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The Importance of Political Participation
It is widely claimed that the United States of America presents itself as a supporter of the democratic principles on the world arena. Although the USA has a long history of the development of the institutions of democracy, the maintenance of their effectiveness requires careful attention to the social and demographic issues. The United States is often called as the ‘country of immigrants’.
It is not surprising as the US population is represented by numerous diasporas of different countries. The scholars argue that the active citizenry is one of the most important features of democracy (Dalton, 2000).
The active citizenry supports functioning of democracy because it assumes popular interest, involvement in politics, and discussions, which contribute to the realization of the social goals. It is claimed that the legitimacy and the functioning of democracy are achieved only through public involvement in the process (Dalton, 2000).
Rosenstone and Hansen (1993) indicate the direct relationship between the turnout decline and the changes in the elite behavior. The authors stress that the mobilization becomes a way of active participation in the American politics. They emphasize the role of choice in the expansion of the pool of political participants (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993). The politicians, parties, and interest groups play a crucial role in this process.
A number of studies focus on the participation of the representatives of the foreign diasporas in the American politics. The attitude of the Muslim Americans to democracy and political process in the United States is touched upon in the works of Leonard, Choi, Gasim, Patterson, Aydin, Hammer, and other scholars.
The urgency of the problem is obvious due to the cautious and twofold attitude of the Americans to the immigrants from the Islam countries. Such attitude complicates their integration into the American society:
“The April 18, 2008 Chronicle Review … featured on its front page a picture of a young Palestinian man wearing a black headband and holding up a Qur’an and a rifle. The picture was intended to attract attention to an article contained in the issue titled “How Just is Islam’s Just-War Tradition?” by Evan R. Goldstein” (Aydin & Hammer, 2010, p. 1-2).
The article mentioned above is not unique as the problem is widely discussed in the media. The situation is sharpened by the last military conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and other Muslim countries: “Not all Muslim-Americans have diasporic ties to these countries, but each instance serves as an example of why some Muslim-Americans experience frustration or apathy” (Fatima, 2013, p. 346).
The rise in the anti-Muslim crimes makes the American Muslims become more assertive of their American identities (Leonard, 2003). They become more mobilized in order to fight for the preservation of their civil rights and liberties.
The social connections play an important role in this context. It is argued that the networks should be viewed not only as the set of contacts among people but rather as the mutual obligations among them (Putnam, 2000).
The scholars argued that the 2004 presidential campaign showed that the members of the Muslim communities took an active participation in the political process, especially, when they had to express their attitude to the salient issues and when they had the strong opinions on them (Choi et al., 2011).
In this regard, “Muslim American political claims that are not aligned with existing foreign policy and that may speak the language of affective response are often disregarded as epistematically untrustworthy (that is, disloyal and suspect)” (Fatima, 2013, p. 346).
Fatima (2013) claims that the Muslim Americans should actively participate in the development of the American foreign policy as well as inform the public about their participation with the purpose of striving for their loyalties and values.
The majority of the studies have been focused on the explanation of cross-national differences in the political engagement with a particular emphasis on voting. It is not surprising that the voting takes an important place as it represents not only the vital element of the democratic political process but also the vast range of the turnout data (Dalton, 2000).
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It has been found that the complex set of institutional factors determines the national turnout rates. In particular, such factors as “voter registration systems, electoral procedures, and the degree of political competition in the society and the party system” play a crucial role in the voting process (Dalton 2000, p. 928).
Dalton (2000) claims that the patterns in the participation in the political process change. He also stresses that the participation ratio in the political campaigns and voting decreases in many of the industrialized countries with the developed democracies.
However, the frequency of engagement in other activities rises (Dalton, 2000). In addition, the political institutions respond to the changes and new tendencies in accordance with the political moods in the society.
The scholars outline the individualization of the modern political process. This tendency reflects the fact that although the citizens become more interested in the political and social activities, they try to engage in these activities in order to obtain some personal gains.
Moreover, the citizens tend to make their own political decision regardless of the views of the political and social organizations. In this respect, they try to avoid the structured and institutionalized methods of political participation and to use the methods of direct democracy including the membership in the community groups and social movements.
The citizen action becomes a crucial factor in the American politics. Such kind of individualization of the political process leads to the heterogeneity of the public interests (Dalton, 2000).
Religion Institutions and political mobilization
Some scholars focus their attention on the role of religious institutions in the political mobilization. It has been found that the church embodying the religious tradition takes an important place in the political mobilization (Smidt, 1999). In addition, the attendance of the church may influence people’s attitude to the political process and make its visitors the active participants of the civic society.
