U.S. News

Jetpac aims to boost Muslim participation in American politics

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - A newly formed U.S. political advocacy group is ready to launch a campaign aimed at inspiring more Muslim Americans to run for office, in what it describes as a long-term effort to give Muslims more of a voice in a hostile political climate.

The group, calling itself Justice, Education, Technology, Policy Advocacy Center, or Jetpac, is the brainchild of Nadeem Mazen, a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The campaign, which launches Friday, comes at a tense time for Muslims, less than a week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning passport holders from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, a move he said was intended to head off potential terrorist attacks.

“Every community has its political wake-up call ... that time for Muslims has come,” Mazen said in a recent interview as he said in front of a wall of computer monitors at the group’s office in Cambridge. “Having an American Muslim leadership base is critical.”

About 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States, representing about 1 percent of the population, according to Pew Research Center data. But relatively few of them hold elected office, with the most senior being Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Representative Andre Carson of Indiana, both Democrats.

Many Americans take a dim view of Muslims, with their opinions colored by the memories of attacks including the Sept. 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center and 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, carried out by men who spouted radical Islamist views.

U.S. Muslim leaders have routinely denounced violence as a violation of Islamic teaching. Nonetheless about 49 percent of respondents to a Pew survey last year said they considered at least some Muslims to be anti-American.

Jetpac is not immediately aiming at electing more Muslims to federal office, instead hoping to inspire and train more Muslims who are not currently politically active to run for lower-level offices, such as city council or school board positions.

“We’re talking about mothers who want to run for the school committee, we are talking about people who are already involved in nonprofit work or issue-based campaigns,” said Shaun Kennedy, the group’s executive director. “They are people who are involved in their community.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker