Research: Political Integration of Ethnic Minorities: Muslims In Orlando

By Eren Tatari, Adrienne Barton and Shabana Baksh

The Blue Mosque

The topic of research is the political integration of minorities living in Orlando, Florida. The topic under study is of significant importance: a governmental body that facilitates and promotes the integration of its ethnic and religious minorities increases its legitimacy, begetting the research question of “What explains the variation of political integration among different minority ethnic groups?” An understanding of minority groups, sociopolitical status and universal human rights is endemic to successful democracies. Disenfranchisement, feelings of alienation, and violence result from poor attempts at integration. Variables considered to affect an individual and group’s integration include race, exclusion/inclusion within the minority community, levels of religiosity, education level, and amount of time spent living in a particular country. It was concluded that for a vibrant democracy to flourish, a more positive political understanding of Orlando’s ethnic groups is beneficial to society as a whole. An understanding of the mechanics influencing political participation provides an important source for community leaders and legislators to better accommodate the people they’ve been elected to serve.

The political integration of ethnic and religious minorities in America is vital for social cohesion and a healthy democracy. Political integration factors include, but are not limited to, an individual’s political awareness, general interest in politics, and political participation. Political participation, distinct from political integration, is the measure of involvement in local and national politics, including an individual or group’s actions to identify and address public issues. . Figure 1 is a visual representation of political participation including voting history, lobbying patterns, and attendance of political campaigns and events. The study of minorities is significant to current globalization trends of political, economic, and social affairs. An enhanced understanding of how various groups in America become interested in political activities and how they are made aware of political participation roles is crucial to understanding how political activism persists. The stability of a democracy depends upon the active participation of its citizens. Therefore, further studying the various levels of political integration among ethnic groups of diverse cultures helps to identify their goals and aspirations for the nation and potential roles they may play in the community.

 

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A comparative study of immigrant minorities in Orlando, Florida will include an investigation of the factors that determine the extent of political  integration among two different ethnic groups (Guyanese and Egyptian immigrants in Orlando). Identifying the similarities and differences of the factors influencing political integration among these specific minority groups will assist in social cohesion and the reduction of crime rates while contributing to a healthier, more vibrant democracy. A direct correlation can be assumed between politically active minority groups and the perceived government legitimacy amongst the populations. This creation of social justice and harmony is necessary for the government to function effectively and in a positive manner. If the government has no political feedback from minority groups, there will be less implementation of laws, programs, etc. necessary for such groups. High levels of active civic engagement are necessary to establish and enhance civil society. Advocating good governance is imperative to integration on a national and international scale.

Through the analysis and in-depth study among the two ethnic groups, there will be numerous opportunities to perceive diverse sources of the influences of political integration. With the current trend of increased immigration in Orlando, studying these particular minority groups can help to better comprehend the differences among the most and least integrated. This deeper analysis could possibly reveal the influences that may cause the lower feelings of political integration present in Islamic extremism among societies and individuals. This study is pivotal in revealing the influences of a minority that is rather misunderstood in the eyes of some Americans, and therefore it is enlightening to educate citizens about this subject.

“I have lived through the war in Lebanon and the wars in Syria in the late 70s early 80s and have learned that being naïve politically is costly. Ignorance is not bliss.”

The core of this study surrounds the political integration of ethnic and religious minorities in America. Political integration may include an individual’s political awareness, general interest in politics, and political participation. Vital for social cohesion and a healthy democracy, the factors of political integration assist in understanding ethnic and religious influences of individual and group actions to identify and address public issues.

Our research question examined the factors that facilitate and/or hinder political integration among minorities. This comparative study of ethnic minorities in Orlando, Florida included a comparison of the factors that determine the extent of political integration among different ethnic immigrant groups. The

predicted various factors influencing levels of political integration were education, income, and occupation. However, other factors include levels of religiosity, marital status, number of children, level of patriotism towards the United States, citizenship status, years living in the United States, overall group cohesion, and the level of social capital (trust, reciprocity, etc). Our findings reflected only a few of the factors predicted: individual’s level of religiosity, education, and occupation.

Our main method of gathering data was through direct contact interviews in the Muslim community of Orlando in which participants were asked survey questions pertaining to their political awareness, knowledge, and levels of religiosity. In addition to our research questions, we also created a webpage to act as a guiding source for the Muslim community. The goal of the webpage is to help facilitate increased social and political cohesion among the various ethnic groups (Guyanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Palestinian, etc.) at a local and national level. The webpage includes state and local news, an events calendar, and an interactive community map with locations of mosques, organizational meetings, and community centers.

Approaching community leaders of various ages and educational backgrounds helped to diversify the pool of potential interviewees. Organizations such as the nonpartisan group Emerge USA, the Muslim Women’s Organization (MWO), Muslims Understanding through Society & Education (MUSE), and local religious leaders of mosques and community leaders were all interviewed. Despite the diversity of our pool of interviewees, the intersection of differences

in generations, religious sects, and political views resulted in similar outcomes. As such, it was found that the factor most prevalent in determining and influencing one’s overall individual participation was their level of religiosity. Therefore, we were able to note that the divide in American society between religion and politics is somewhat blurred as it pertains to this particular community of individuals. The members of the community we interviewed expressed that they were naturally inclined to be politically active merely on the grounds that religion and politics are somewhat hard to separate.

