It was just a throwaway line, an aside in a speech to some fellow American Muslims that Muqtedar Khan considered a surefire crowd-pleaser. But when he criticized President Bush over the war on Iraq, Khan was surprised by the response.
''I was booed. They were shouting and booing at me,'' said Khan, a political scientist at Adrian College in Michigan. ''A man came and told me, 'If you think the war in Iraq is not moral then I'm sorry to say you have no idea what morality is.'''
As Khan saw that day, the president still enjoys pockets of strong support among America's Muslims, despite deep resentment over scrutiny of their community following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
And while Democrats outnumber Republicans among U.S. Muslims, there is a sense that presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry has done relatively little to reach out to the community.
Among Bush's supporters are Iraqi-Americans and others grateful that Saddam Hussein was ousted, giving their fellow Shiias a chance to govern in that country after decades of oppression.
Others are wealthy, immigrant businessmen loyal to the Republican Party. They can be found among the Bush campaign's Pioneers and Rangers, who have raised tens of thousands of dollars for his re-election.
More votes could come from socially conservative Muslims, drawn into the Republican camp because of its opposition to gay marriage. ''We are working hard to maintain and build upon the support for the president,'' said Scott Stanzel, a Bush campaign spokesman.
Still, no one expects Bush to win a majority of the Muslim vote and there's a danger in the recent Iraqi uprisings, which could further undercut Islamic and particularly Shiia support for the president.
Surveys in the last few years have found that American Muslims identify themselves as Democrats at a ratio of about 2-to-1, said Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Anger at Bush's policies has grown with each mosque raided and Muslim charity shut down on suspicion of ties with terrorists: The White House has defended such actions as critical to national security.
National Muslim leaders who endorsed Bush over Al Gore in 2000 expecting the Texas governor would be more sympathetic to their concerns have said publicly that they made a mistake.
The leading Muslim organizations have been so outraged over the USA Patriot Act that they have banded together as the American Muslim Taskforce to make civil rights their top issue in the presidential race. They say the anti-terrorism bill restricts civil liberties and disproportionately hurts Muslims.
Yet Bush has been able to maintain ties in their community, even as American Muslim leaders condemn him. That's significant, especially with Muslim voters concentrated in such battleground states as Florida and Michigan. Estimates of the number of registered Muslim voters nationally varies widely from 1 million to 3 million.
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council which has made no endorsement in the 2004 race said the Bush administration has revived contact with his group after ''a long drought.''
The White House sent a representative to the council's annual convention last December for the first time.
Al-Marayati said he met recently also for the first time with representatives of the Homeland Security Department, and met in Washington with Jim Towey, head of the White House faith-based office.
In addition, he said the Treasury Department has renewed talks with the Los Angeles-based council on protecting law-abiding U.S. Muslim charities during the war on terror.
John Kerry's campaign has been less aggressive in reaching out to Muslims, said Al-Marayati and other leaders in the community.
The Massachusetts senator did call into the council's convention. And he filled out a seven-page questionnaire meant to help the American Muslim Taskforce decide whether to make an endorsement, according to Taskforce leader Agha Saeed.
But when Al-Marayati asked the Kerry campaign for a meeting, he said he was told they were reorganizing for the general election. Kerry's press office did not return repeated calls for comment.
Al-Marayati, however, was able to arrange a meeting recently with Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. A DNC spokeswoman, Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, said: ''We're trying to find new ways to work with the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities.''
Bush deeply upset U.S. Muslims this month by expressing support for Jews to remain in the West Bank and opposition to a right of Palestinian exiles to resettle in Israel.
But Khan noted that Kerry also expressed support for the plan and that many American Muslims consider the Democratic Party so pro-Israel that they would never vote for him.
Even Muslims who oppose Bush are aware he has done some positive things, such as calling Islam a religion of peace, visiting a Washington-area mosque and saying Islam is compatible with democracy, Khan said.
''There are hard-core Republican Muslims out there,'' Khan said.
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