In Minnesota, gay marriage campaigners target immigrant Muslims

Our weekly round-up of American stories with a global edge

By Nicholas Nehamas

Minnesota’s Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, opposes the amendment banning gay marriage. (Reuters)

Every Monday morning, Latitude News shows you how, in today’s interconnected world, news doesn’t stop at the border. This week, we’re taking a look at the growing role of America’s Muslim community in politics at home and around the world.

  • Will Minnesotans pass an amendment to their state constitution banning gay marriage? The answer to that question may well depend on the state’s 50,000 registered Muslim voters, many of whom are immigrants from Asia and Africa. Minnesotans are about equally divided on the issue and it’s shaping up to be a close vote (gay marriage is already illegal in the state). Activists on both sides of the issue say Muslims could make the difference come November, according to a report in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Star Tribune. Islam is traditionally opposed to homosexual unions but American Muslims are more open-minded about the issue, according to a national poll. And Minnesota’s more conservative Muslims worry about allying themselves with anti-gay groups, which also support initiatives banning Sharia.
  • Muslims are making their voice heard on the national political stage as well: 55 Arab-Americans attended last week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, a new record, breaking the previous mark of 53 from the 1988 convention. In total, 100 Muslim-Americans served as delegates this year, also a record. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Arab America that the convention “has brought us from exclusion to being respected and recognized as part of the mainstream of the Democratic Party.” Some American Muslims say the Republican Party has alienated them with talk of “encroaching Islam” and “birther” conspiracies.
  • In San Francisco, a charity is raising money for its book-mobile in Pakistan. The Bright Star Mobile Library has plenty of books, reports the San Francisco Chronicle—the San Francisco Public Library and the National Library of Pakistan have donated 2,800 books to the cause. The problem is finding funds to gas up the vehicles and pay the drivers. The program visits 20 rural schools outside of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. Just over half of all Pakistanis are literate, and Saeed Malik, who runs the charity, says that 85 percent of the schools he visited have no libraries. Malik, a native Pakistani who left the country 35 years ago and worked for the UN, says that when he returned to his homeland in 2004 he was shocked by the extreme political views of its youth. Many of them aspire to join the jihad and become freedom fighters. “The best way to tackle this radicalism,” he says, “that is taking hold of this country is through education.”
  • An Arab-American filmmaker from Detroit is unveiling her first feature “Detroit Unleaded” at the Toronto International Film Festival. “We’ve never really seen Arab Americans portrayed in this way before,” Rola Nashef tells the Detroit Free Press, “this sort of everyday life, and also being portrayed as young and sexy and hip and cool and funny.” Michigan, especially the city of Dearborn outside of Detroit, has a large Arab-American community. The movie also touches on tensions between Arabs and African-Americans. “Detroit Unleaded” is an “official selection” of the festival. “There are so many things I like about this film,” says the festival’s head of international programming. “It’s all about the universal human experience.”