We also discovered that among the various ethnic groups researched (Turkish, Palestinian, Moroccan, Egyptian, West Indian, etc.) there was not one group more politically motivated than others. From this it may be inferred that ethnicity did not have any overt influence in determining political participation. However, there were some outliers. As with most communities, there are particular individuals of each ethnic minority that tended to be more involved in the political system than others for their own personal passions or political historical significance to one’s life.

For example, Imam Musri, the head director of the Islamic Society of Central Florida (ISCF), is driven to political action due to his past experiences in Syria and Lebanon. He said, “I have lived through the war in Lebanon and the wars in Syria in the late 70s early 80s and have learned that being naïve politically is costly. Ignorance is not bliss. You have to know what’s going on around you and take a stand. Throughout my religious training, my teachers always told me [that as a] Muslim, you have to stand for justice, you cannot just be silent. How can you stand for justice and for helping people if you are politically ignorant or not active?”

Rasha Mubarak was also of the same opinion. A Palestinian-American and the Orlando Field Coordinator for Emerge USA, her goals are closely linked with the organization’s in focusing on creating opportunities for underrepresented minority communities to become politically educated, aware, and active.

“Everyone wants good; everyone wants to help those that are suffering, but at the end of the day it ends up getting kind of messy.”

“People become politically involved for right reasons. Whether at home or far away, there are feelings when you see something. [My] political world was stirred with the pressure of the Palestinian people. The impact at such a young age influenced my involvement with my high school newspaper, rallies, attending the Democratic convention, etc. You can’t be blinded to other injustices around the world. Once you see wrong being done, anything, this leads you into becoming political.”

As stated previously, religion and religiosity can push people into becoming more involved, and through such involvement, political senses are heightened, specifically as religiosity becomes increasingly integrated into personal life and belief systems. Rasha Mubarak concurs, “All religions project peaceful life, following Islam and politics with honesty, the integrity of politics – that’s all Islam. This is what politics needs. The battle will always be between your values versus politics.” One’s cultural and ethnic values precede the individual’s choices to be politically active as well as their stance on issues of heightened interest to them.

Throughout the research, we also found that generational differences influence interest in politics and eagerness for political participation. Equally related and important is how long the individual has been involved in a community organization. During initial interviews, one college-aged respondent, Amir Khan, the president of the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Muslim Student Association, indicated very low interest in politics and did not identify himself as politically active. When prompted, the extent of his political involvement included petitioning against the anti-Sharia bill. This is tied not necessarily with his ethnic community (Guyanese), but instead to a greater connection to his immediate community of Muslims in America. In his words,

there will only be a surplus of benefits that arise from promoting greater political participation within the Muslim community.

“The fact that there are so many misunderstandings that people have about Islam, such as women are forced to wear their hijab, which they’re not; the fact that we all believe in blowing ourselves up, which definitely isn’t true. They don’t really think that we can just be regular citizens,” Khan said.

Generational age also appears to influence whether one is interested in promoting knowledge and understanding through politics as gathered from interviews with respondents from later generations, including recent college graduates. Interviewees expressed a sense of confusion and aggravation when working to be politically active, specifically due to the conflicting information received from varying news and media outlets on national and global incidents. These conflicting news stories are then perpetuated by the specific subset of Muslims (Sunni or Shia, for example) being influenced by the issue portrayed. Masuma Virji of The United Muslim Foundation (UMF) articulated that there is some confusion about information bias.

“It’s very sectarian…Different sects get different information from back home and it’s really confusing. Everyone wants good; everyone wants to help those that are suffering, but at the end of the day it ends up getting kind of messy. It can be hard,” Virji said.

From the interviews we deduced that political participation is not only ideal but also necessary for social cohesion and peace among Muslims in Orlando. This city is a large hub for various immigrant groups sharing in the same beliefs of Islam. Imam Musri stated, “The Greater Orlando area is composed of more than 55 different countries, in addition to those who are U.S.-born citizens, and those people come with baggage – their own issues, ideas, and connections to their home country. We all have to stay up to date.”

Thus we concluded that for a vibrant democracy to flourish and be effective, a greater, more positive political understanding among and of the Orlando ethnic groups is beneficial to the society as a whole. If different groups are able to understand and communicate ideas about current news, these groups will be able to peacefully interact with one another and continue to build upon those ideas to make greater opportunities. An understanding of the mechanics and driving forces influencing political participation is useful to members of the community under study and provides an important source for community leaders and legislators. In understanding the unique characteristics comprising community member’s reasons for political participation and interest (or lack thereof), legislators will be in a position where they become able to accommodate and cater to the people they are being elected to serve. Rasha Mubarak states, “I was never originally into American politics…if you want to save the world, you have to be involved in the system. The [Orlando Muslim] community is suffering; they complain yet don’t realize that to see a better future for our kids, the future depends on succumbing and overcoming. Eventually, others will see the census of Muslim Americans – we are a community at large.”

As individuals, community organizations, and their associated leaders continue to educate and advocate for their community, all respondents interviewed are optimistic regarding future involvement and understanding. With greater understanding of the unique dynamics and desires of the members of this community, there are few reservations that there will be an abundance of benefits within the community at large. While the occasional setbacks may arise, in catering to the needs of an oft marginalized population, there will be a proliferation of social cohesion within the myriad of groups to which Orlando plays host. Rasha Mubarak, like many of the other interview subjects, remains realistic of the demographic and conscious of the dynamics. “There will always be that group who simply does not care. But I think the people that have been fearful will step up. The youth have become so involved; there are so many groups, [MWO, AMYL Council]….people want to be affiliated with something positive. I have already seen this movement grow,” she said.

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