Candidates reach out to Muslims at Tampa mosque rally

10/29/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Much of the news media’s coverage of this election season has centered on a voting block that is far from diverse, the only difference among voters being the source of their anger. And with so many politicians that are desperate to appeal to a seemingly two-dimensional part of the electorate, the word diversity seems taboo when it comes to many campaign slogans. A rally on the outskirts of Tampa brought some local candidates face to face with a voting block that’s shunned at best, demonized at worst – American Muslims.

Manzoor Hussain came to the United States from Pakistan forty years ago. He says he was critical of the US before he came because he had heard reports of Cold War bigotry and discrimination toward African Americans. But once he got here, Hussain says, his views quickly changed.

"Then when I came here I saw with my own eyes things started changing, I said 'my God this is excellent', this is the way we should live."

Hussain says cultural tolerance has steeply declined over the years.

"People used to value other people's, other immigrants the way the other Americans are. Now,these days, it is so much the Islamophobia and people that hate the foreigners, and all those things. I think this is unamerican."

Hussain is taking part in a rally at an East Tampa mosque after Friday prayer. The nonprofit United Voices organized the event. That organization’s president, Ahmed Bedier, is co-host of True Talk, a show that airs Friday mornings on WMNF. Hussain says he wants to see better representation on the part of elected officials.

"The concern is always the same, right people for the right job. It doesn't have to be the Muslims, but it has to be the right people. So when nobody's going to represent us the right way we'll try to have our own people and I believe that we are trying that."

Muslim Ali is director for organizational development at United Voices. He says today’s event is part of the group’s effort to get minorities more involved in politics.

"Today's purpose was to have a rally to get out the vote and be able to encourage Muslims, who are a very diverse group, to be able to go to polling stations. We had many speakers as well as the Reverend McKenzie who was here, who helped to engage the interfaith dialogue and be able to get out the vote and we're just really excited about it. We're actually encouraging them to go to the public library in Temple Terrace to be able to go to early voting locations so that they can be more active and engaged."

Whether it’s the supposed “enthusiasm gap” or sheer indifference, many Americans don’t vote in midterm elections. Ali says this isn’t the case with those who know what it’s like to not have the right to weigh in on who governs them.

"I think that new Americans especially have a little bit more of a sentiment in that regard as well, coming from places where it's a lot more difficult."

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Linda Saul-Sena, a Democrat, shook hands with and heard concerns from numerous attendees at today’s rally, as did her opponent, Republican Ken Hagan. Saul-Sena says it’s important to engage every component of a community.

"I think that it's important for our government to recognize that we are in a very diverse society and you have to get out and meet people where they are. So that's why it was important for me to come today to the mosque to meet the people who gather here. And it's been really interesting. There's a tremendous cross-section of people, some people whom have not yet attained citizenship, some people who were born and grew up in the United States, and a whole slew in between."

Dwight Bolden is running for the Hillsborough County Commission’s District 3 seat as a write-in. He says he relies on events like today’s rally because his campaign doesn’t have the kind of financial backing his Democratic opponent, former state legislator Les Miller, has. The obscure candidate says he’s running because he doesn’t think the board is made up of commissioners who truly represent their constituents.

"When true diversity was in effect, true diversity, we did well. In the last, say, 4 to 6 years true diversity was not in effect and we've gone down the tubes. You know, people are out for themselves now, representatives are out for themselves."

Zainub Rasheed is originally from Egypt. She says she wants to see more young Muslims get engaged in political processes.

"I don't think there's enough representation, I would like more Muslims to get involved and I am really trying to get my son involved, though he is in high school. He is planning to go into it when he grows up. And I encourage all young Muslims, get involved because we need some representation. We are not represented out there."

United Voices

Council On American-Islamic Relations

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Joseph P. Lockridge

Saul-Shama has been in government for 20 years and now, 3 days before the election, decides it's important to go to the mosque to learn about diversity? Give me a break.

Plato's spin...

I agree with Zainub Rasheed… we do need to see more young Muslims get engaged in the political process. For far too long the non-Muslim Americans have heard nothing but negatives… because that has been the only side presented by the media and little else. As Plato said… “Your silence gives consent”… and western culture believes it. But Plato also said… ”Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Please, continue the good fight, standup and be heard… and you will be amazed at the numbers of non-Muslim allies that will rally around you.