Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Muslims and the Separation of Church and State

The following is a partial transcript (in progress) of a talk given at last night's meeting of the central Ohio chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Predident of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Central Ohio Chapter:
Our speaker is Romin Iqbal. He is the civil rights coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He's an attorney practicing in Ohio, and works primarily in the area of religious discrimination in the workplace, and other issues which affect civil rights of Muslims and other minorities. CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 32 offices, chapters and affiliates nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, increase dialog, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Romin Iqbal: A little bit about myself. I was born and raised in India, which would be the largest democracy, and then I immigrated to the U.S., which would be the oldest democracy. I went to law school here as well, and what I found fascinating was the whole concept of separation of state and church. On how a secular democracy in India deals with the issue, and how they deal with the issue in the U.S. And what surprised me when I came over here is that there was still a debate going on in the U.S. over the issue of separation of state and church.

Now America is an advanced economy and an industrialized society, and I was surprised that there was still a debate going on in the westernmost nation, if you will, on the separation of state and church. And what surprised me even more is that there is a significant portion of the American population which does not necessarily believe in the concept.

As an outsider, and as a person who has lived in a third world nation, this is not something you think of the U.S. and for a western democracy, that is something which really surpised me--that the debate is still going on in the U.S. and the matter is still not settled. From an outsider's perspective, I found it very interesting.

I actually saw a poll recently, and in it they asked people living in western democracies their views on evolution and creationism. And the U.S. was in the bottom in terms of people who believe in evolution. I think Finland is the highest at 84%, and then you keep going down. And again, I was just blown away by the fact that the U.S. was actually at the bottom of people living in western democracies who actually do not believe in evolution. So that is something which to someone like me is very interesting, and maybe once I get done here, someone can fill me in on what's going on. (Laughter) Why so many in the American population, living in a prosperous, industrial democracy still do not believe in evolution.

Anyway, today I'm going to basically talk about the Muslims in the U.S. Seventy-five percent of the Muslims in the U.S. are actually born in the U.S. I was not, so I would be a minority of Muslims who have actually immigrated. What I'm going to talk about today is who the Muslims are in the U.S., and what do they believe in, and whether organizations like yours can build an alliance with Muslim organizations on this issue of separation of state and church, and whether it's even possible. And where do the Muslims stand on these issues of vouchers or evolution or stem cell.

The speaker explained that he looked at polling data from the past five years, and that his talk would be centered around that rather than his own views and experiences. He also noted that he was not speaking for CAIR.


Columbus has about 45,000 Muslims, most are Somalis who have come here as refugees, but that's not typical. In terms of ethnicity, the largest group of Muslims are from South and Central Asia, which would be India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and that would be around 33%. Then African Americans are the second largest group of Muslims, which is around 30%. The third is people of Arab origin which is around 25%, and then you have Whites and East Asians.

In terms of other demographics, 60% of Muslims have an undergraduate degree. Eighty-two percent of citizens are registered to vote.

Voting patterns of Muslims in 1996, 2000, and 2004

In 1996, almost 75% voted for Clinton, Dole got 20%, and 5% went to the third party candidate.

In 2000, the Republicans were very successful in getting a large share of the Muslim vote. Bush and the Republican party were very successful in reaching out to Muslims, and they had a faith-based alliance--that's what they called it. A faith-based alliance between Muslims and Evangelical Christians. And even though more Muslims voted for the Democrat in 2000, the difference from 50% came down to only 10%. And I was reading the Zogby international poll, and they said there were 55,000 Muslims in Florida in 2000, and almost 70% of them voted for Bush, as compared to 1996, when only 27% of them voted for Bush. So Bush was very successful in winning over the Muslim vote in Florida. And in fact all over the country, even though he did not get more votes than the Democrat, he narrowed the gap in 2000.

How he did that was basically, again, the Republicans were able to build a faith-based alliance with the Muslims. Also, I remember watching this debate in 2000. It was the second debate, and they asked a question about racial profiling of African Americans. And Bush talked about that and then he said Arab Americans are racially profiled in what's called "secret evidence". People are stopped, and we have to do something about that. So Bush spoke up against racial profiling in the debate, and supposedly this was a reason that a lot of Muslims went over to the Republican side, because Bush brought up the issue of racial profiling and he spoke against it.

Now in 2001, we obviously had the terrorist attacks, and in the 2004 election, I looked at a lot of different polls, and I did not see any poll where more than 10% of Muslims voted for Bush. When the Zogby poll asked Muslims why they did not vote for Bush, what they basically said was that they were concerned about civil liberties, they were concerned about secret detentions, they were concerned about the fact that, in 2001, between September and December, the Justice Department locked up 5000 Muslim immigrants, and they did not have lawyers, so that created a lot of fear. And om the last couple of years, they've also started targeting citizens--U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslims. And even though now the Supreme Court has settled that issue, that you cannot keep holding people without a lawyer, that was not settled by the time of the election. And then obviously the Iraq war was a big deal. Most Muslims were agaisnt the Iraq war--in fact, in the numbers I have from Zogby, around 92% of Muslims were against the Iraq war, so that was obviously a big issue why they did not vote for Bush.

To be continued...

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