MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I am Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, Joe the Plumber was the talk of the town after the third and final presidential debate but what about Jimmy in the barbershop. The Barbershop guys are coming up, but first, our weekly Faith Matters segment. What a difference eight years can make. George W. Bush won the presidency in the 2000 with the overwhelming support of Muslim-Americans. But just four years later, that support had eroded substantially. And by January of this year, poll showed that only a small minority of Muslims still identify with the Republican Party. Now many Muslim-Americans are citing another reason for supporting the Democratic candidate in this election. That is the concern of too many people on the Republican side are encouraging or at least have done nothing to discourage the notion that Barack Obama is a Muslim and one with terrorist ties at that.
So what about the people with a foot in both worlds, Muslim Republicans? We've invited three Muslim American Republicans to join us, all supporters of John McCain. I am joined by Mohamed Elibiary. He lives in Dallas where he's active at the local Republican Party. He is also the president and CEO of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a non-partisan think tank in Dallas. Ali Hasan, he is running for a seat in the Colorado State House. He's an active campaigner for McCain and a co-founder of the group Muslims for America. Also joining us is, Raza Karim. He's a graduate student in accounting in Indiana. Thank you all so much for joining us.
Mr. ALI HASAN (Co-Founder, Muslims for America): Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Well, let me start off with a little bit of history and maybe, I think, maybe Mr. Elibiary, maybe you can help with this. As I mentioned, the majority of Muslim Americans supported President George W. Bush when he ran in 2000. Any idea why?
Mr. MOHAMED ELIBIARY (President/CEO, Freedom and Justice Foundation): Well, for many Muslims, watching the second debate between Bush and Gore, it was him coming out against secret evidence. Evidence was introduced in immigration, court proceedings. So that was kind of an issue that Muslims were grappling with and George Bush kind of came with a little traditional conservatism small government, transparency, on and on. And he came out and actually stuck it in the second debate and that was the trigger signal that kind of won the hearts and minds of approximately 79 percent of Muslims back then.
MARTIN: What do think happen in the eight years since? Ali Hasan, what do you think?
Mr. HASAN: We as Muslim Americans, we're really all one-issue voters, and the one issue is civil liberties. We just want to know that we're not going to be put in interment camps, if another 9/11, God forbid, happens. It sounds little silly to say that, but that is a deep fear in the community, and I think what drove Muslims away from Bush was the Patriot Act, which is very unfortunate because John Kerry wrote parts of the Patriot Act. The entire Democratic Party was behind it. But Bush really took the brunt for it so, just like any voting block people don't really look into the future. They're a little shortsighted. I think the American-Muslim community is being a little shortsighted on this. At the end of the day, there is 56 Muslim countries, 52 of them are our allies on the war on terrorists. So, pound for pound, I think Bush has done a terrific job, but it was the Patriot Act that really killed a lot of relations between the Republican Party and Muslims.
MARTIN: What about John McCain?
Mr. HASAN: If McCain were to come out tomorrow and say, as president, I will repeal the Patriot Act and I think the other two would agree with me. I think 90 percent of American-Muslims would come out voting for him and give him contributions. The thing is McCain is not saying it, Obama is not saying it, so by default, a lot of Muslims are going to favor Obama.
MARTIN: Raza, what do you think about that?
Mr. RAZA KARIM (Graduate Student, Indiana): While basically, I think I agree with Ali on that, the civil liberties issue. Right after 9/11 in Evansville, Indiana where I live, people were arrested. Muslims were arrested just because some of their neighbors thought they were terrorists, and they were taken into custody, just because they were Muslim and they look different. And I think that has turned many people off in the local community on how the Patriot Act was working. And of course, after the Patriot Act was enacted, it was all legal to do that. You can just arrest anybody any time just based on suspicion. So that I think, really turned off most of the Muslim people. Of course, the economic issues kind of I think has to be a part of the reason. The war in Iraq, of course, there was an issue in Afghanistan. Many times there were strikes more civilians are killed in. And I think Muslims are very aware of this things that are happening and just kind of relate the Republican Party to these negative things and I think that is what added up to the erosion of the support of the Republican Party.
