WASHINGTON: After the prayers at one of the largest Eid gatherings in the Washington metro area, about a dozen young men got up and started distributing pamphlets supporting US President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
Most people quietly accepted the pamphlets. Some even put the Obama-Biden badge on their coats. Then one bearded man got up and threw away the pamphlet and the badge given to him.
“I am a Republican,” he declared in Urdu and then repeated himself in English, although less than 25 per cent people in this large crowd were non-Pakistanis. “My values do not allow me to support Democrats because they back gay rights,” he said.
Some teenagers made a ring around him and started making fun of the only vocal Republican in the crowd. The man got so annoyed that he stood on a raised pavement and roared: “Remember, we are Muslims. We cannot support liberal values. We do not want our children to go astray.”
A few years ago, an emotive speech like this would have gathered a crowd around him, particularly in a mosque or an Eidgah.
But the times have changed. Now most Muslims, Pakistanis included, seem more concerned about their immediate problems, jobs, immigration reforms and acceptance in the larger society.
Although there have been no exclusive poll of Pakistani-Americans, recent surveys of Muslims living in America show that a vast majority of them supports Democrats. They believe that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to bring in the reforms they need.
And this is also obvious in the Pakistani community. Since the election campaign began early this year, about a dozen Pakistani-American organisations are actively campaigning for President Obama.
“Do not forget to register,” was the common message from groups like Pakistani-American Congress in the early stages of the campaign when most people believed President Obama would have an easy victory.
It changed to frantic appeals for votes for Mr Obama as the race tightened. “I believe most Pakistanis like President Obama but fear that like previous years, they may not come to vote,” says Syed Fayyaz Hassan, a Pakistani community leader in Houston, who is also a member of the Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus.
Mr Syed, however, acknowledges that this year their effort to register Pakistani-American voters has been very successful. “People are excited. There is a growing realisation that they need to participate in American, rather than Pakistani politics.”
Khalid Tanvir, a northern Virginia resident, noted that unlike Pakistan, where only 11pc respondents to a recent poll supported President Obama, most Pakistani-Americans want him re-elected on Nov 6.
Shahid Ali, a Chicago resident who watched all three presidential debates at the city’s famous Devon Avenue, said this year many Pakistanis also watched the debate.
“I never saw so many Pakistanis watching the debate before,” he said while pointing out that “Devon is the nerve centre” of the Pakistani community in Chicago, and “Devon is for President Obama”.
Devon has hundreds of Pakistani and Indian shops and restaurants where many people watched the debates.
But Republicans have their supporters among the Pakistanis too. Recently, BBC recorded a family discussion at the residence of Zulfikar Kazmi, a known Democrat in Woodbridge, Virginia. He expected it to be a smooth endorsement for Mr Obama as he believed that because he was a Democrat, his family was too. He was wrong.
As the debate began, his wife spoke out: “No, I am not. You never cared for my political views but I have my views too,” she said. “I believe Republicans are good for Pakistan, so I will vote for Mitt Romney.”
Mr Romney won over some Pakistanis in the last presidential debate on foreign policy. He described Pakistan as an important country and stressed the need for staying engaged with it.
Although Mr Romney also endorsed President Obama’s drone policy and pledged to continue the attacks if re-elected; his rhetoric reminded some Pakistanis of the Reagan and Bush days when Republican administrations strongly backed Pakistan.
“It is right though, is it not?” asked Zahid Khawja, a Baltimore, Maryland, resident after watching the third debate. “Republicans are good for Pakistan. I will vote for Mr Romney.”
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