-Keith Ellisonism, Obama's middle name and Muslim background, and all the Muslim baiting going on, dominate discussion. Bin Laden was Muslim; Abu Ghraib detainees were Muslim; Guantanamo detainees were Muslims. The suspension of Habeas Corpus affects alleged Muslim domestic terrorists first. Patriot Act affected Muslim charities first. Immigration rules affect Muslim students. The veritable scale of things that occur that have to do with Islam, and the impact they have on Muslims, I cannot even begin to list comprehensively. The constant flux of news related to Muslims does, does, does, get internalized by American Muslims. As such, for the most part, American Muslims learn very quickly who are friendly to them and who aren't.

The problem that exists for American Muslims is that they have not articulated to themselves why they want to be Democrats. Not only that, they have not attempted to make inroads with politically active progressive Christians. In that sense, the failing is ours as American Muslims. Our national organizations, CAIR and MPAC, do work with left organizations like Amnesty and ACLU, but rarely if ever with mainstream Democrat think tanks or God forbid, Democratic legislative groups. Some of that is a question of resource allocation in the Muslim communities, and we must resolve that.

However, some of the marginalization of American Muslim voice has everything to do with the left, and I mean both the secular left (primarily), and the religious left (secondarily).

The secular left is a problem for the same reason that it is considered a problem by the Christian left: it gives no due at all to religious influence. It believes that not demonizing religion is the most it needs to do. Not only that, but it thumbs its nose at anyone, including progressives, when they do speak about their religion.

What I don't understand about such thumbing of nose towards American Muslims is that, why are you telling me, a Muslim, to not talk about my religion, how I want to reform its questionable issues, while also defending it from unfair political and racial attacks, when in fact, the discourse about Islam and Muslims is everywhere, everywhere. As an American Muslim this is one of the most frustrating things about the secular left: speak about Islam and Muslims in a "neutral" manner; otherwise you will be deemed to be treading on the separation of Church and State. Yet, how CAN I be "neutral" when Islam is constantly rendered more than just a faith-tradition, but an ideology as well.

The religious left is a problem because it believes that the religious left is composed only of Jews and Christians. People like Jim Wallis are more than welcome to make more & more inroads with more progressive Christian and Jewish groups. However, why don't Progressive Christians and Jewish groups ever notice that the religion that is all up on the news isn't their religion, it is mine. Islam is everywhere. American Muslims are in the left as well. Yet there is never an attempt at synergy (although I should interject and say that both StreetProphets and The Agonist have sought synergies).

If the only rejoinder that the religious left has is that there are no major Muslim organizations at the national level who lean left that they can work with, then might I suggest that the fabled left blogosphere might start doing some netroots connection? That would be a start. 

American Muslims can show some initiative as well. A good place to begin would be to go to Faithful Democrats and open an account. It takes one person from here to go there and open a reader diary.

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Tags: left, american islam (all tags)
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Interesting interesting questions raised(none / 0) (#1)
by dmz on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 12:06:58 AM EST

Getting American Muslims mainstreamed, politically conscious and working the system comes with two edges that cut opposite directions:

As with Rap culture, you now have awareness of people who had no voice and now are shaking things up from the roots to the highest branches of government. Could there be a Barak Obama before America embraced rap music? I don't think so. I know that is a stretch but there is a difference between Michael Jackson of the 80s and Chuck D of the 90s. People started to look to African American culture for answers. Or whatever. Who knows....

As you know, the people who pull most of the strings in Rap music and break people big are still pasty white guys in suits. They don't give an F about ghettos or inequality. They are selling product.

The Democratic party, government is Risky business. I think it got many Muslims played already. And people like Hamza Yusef were just brief media darlings before descending back to obscurity.

So what's the point? Who cares if American Muslims get plugged into the system? It still boils down to liberal minded people attempting to shape public policy to sustain freedom of religion, privacy and positive foreign policy. These are larger issues than Islam. They are secular issues and American Muslims could find coalitions (synergies as you say) that speak directly to the polity without raising the spectre of fundamentalist religion or the dissolution of separation between state and religion.

Example: The case of Suhail Khan(none / 0) (#3)
by dmz on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:42:13 AM EST

Here is a piece titled "Khan Job" about "the candidacy of a fellow named Suhail Khan for election to one of two open seats on the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union — the political Right's largest and most influential grassroots umbrella organization"

Interesting article from a anthropological POV.

[ Parent ]
suhail(none / 0) (#4)
by Ali Eteraz on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:47:07 AM EST
TNR went after Suhail a while back when he was @ the white house, but Suhail's mentor Norquist has Rove's ear

[ Parent ]

Ongoing work...(none / 0) (#2)
by faithinpubliclife on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 09:22:02 AM EST

Hi Ali,

Good points on why the left needs to reach out actively to the Muslim community.  Just to let you know, there is more work going on in this realm than you may realize.  I agree that more needs to be done, but a number of organizations in DC are actively engaged in listening sessions with Muslim leaders to build relationships.  Just poke around our site at and you'll find extensive reaction to the Elison and Obama stories, a blog exchange on Islamophobia, and Muslim members of our speakers bureau.  I Good luck with building these bridges in the blogosphere.


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