MARTIN: Ali, you're running for office now.
Mr. HASAN: Yes, I am.
MARTIN: And you're running as a Republican?
Mr. HASAN: Yes, I am.
MARTIN: Which is to say, that you know, some municipal elections are non-partisan so, but you're running in a race and which party identity is part of it. Is it hard that you're finding it tough go?
Mr. HASAN: Yeah. As a local candidate, you really have to go out there and put on a new name for yourself otherwise, you are going to be held hostage to whatever the national party is doing. Right now, the national party isn't the most popular.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of - I hope this language doesn't offend, but speaking of being sort of held hostage to what the national party is doing at least, with the national conversation is. One of the subtexts of this election has been this question about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim or not. And recently you've had a number of surrogates for the McCain-Palin ticket who've introduced to made a point of introducing him as Barack Hussein Obama and to - there are those who believed that this is just a clear attempt to make him seem foreign and then to tie him to kind of the terrorist element. Let me play a short clip that's making rounds in the Internet. I am sure you have all have seen it. It's an interaction just last week between Senator McCain and a member of the audience. Here it is.
Unidentified Woman: I can't trust Obama. I have heard about him and he's not - he's an Arab.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican Presidential Candidate): No ma'am. No ma'am. He's a decent family man - citizen that I just happened to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about. He's not, thank you.
MARTIN: Well, obviously, the one who use the term 'Arab' not Muslim, but some people see that as a proxy for Muslim. And the polls do show that something like a pew survey or earlier this year, that something like 12 percent of the voters, both Democrats and Republicans persist in believing that Barack Obama is a Muslim. And I wanted to ask you, how does this strike you? I mean, obviously, on its face, you know, when should not have to be defended against being a Muslim - but or an Arab for that matter? But I'd like to ask each of you how this strikes you, Mr. Elibiary?
Mr. ELIBIARY: It does get underneath my skin, but I've been around Republicans since the age of 16, for about 17 years now, and I've a lot of xenophobia and a lot of bigotry and you can't really frame them in any other way. But frankly, I see that as actually part of a fearful counter-cultural, subcultural in our societies especially where I grew up in the South, of new immigrants, of new - any kind of not anything that new that's being introduced. Whether on the religious front before Catholics or on the ethnic front today with Hispanics and Arabs and what have you. I really wish that there would be a lot more push back. You kind of support McCain. I am supporting him because, you know, I really think he's got the national security credentials to actually fixed the problems in our government that are leading to the civil liberties problems that we've got as a Muslim community. But you're having to hold your nose as you're supporting him because of all this bigotry that's around in the air.
MARTIN: Ali Hasan, what about you?
Mr. HASAN: Well, first of all we're not done. I am very proud. I went door-to-door in my campaign. We knocked on 18,000 doors. Everyone in my district thinks that Obama is a Muslim, but a lot of them are still voting for him. So if Obama wins, I will, even though I am voting for McCain, if Obama wins, it is going to say to America that a Muslim can basically win. Because everyone in my district does think that Obama is a Muslim, but they're still voting for him. And the other thing is...
MARTIN: How do you feel about that? Do you mind if I ask you that? So they think he is a Muslim, but they're going to vote for him any way, that's - I mean, I always try to play this game with myself and say let's substitute something else. Well, they think he is black, but they're going to vote for him anyway. Or they think he is Catholic, but they're going to vote for him anyway. Does that hurt a little bit or do you just figure well, you know, just live with it and move on.
Mr. HASAN: It would hurt if we weren't making progress. I also agree with Mohamed that there is still xenophobia, but there's xenophobia in both parties. One thing that I can't stand about the McCain campaign right now is they need to learn from Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton called Barack Obama by Hussein. Her supporters called him Hussein, and she lost. And we're going to lose if we call him Hussein as well, because it's just - it's unnecessary race driving. I like I said, everyone in my district considers Obama to be a Muslim. They don't like it when he's called Hussein and when that kind of stuff is pushed.
