California Muslims Seek Political Clout

First-ever Capitol gathering marks determination to influence civil rights debate

CAIR Muslims cropped
Munire Syeda, Council on American-Islamic Relations

It's a first for California, not just in an election year, but for any year.

The first annual "Muslim Day at the Capitol", held Monday, looked on the surface like any other group's lobbying day.

Briefings on issues, followed by meetings with lawmakers. But given post 9/11 politics, it's much more.

CAIR-CA, the Council on American-Islamic Relations California chapter, organized Monday's lobbying event to discuss issues like immigration and civil rights.

"It is important that members of our community engage with state lawmakers and fully participate in setting the course for a stronger California," said CAIR-CA Board Chairman Masoud Nassimi in a statement.

The subtext is that California Muslims are trying to defuse anti-Muslim rhetoric and bias that has resulted at times in attacks and vandalism of mosques. In a presidential election year, Muslims have felt targeted by candidates who they say draw little distinction between them and radical Islamists in pandering to conservative voters.

They point to Newt Gingrich as a key example. In an effort to counter this, Muslim groups are suggesting that this could be a costly tactic in key battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida.

"These are the same states where minority groups, including American Muslims, are likely to play a key role," said Santa Clara University assistant professor Farid Senzai in a recent New York Times op-ed.

Muslim voters remain a small part of the voting population. But they are much more aware now of the need to engage aggressively in political activism.

Monday's lobby gathering in Sacramento isn't tied to the national election. But it does reflect a realization that if you don't speak out, you can get run over.

Kevin Riggs is an Emmy-award winning former TV reporter in Sacramento. He is currently Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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