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Lobbying Versus Advocacy

Before I begin: may I be allowed one rant–then I’m done until campaigning starts after Labor Day weekend?  I have submitted the following piece to THREE publications…and it’s been kicked to the curb.  I’m no Maya Angelou when it comes to writing, but I’m flexible…and willing to revise.  But this piece has been flat out rejected three times…by outlets that I’ve written for in the past.  Thanks, the floor is now open for  a war of words in the comments section.


On July 25th, I participated as my blogger persona, PITAPOLICY, in the Global Voice Hall Live Pangea program.  The topic was Arab and Muslim Americans Voting in the 2012 Elections.  Its host, Guy Taylor, drew attention to Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim Americans populations, who may impact voting “swing states.” Take note that there are 1.2 million American Muslims registered to vote. This means that there is a potential power behind a diverse voting “bloc” — assuming that they’ve registered.  Such optimism brought me back to my conversation with Ambassador Maen Areikat of the PLO Delegation on a need for advocacy against Islamophobia, but the even GREATER need for lobbying if the above groups could form a coalition along secularist lines.  Ambassador Areikat touched upon three themes that pinpoint the intersection of Muslim American engagement in the U.S. and issues that Islamophobes conflate.  The first theme is a reconstructed definition of secularism.  The second draws on the experiences that face many diplomatic missions from Muslim-majority countries working in D.C. to improve international relations.  A growing number of missions and their staff highlight how they see their roles expanding from cultural, political, and economic officers to “interfaith engagement officers.”  Finally, the third draws upon the first and second themes: how to balance interests and issues via institutions that differentiate between civic engagement and formalized lobbying.

The discussion of Islamophobia as a political impediment for both Muslim Americans, and those representatives from Muslim-majority countries, prompted studies by Center for American Progress. Taking the case of Palestine provided an opportunity to engage Ambassador Areikat on a fear that yields profits for a security industry, as well as paychecks to fear campaign participants — or Islamophobes — not to me ntion the increasing number of so-called “Islam experts” in the last ten years, observes Areikat.

All themes presuppose that Islamophobia operates as an industry.  According to Patheos, a resource site for all faiths, the Top Ten Islamophobes list: 1) Robert Spencer, 2) Pam Gellar, 3) Frank Gaffney (Jihad Watch blogger), 4) Brigitte Gabriels, 5) Daniel Pipes, 6)  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 7) Steve Emerson,  8) David Horowitz (listing the 101 “most dangerous academics”), 9) Sean Hannity and 10) David Yerushalmi, who leads the anti-sharia movement.

In addition, Stephen Schwartz characterizes Islamophobia as an industry.  Schwartz founded the Center for Islamic Pluralism, a nonprofit international network of moderate Muslim journalists, intellectuals, clerics, and activists, headquartered in Washington, D.C.  The Center for American Progress specifies in Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America found that there are seven primary funders of Islamophobic institutions, which amount to over 42 million dollars.

Negotiating Is One Tool; Lobbying Is Another

Islamophobia also feeds off of the psychological insecurities of Muslim Americans.  Interfaith dialogue may only go so far. In particular, Areikat reflected, “We as Muslims are not doing enough to clean the reputation — not just grassroots lobbying, but on the organization level.”  Areikat says that Muslim Americans enjoy the privilege to participate in a variety of institutions that Muslim-majority country diplomats and missions cannot utilize.  Specifically, the advent of lobbying does not have to evoke negative images of money buying power.  For example, stronger blocs of Muslim Americans conjoined with other blocs would be more strategic on a civic as well as a political level.  Forming coalitions, or coalescing around issues present opportunities for different types of advocacy groups, including protracted lobbying efforts.

On a broader level, civil rights groups, advocacy groups, and other types of interest groups like PACS, all engage in some type of lobbying.  Essentially, advocacy groups engage and facilitate “grass roots” lobbying in that its general membership uses its manpower rather than expending significant funding to influence legislation on issues.  However, lobbying groups that dedicate substantial funds to influence legislative actors, congressmen and senators, fall under the entity of PACS and do not enjoy the privilege of federal tax exemption like its 501C-3 counterparts.

Moreover, the distinction between an advocacy organization and the more specific activity of “lobbying” is crucial in that it is not just about the focus, but the extent to which funds are spent on “political activity” by the entity.  According to IRC 501(c)(3), lobbying is described as “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation,” while political activity is described as “participat[ing] in, or interven[ing] in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Advocacy groups like CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and ISNA protect civil rights of American Muslims, organize educational seminars/trainings, and serve as watchdogs as crises emerge for over two million American Muslims.  As a result of their non-profit status, however, none of the above advocacy groups will be allowed to dedicate substantial funding to categorically target elected officials.  This raises further challenges when elected officials are running tight races against opponents who receive funding from Islamophobic entities.

Considering Ambassador Areikat’s interview, there is only so much a Muslim-majority country’s mission can do within the construct of American politics, civic engagement–not withstanding concerted efforts to confront Islamophobia.  Muslim Americans are not as politically engaged:   Gallup found that Muslim-Americans are least likely to be registered to vote (65%) despite demonstrating the most confidence in the honesty of US elections.  There was, and continues to be a mismatch between Muslim-American voice and voter action.  Maybe the lower level of political engagement is why Gallup’s study found that Muslim Americans feel that “their repeated condemnations of terrorism seem to go unheard,” for instance.  Consequently, the vacuum of political voices fills with more Islamophobic rhetoric, which is just another form of xenophobia and uninviting to any diplomatic mission.  Since the US is admired for its institutions by so many Muslim-majority countries, then building dialogue through institutions, like lobbies and PACs, provide another set of tools for Muslim Americans who already have many advocacy organization–and goes beyond interfaith dialogue and Islamophobia. American groups know that preparing for US elections 2012 call for taking advocacy to the next step.  American Muslims: where’s our diverse coalition if we’re not lobbying?

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