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Florida Muslims eye elections in wake of rise in Islamophobia

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-11-02

In 2008, Muslim voters in the US turned out in droves to vote for Barack Obama. Two years later, the Muslim vote could be decisive in the midterm elections in several states. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the situation in Florida.

Farooq Mitha is head of “Emerge Florida”, an association of young American Muslims in the sunny, southeastern state. Every Friday, he heads to a nearby mosque to call for members of his community to vote in Tuesday's midterm elections.

“Our community in Florida is 100,000 members strong”, Mitha told Muslims recently after an imam’s prayer at a mosque in the northern Miami neighbourhood of Sunrise. “You can decide this election. You can choose the candidate who you think will be the best to guide our state and represent it”.

Though no official religion-based statistics exist, most estimates put the US Muslim population between 2.5 and 6 million. Many of those Muslims live in the so-called “swing states”, in which elections are usually won by a razor-thin margin. Florida is one of those states, and the younger generations of US Muslims have been striving to make their community more visible to candidates running for office.

Voting in the wake of an anti-Islam wave

Members of Florida’s Muslim community say they have noticed a rise in anti-Islam sentiment in recent months; this year, several Florida mosques were attacked, and a pastor from the state notoriously threatened to burn a Koran to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. Mitha, a lawyer of Tanzanian descent, thinks these events could motivate Muslims to turn out in bigger-than-expected numbers Tuesday.

“It was very difficult for the community to see that certain people wanted to burn the Koran”, Mitha explained. “They think that if they say nothing, their religion is going to continue being the target of attacks”.

At the same time as it elects representatives and senators to Washington DC, Florida will also vote for its own state legislature. Z. J. Hafeez, of Pakistani descent, is the only Muslim candidate on the Florida ballot. He is running as a Democrat, and is hoping that the support that President Obama has offered the US Muslim community (Obama argued in favour of the right to build an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near Ground Zero in New York) will encourage Muslim voters to support his party.

“A lot of rich American Muslims vote for Republicans, because Republicans generally propose fiscal policies that favour the wealthy”, said Hafeez. “But today, because of the violations of Muslim rights, because of war and other problems, many of them are turning toward the Democrats”.

Polls confirm a slight advantage for Democrats when it comes to Muslim voters in the state, but the Muslim vote is as unpredictable as that of any other segment of the population. Though Florida Muslims backed Barack Obama in 2008, they also helped carry George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000.

 

Date created : 2010-11-02

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