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The duty of American Muslims this election

Forget self-pity. Make your voice a constructive one.

By Mansoor Ijaz / October 31, 2008


I am American. I am Muslim. I am not a registered Republican or Democrat. But I do believe my vote matters. And I'm proud to be a citizen of the United States, where I can exercise my birthright to help choose my country's political leadership.

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In previous elections, I advocated a choice of candidate. This year, I simply encourage every registered American Muslim and Arab-American to vote – your vote and your voice matter. You can be an agent for change, if you choose to be. You have no right to complain about what is wrong with our country if you don't vote.

Recast your feelings of outrage and exclusion at the bipartisan Islamophobia that has engulfed the 2008 presidential race. Make it a constructive voice – enough of the "woe is me" victimization that has plagued our communities since 9/11. Whatever abuses we suffered, whether from the US Patriot Act or from violations of our civil liberties born of anger and frustration at attacks carried out by those who defaced our faith, we have more freedom, more opportunity, and more say in how our country is run than we would in any other country.

We are citizens who work hard, pay taxes, send kids to school, and participate in community activities – in short, we are as much America as "Joe the Plumber." Unfortunately, we often don't act it.

If we want our place in American political life, we have to earn it. If we want our voices heard, we should not need prominent citizens such as Colin Powell to defend the American Muslim identity as part of our nation's political fabric and denounce Islamophobia in American politics. We should raise up leaders from among ourselves who by virtue of their public or military service to our country – as Americans first, not Muslims who happen to live here – can make a valid case for the issues that uniquely affect us.

As my fellow American Muslims ponder their choices this election, I urge them to think about the larger problems our world faces and how we, living in its freest country, can be catalysts for change.

On America and Islam. We are engaged in a generational struggle against extremism, particularly the Islamist variety. Yet as a society, we have so far refused to give a platform to rational Muslim voices for fear they may be wolves hiding in sheep's clothing. We should vote for the candidate whose administration will open doors to qualified American Muslims to serve as beacons of democracy's promise. Muslims at home and abroad must have better examples to follow than Osama bin Laden's manipulative exhortations as the defender of Islam's poor and disaffected.