A national coalition of American Islamic organizations endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry for president Thursday, saying he would better restore the civil liberties many Muslims believed had been lost under the homeland security measures adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The action reversed a decision by Islamic groups four years ago to support George W. Bush, an endorsement many now regard as disastrous.
Many Muslims are alarmed by what they say are the Bush administration’s mistaken decision to invade Iraq, inattention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, crackdowns on Islamic charities, and harassment of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians through the use of secret evidence and other controversial legal measures.
“Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been insensitive to our civil liberties and human rights,” the coalition’s statement said. “Today, American Muslims are being treated like second-class citizens.”
But the endorsement of Kerry by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections was lukewarm. In its statement, the task force said it was “disappointed” that the Kerry campaign had not expressed clear agreement on key civil rights issues, such as bans on the use of secret evidence.
The task force also said it disagreed with Kerry’s support of the war in Iraq. Despite the disagreements, it said, Muslims were willing to work with the Massachusetts Democrat.
The coalition is made up of 10 organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Student Assn.
One leading Los Angeles-based Muslim organization declined to join the endorsement, noting that Kerry had failed to meet with the Muslim coalition or to promise anything in return for its support. “We believe it is reckless to endorse someone we’ve never met,” said Ahmed Younis of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Other activists in Los Angeles disagreed with Younis. Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, a task force member, pushed hard for Kerry. But he said Muslims had not proven themselves “politically viable” to the candidate because they had neither written large checks to his campaign nor volunteered for it.
Estimates of the U.S. Muslim population range from 2 million to 7 million. Muslim groups say they are a key vote in the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
A national poll of Muslims released this month by Zogby International found 68% support for Kerry, 11% for Ralph Nader, 7% for Bush and the rest undecided or backing another. Some analysts say the endorsement’s key effect might be to coax Nader backers into the Kerry fold.