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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003, pages 73-74

Muslim-American Activism

CAIR Holds 4th Annual Leadership Conference

"A Road map for Success: Vision and Action" was the theme for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) annual leadership conference, held April 25 to 27 at the Sheraton Premiere in the Washington, DC suburb of Tyson's Corner, Virginia. Conference presenters included Muslim congressional staffers, representatives of national civil liberties advocacy organizations, and CAIR staffers.

CAIR leaders from 40 states gathered together to attend sessions focusing on topics such as media relations (holding news conferences, writing news releases, and interviewing); PATRIOT ACT I and II; grant writing; responding to Islamophobic attacks; working with political parties; lobbying; coalition building; and civil rights lessons from the past and present.

Speakers at the Saturday evening dinner addressed a topic dear to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,: "The Importance of Political Enfranchisement and Using the Muslim Voter Bloc for the 2004 Elections and Beyond." Deedra Abboud, director of the CAIR Arizona chapter, introducing herself to the audience, challenged the male CAIR national leaders that she soon would be looking for a national role.

The next speaker, Dr. Agha Saeed, director of the American Muslim Alliance, said that Islam was in the midst of a renaissance in which Muslim states and organizations are undergoing internal reform. "When we're wrong, we have the courage to correct ourselves," Dr. Saeed said. "When we're right we press our cause even if the price is high."

The whole world looks to American Muslims to stand up and correct problems in this nation, Saeed said. Muslims are forming strong coalitions with other groups to fight the denial of civil rights, equal justice, and due process in the United States.

In 2000, Dr. Saeed noted, Muslims negotiated with presidential candidates on civil rights issues. In the 2004 elections, he said, Muslims will join with their coalition groups to persuade presidential candidates to take a civil rights stand again. Muslims will work with all the candidates before making a formal commitment to one, Saeed promised, keeping the door open to each party, and retaining the Muslim independent vote, until the community decides democratically to make an endorsement.

The Muslim community will once again work to put Muslim concerns on the presidential agenda and help restore equal laws, protection, and rights for all citizens, Dr. Saeed concluded.

Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR National, summing up conference events in the past two days, described attendees' visits with senators and representatives which gave them firsthand experience of how the political process works. Awad described the energy and the enthusiasm that imbued the conference, as well as the conviction that the political process can work for Muslim Americans.

"In 2000 the Muslim bloc vote was born. It left its footprint on this country," Awad said, promising that in 2004 Muslims will increase their political activism and participation, and work to improve the civil rights of American Muslims, green card holders, visitors and alien residents. Awad urged Muslims to take steps to switch the negative perceptions after 9/11. "Our community and institutions should not be intimidated," Awad urged.

"Even after 9/11, I never lost hope that my faith will be respected and known, like every other religion in this country," Awad said. "The key movers and shakers in the Muslim community are here at this conference. In your eyes I see the bright future for Muslims in this nation.

"This is the time to dig deep and build strong foundations," he cautioned. "Later you can decorate and do the easy stuff. If we don't fight for the rights of U.S. Muslims in 2004, in 2008 we won't be here to fight for any rights. This is a battle for our survival."

Every Muslim U.S. citizen must register and vote, he insisted, because only those who vote are recognized in this country. Out of 7 million Muslims there must be 1 million Muslim voters, Awad said. CAIR is asking imams in 2,000 mosques across the U.S. to provide voter registration tables each week after Friday prayer.

Referring to the 2000 bloc vote for President George W. Bush, Awad said, "We are not married to a candidate who didn't deliver on his promises to Muslims. We can divorce the candidate. We are not a party-based community, we are an issue-based community."

Omar Ahmad, CAIR National board chairman, endorsed the merger of the American Muslim Council and the American Muslim Alliance. All Muslim political organizations will be included in the process of selecting the next endorsement, Ahmad said. Polling Muslim voters on the issues that matter to them will commence this November, he informed the audience, and candidates will be given the opportunity to explain their views to Muslim voters on each selected issue.

Ahmad then introduced representatives from each CAIR chapter and gave them the opportunity to report on the past year's challenges and successes. They've been knocking on a lot of doors, he noted, and, with little fanfare, many of those doors are opening to Muslims in America. The U.S., he concluded, which should be home to all religions, can only improve with greater Muslim participation.

Delinda C. Hanley

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