So both parties are really xenophobic, and I am no Republican apologist and I am proud of my party. I am proud of George W. Bush, when right after 9/11, he went to a mosque and said Islam is a religion of peace and took on members of his own party so, I'm still very proud as a Republican. There's just elements within both parties that are xenophobic but we are making progress. The fact that there's a Muslim caucus in both parties, that's a great step for progress and I'm running right now so I can be a leader in my party and make it ever better and more inclusive.
MARTIN: Has anything that's happened over the course of this election caused you to rethink your commitment to the Republican Party? Mr. Elibiary?
Mr. ELIBIARY: No. Because, I mean, I joined the Republican Party many years ago in pre-George W. Bush's presidential election in 2000. So it was based on principles, actually, big picture, government reform kind of issues, what society I'd like to see out in 2040 when I retire. So I see it as a kind of a hiccup and right now, politics is cyclical here in America so we're going to get over this. We're going to get a new cycle. The Republican Party brand name is going to change because it's actually going to get back to something. Right now, it's very difficult to define what is the Republican Party standing for, whether on domestic or foreign policy issues. So I see it as all temporary.
MARTIN: Ali Hassan was saying that this would be harder to take if you didn't feel that were making progress. Do you feel that we're making progress. I mean, if you and I are going to get together four years from now, eight years from now, do you think we'll be having a different conversation?
Mr. ELIBIARY: Definitely. I've met a lot of, you can call them, national figure Republicans over the past eight years during the Bush's two terms. They're good and decent people. And they do understand that you have to win over the center. You cannot ostracize Muslims or Arabs away from the rest of the American society and somehow create a whole new country.
MARTIN: Ali Hassan?
Mr. HASSAN: Yeah, I agree with the sentiments and I love my party. This is the party of Reagan. Reagan gave amnesty to a lot of immigrants. This is the party of W. Bush, the man who went to a mosque and said Islam is a religion of peace. I love my party. And I've always told people there's never a better time to be a Republican than right now because we are going through some massive changes of the party and the leadership of tomorrow within the Republican Party will decide what the new Republican Party is going to be. I'm very excited about the new horizons and that's why I'm running. I want a part of this leadership. I want to be a part of the dialogue in making this party more inclusive but still cornerstoned in that good physical conservative background.
MARTIN: Raza, final thought from you?
Mr. KARIM: Before we make or cast a vote, we should realize which party or which candidate is going to do right and make the right decisions for America that's right for America. Like John McCain said, country first. I think that is correct.
MARTIN: And nothing that's happened has caused you to question your commitment to the party?
Mr. KARIM: Well, it did hurt. Ideally, I thought John McCain could have replied to the audience member saying there's nothing wrong being a Muslim because this is America, and this is a land of immigrants but however, that wouldn't play well with quite a bit of a chunk of the party members because right now, this is the situation Muslims are overall looked in a negative point of view. So, I mean, I'm not really sure if there was anything more he could do but yeah, it's hurtful but I did not want to change my party because it's based on principles and what the future holds for this country and what's right for America.
MARTIN: And four years from now, do you think we'll be having this conversation if we get back together or do you think it'll be different?
Mr. KARIM: I honestly hope we don't but if deep down, do I believe that's going to happen? No, I don't think change is going to happen so fast. I think it's a slow process. The more and more Muslims there are going to be in America, the more we integrate ourselves within the American society and once we delegated those issues to the American people, I think we'll be looked a lot positively than we are right now.
MARTIN: Raza Karim is a graduate student in accounting at Indiana University. He joined us from Evansville. Ali Hassan is a candidate for a seat in the Colorado State House of Representatives and co-founder of Muslims for America. He joined us from Avon, Colorado. Mohamed Elibiary is president and CEO of the Freedom and Justice Foundation. It's a nonpartisan think tank in Dallas where he is today. Thank you all so much for joining us.
Mr. ELIBIARY: Thank you.
Mr. HASSAN: Thank you.
Mr. KARIM: Thank you.