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Muslims endorse Bush for president

A national committee for Muslims says Bush has shown "elevated concern'' about the use of profiling at airports and secret evidence.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000


A national political action committee for Muslims endorsed George W. Bush for president Monday, predicting if Arab-Americans and Muslims vote in a bloc they can swing razor-thin margins in Michigan and Illinois his way.

The American Muslim Political Coordinating Council PAC said Bush has shown "elevated concern" about issues its community holds dear: stopping the government's use of secret evidence against Arab and Muslim immigrants, and its profiling of Arab-Americans at airports.

The government says it is after terrorists. Both practices, say critics, are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

U.S. citizens have been pulled from ticket lines and had their luggage searched because of Arabic names, physical appearance or flight destinations.

About two dozen Arab and Muslim immigrants are currently involved in secret evidence cases, accused of ties to terrorists and jailed indefinitely but not charged with a crime. They include Tampa resident Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian and former University of South Florida teacher who has been detained 3 1/2 years on alleged ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Bush raised those issues in the second presidential debate. Secret evidence is "not the American way," he said. "We've got to do something about that."

For Muslims and Arabs, that brief reference became "one of the highlights of this election and this campaign," said Yahya Mossa Basha, a PAC member and president of the American Muslim Council.

Bush took notice, said Basha, because of lobbying by the Muslim and Arab community. The current administration, including President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, have heard the same concerns repeatedly.

"The Clinton administration talked about it but did absolutely nothing," said Basha.

Gore opposed secret evidence in a speech in Michigan in October. In a letter dated Oct. 19, he mentioned Al-Najjar by name, saying he has been "detained over three years in Florida based on evidence that neither he nor his attorney have seen."

"Preventing a person from confronting the evidence against him is a practice that I cannot square with our ideals of freedom and fairness," Gore wrote.

Yet Gore's proposal to order a Justice Department review was old news. A review of current cases by Reno's office did not toss a single case nor change policy, say those fighting the practice.

There are an estimated 6-million Muslims in the United States, with the largest populations in California, Michigan, New York, Illinois and New Jersey. More than 62 percent are registered voters, according to pollster John Zogby.

Estimates put the Arab-American vote in Michigan at 9 percent of the total -- more than enough to cover a 2 to 4 point spread between Bush and Gore.

Both Bush and Gore have quietly solicited Arab-American support through mailings and citizen meetings while remaining staunch supporters of Israel.

The AMPCC is a coalition of four major Muslim political organizations. They are the American Muslim Council, American Muslim Alliance, Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

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