U.S. Muslim leaders undecided on endorsing presidential candidate | NevadaAppeal.com

U.S. Muslim leaders undecided on endorsing presidential candidate

RACHEL ZOLL

ROSEMONT, Ill. – As both Democrats and Republicans sought their support, American Muslim leaders wrapped up their community’s largest convention Sunday still debating whether to endorse a presidential candidate.

And despite bitter feelings over how President Bush has conducted the war on terror, Muslim leaders said an endorsement for his challenger, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, was not guaranteed.

Independent Ralph Nader traveled here Saturday and made an aggressive pitch for their backing in a closed-door meeting held separately from the conference.

“We are still deliberating amongst ourselves,” said Salam al-Marayati, head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a public policy group based in Los Angeles. A decision is expected next month from the American Muslim Taskforce, an umbrella group for major Muslim organizations.

American Muslims hold special importance this election year because they have strong communities in battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio and Florida. Also, immigrant Muslims tend to be educated professionals – an attractive demographic for both parties.

In 2000, leaders of major Muslim organizations made their first endorsement in a presidential race, choosing Bush over Democrat Al Gore. The Texas governor had indicated he was sympathetic to their concerns about using secret evidence in immigration hearings.

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However, many rank-and-file Muslims – especially U.S.-born blacks, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic – opposed that 2000 decision. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush enacted anti-terror policies that many Muslims felt violated their constitutional rights. The Muslim leaders who had organized the Bush endorsement said openly they had made a mistake.

Still, Bush did not give up on the Muslim vote.

About a year ago, Al-Marayati said the Bush administration had increased contacts with Muslim leaders, inviting them for briefings with the Department of Justice and the White House faith-based office.

Still, it appears Bush has little chance of winning the leaders’ endorsement, given widespread Muslim anger over his policies.

At the convention this weekend, organized by the nonpartisan Islamic Society of North America, several speakers said Kerry had become too timid on civil rights issues.

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