Central Florida elections discussed in town hall meeting

Voting affects our everyday life in ways that we would not expect. Held at the University of Central Florida, the event, Arab and Muslim and the 2012 Elections, was mainly focused on the advantages of voting and what has happened in the past because of the lack of the Muslim voters. The town hall was set up by the Muslim Student Association, Emerge USA, Arab American Community Center, Arab American Institute and many others.

“Surfacing an event like this is imperative. It is a different angle for the Arab and Muslim community in Central Florida,” Rasha Mubarak, Emerge USA Field Coordinator and AACC PR and Media Director said. “Knowing our rights and benefits from voting will initiate understanding of how much of a role our community truly does play in the election process.”

One of the panelists who discussed the problems and solutions was Dr. James Zogby, who was the moderator of the meeting. Dr. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), which is a non-profit national leadership organization that encourages the direct participation of Arab Americans in political and civic life.

Another panelists was Daniel Hummel who is currently a Research Assistant with Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. ISPU is an independent, research organization that conducts research and offers policy analysis on issues such as U.S. foreign policy, national security, and the economy.

Nayef Mubarak is an attorney who currently serves as the Immigration Director of the Arab American Community Center (AACC) in Orlando. The Arab American Community Center is a nonpartisan organization that focus services that meet the community’s economic, social and cultural needs. He is also an Associate with the Nejame Law Firm.

Howard Simon is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida. ACLU is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on individual rights. Imran Siddiqui is on the Board of Emerge USA, a Florida non-profit organization designed to educate Muslim-Americans and encourage political engagement.

Racial profiling is a current issue that has been affecting the rights and has caused discrimination towards Arab and Muslim Americans. Such as the current issue of the NYPD conducting secret surveillance on Muslim college students, specifically Muslim groups in colleges located in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

“As great as Mayor Bloomberg has been as a mayor and all the achievements he’s made, it disappoints me greatly of the lack of motivation of resolving these issues in regards of  the NYPD,” Howard Simon said.

A large topic was discrimination towards Muslim and Arab Americans, as well as Islamophobia, which has started since the falling of the Twin Towers on September 11th. Florida has a higher rate of Islamophobia than most other states. The panelists emphasized on the important of centralizing as a community and mobilizing.

There is the the current issue of the mixing of religious views and freedom as citizens. With laws regarding abortion, birth control and others, the need to be able to separate beliefs and constitutional rights. Muslims have similar ideologies as Catholics, which explains the inability to distinguish those is a problem for Muslim Americans also.

“There’s Muslim guilt, and catholic guilt, it’s all very much related and the same,” said Nayef Mubarak. “We need to be free of those beliefs when we’re deciding on our rights, and not allow them to conflict.”

Voter education was also a major point during the meeting. Since Florida has created the Voter Suppression Bill, it has prevented minorities from registering to vote, adding more complex requirements and prolonging the registration.

“There have been many changes in voting, especially in Florida,” Howard Simon said. “We need to figure out how not to be defeated.”