The findings of Jones-Correa and Leal (2001) confirm recent studies. In particular, they prove the important role of the associational membership for civic behavior. The authors claim that the associational membership and the political engagement are two closely connected concepts.
In this respect, the membership in churches represents an important civic association engaging its members into the political and social processes (Jones-Correa & Leal, 2001).
The number of mosques and their participants are experiencing significant increase. Statistics shows that, on average, each mosque involves over 1,625 Muslims actively participating in the religious life (Bagby et al., 2001).
Dodds (2002) claims that the mosque itself is more than an architectural construction because it represents an Islamic community with its functions and specific nature supporting the religious life.
The majority of mosques are involved in the activities other than the religious support of the prayers. In particular, they visit a school or church to present Islam, work with the media, contact a political leader, and participate in an interfaith dialogue (Bagby et al., 2001).
The mosques often provide the cash assistance. Interestingly, many of them participate in the counseling and help the imprisoned. They also assist the poor by providing the food and clothing. The statistics shows that more than half of the American mosques are affiliated with other Muslim organizations (Bagby et al., 2001).
It should be stated that “Mosque participants are therefore situated in a unique and multifunctional locale that serves their inspirational, communal, and social needs” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537). The author distinguishes between peculiarities of different Muslim diasporas. For example, the mosques of the Arab Muslims are actively involved into the political activity.
They use the opportunities, which the membership in the civic society provides to them. Furthermore, their activity is characterized by the strong group consciousness: “For African and Arab Americans, the mosque serves as a collectivizing forum that highlights Muslim common struggles in mainstream American society” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537).
In contrast, “though the mosques of the South Asian nations contribute to the participation of their members in the political process, they do not strive to increase the levels of political engagement as well as the levels of group consciousness” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537).
Additional information needed
In order to prove the first hypothesis stating that the majority of the American Muslims participate in the affairs of political parties and special interest groups because they believe in democracy and its values, additional information is needed. In particular, the materials reviewed do not provide a clear insight into the political views of the majority of the American Muslims.
Besides, it is important to find out to which political parties the most of them adhere or to determine whether a clear stratification of the American Muslim community on the principle of the political preferences exists. It should be determined to which political ideology the most of the American Muslims adhere.
Although it is stated that the American Muslims become more active participants of the political process in the United States, their attitude to the democracy is not clear. In this respect, it is vital to understand their interpretation of the term of the democratic society. Furthermore, it is interesting to compare the political views of the American Muslims from the different states.
The information presented in the reviewed materials does not address the question of the gender discrimination in the Muslim communities. It is crucial to know whether it exists among the American Muslims. Besides, it will be logical to analyze the differences in the views of the American Muslims on democracy depending on their social and economic status, and education.
The information presented in the reviewed materials also does not touch upon the opinions of the American Muslims on the most urgent problems of the American politics. It should be stated that the literature reviewed is relevant for the purpose of the research but additional information is necessary to test the stated hypothesis.
Aydin, C. ,& Hammer, J. (2010). Muslims and media: Perceptions, participation, and change. Contemporary Islam, 4(1), 1-9.
Bagby, I., Perl, P., & Froehle, B. (2001). The mosque in America a national portrait: A report from the mosque study project. Washington, DC: Council of American Islamic Relations
Choi, J. ,Gasim, G. , & Patterson, D. (2011). Identity, issues, and religious commitment and participation: Explaining turnout among mosque‐attending muslim americans. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11(3), 343-364.
Dalton, R. (2000). Citizen attitudes and political behavior.Comparative Political Studies, 33(6/7), 912-940.
Dodds, J. (2002). The mosques of New York City. New York, NY: Power House Books.
Fatima, S. (2013). Muslim‐american scripts. Hypatia, 28(2), 341-359.
Jamal, A. (2005). The political participation and engagement of muslim americans: Mosque involvement and group consciousness. American Politics Research, 33(4), 521-544.
Jones-Correa, M., & Leal, D. (2001). Political participation: Does religion matter? Political Research Quarterly, 4, 751-770.
Leonard, K. (2003). Muslims in the United States: The state of research. New York, NY: Russell Sage.
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Rosenstone, S., & Hansen, J. M. (1993). Mobilization, participation and democracy in America. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Smidt, C. (1999). Religion and civic engagement: A comparative analysis. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 565, 176-192.