Religious Voting Blocs: Shades of Theocracy

In the year 2000, American Muslim organizations set out for the first time to empower a “Muslim voting bloc.” They formed the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee-PAC that included major national Islamic organizations. On the heels of their endorsement of then-Gov. George W. Bush, they along with many other American voting blocs, went on to claim credit for President Bush’s victory. Now, in a whole new world after 9/11, many of these same American Muslim organizations, along with some new ones, have formed the American Muslim Task Force-PAC. This coalition of 10 major American Islamic organizations endorsed Sen. John Kerry on Oct. 21 via their PAC. They cite a Georgetown/Zogby poll claiming that 81 percent of American Muslims will support the Muslim PAC endorsement and 76 percent happen to also support Sen. Kerry. The question in all of this is – is it healthy for a secular democracy to have religious voting blocs? It is certainly natural for a minority community to unite, circle the wagons, and affect democracy – many certainly do. But, faith-based voting blocs blur the line between religion and state far too much. How can a secular democracy remain secular if voters divide into blocs based upon faith? Doesn’t this fly in the face of our nation’s principles that led to the tax exemption status for religious organizations? If co-religionists can unify their cause behind a candidate, does he become beholden to that faith’s leadership? What if a majority faith in the United States votes en mass? Is this not one step closer to the theocracies that we in the Middle Eastern community have left behind? The Moral Majority died a slow death in the 1980s after it became clear that it was harming more than helping the cause for which it stood. In addition this development also led to internal corruption which fractured several large evangelical organizations. The development of faith voting blocs can create a quasi-multiparty system. In the Israeli democracy due to the number of parties and the need for a coalition to govern, often small blocs can wield significant influence. This certainly explains the impact that the minority Jewish orthodoxy has had upon instituting orthodox religious elements into Israeli law. While I applaud the engagement of my co-religionists in the American political system, I cannot understand the focus on faith from within the political arena. American Muslims are in no way monolithic. Yet a voting bloc reinforces the stereotype that we are tribal. When we vote for President, we assess issues both domestic and foreign. From economics and immigration to security and the general role of government, the religious doctrine cannot fit into a single point of view. In majority Islamic nations, religious political parties are often the norm. These religious parties have long sought to institute various forms of Islamic theocracy under the pretense of democracy. This is not the reported motive of AMT. But it is certainly a step in the wrong direction for Muslim reform and for the health of our American democracy. Only Muslims can articulate a response that resonates to the fanatical global philosophy of theocracy that threatens our American security. American Muslims who feel the time is now to only circle their wagons need ask themselves just one question-how relevant would their voting bloc be if American Christians voted en bloc in the 2004 elections? M. Zuhdi Jasser is a Phoenix physician and chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (www.aifdemocracy.org). He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org This column originally appeared online at the Arizona Republic and can be found at this link at the Arizona Republic

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