Bush booth causes stir at American Muslim convention
ROSEMONT, Ill. – They stop abruptly when they see the 5-foot-tall photo of President Bush, with “muslimsforbush.com” above his head.
Then come the outbursts.
“Disgusting,” said one onlooker. “Take that down,” said another.
At the largest annual convention of American Muslims, a pro-Bush booth has stirred anger among attendees who believe the president’s actions since Sept. 11, 2001, have hurt more innocent Muslims than terrorists.
“I think President Bush has misled not only the United States, but the world,” said Noor Maciael, an educator who called the booth “disgusting” and planned to vote for Democrat John Kerry. “He has put us in a situation where the whole world is hating this country.”
The display was funded by Muhammad Ali Hasan and his mother, Seeme, who recently created the group “Muslims for Bush.” Seeme Hasan said in a phone interview that she and her husband Malik, a Colorado physician who earned his wealth in the health care industry, have donated more than $1 million to Bush and Republican causes since the 2000 campaign.
“The reason we are doing this is that Muslims don’t have a lobbyist,” Seeme Hasan said. “We want to be there. We are going to give contributions at the highest level.”
Bush has other supporters in the Muslim community. Some are Iraqi-Americans overjoyed that Saddam Hussein has been ousted. Others are entrepreneurs who view the GOP as more friendly to business interests. And many devout Muslims prefer the Republicans’ conservative stand on social issues such as gay marriage.
But many Muslims at the nonpartisan Islamic Society of North America convention were not grateful for the Hasans’ activism.
An older man gawked at the photo of the president with his arms wrapped around Muhammad and Seeme Hasan, and said, “I’m numb. I’m speechless.” He then joined a group that had cornered a conference official, demanding that the display be taken down. A volunteer staffing the booth said some people were taking campaign material and throwing it out.
Asma Gull Hasan, the elder Hasan’s daughter, who was also at the booth, said she had expected negative remarks. However, she said she was encouraged that some passers-by had quietly told her they would vote for the president.
Bush has a complex relationship with American Muslims.
He declared Islam a peaceful religion when some other U.S. leaders were condemning the faith, and honored Muslim holidays in the White House.
After Sept. 11, the president made a gesture of enormous significance for the community when he visited a Washington-area mosque and warned the public that anger over the suicide hijackings should not be directed toward U.S. Muslims.
However, his subsequent policies have caused deep resentment.
Muslim leaders say the domestic war on terror and the USA Patriot Act, which extended controversial law enforcement powers, have cast so wide a net that all Muslims and their institutions have become suspect.
Many also saw the war in Iraq as the extension of a misguided U.S. policy in the Mideast that foments terrorism instead of stopping it.