Cambridge councilor wants to recruit more Muslims into office

Published April 10, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

The first Muslim city councilor in Cambridge is looking to recruit more Muslims into office.

Even in a city that calls itself the People’s Republic, Nadeem Mazen said he was surprised by the sometimes-overt Islamophobia he encountered while campaigning last fall — as rare as those encounters were.

“They said it as if they were doing me a favor by being frank,” Mazen said. “They’d say, ‘Frankly, I think you’re smart and I like your ideas, but I don’t like that you’re Muslim.’”

Mazen is hosting a fundraising event called “Our seat at the table,” scheduled for Saturday, April 12, at the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland. The event is aimed at recruiting and training Muslims to become civic leaders, getting more Muslims into office, and organizing politically “in a way that is sustainable and scalable.”

Himself a first-term candidate, Mazen said Muslims face more than the sometimes subtle – and sometimes explicit – slights of racism and religious discrimination. As a relatively young immigrant group, Mazen said the community has built robust social and cultural networks, but lagged behind in political participation.

In general, Mazen said more minorities of all stripes should be participating in politics, but for a variety of reasons, nationally, Muslims have been slow to build momentum. In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to U.S. House of Representatives, and just this year, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations formed as an umbrella organization for seven national Muslim political groups.

“We’re in a moment in history where there is a lot of secular and interfaith support for a variety of candidates, including Muslim candidates,” Mazen said.

That’s important, he said, not only because it generates more diversity in governance, but because that diversity translates into a government system that better represents established social and cultural communities. It’s important because Muslims are also one of the most targeted religious groups in the country today, Mazen said.

“Muslims are the one of the most regularly persecuted groups in this country, especially right now,” Mazen said.

Even after the tragedies of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings, Mazen said for the most part, Cambridge voters were able to recognize the difference between the acts of a few individuals and the Muslim community at large. That might not be true elsewhere in the state, but Mazen said if there’s anywhere to start, it’s in Massachusetts.

“I tend to think of Boston as one of these places where it’s not that racial discrimination is a moot point, but it’s a place where the anti-discrimination stances of the majority tend to defeat the discriminatory nature of the few,” Mazen said. “It’s possible for greater political participation to happen here, and we can begin to see it happen elsewhere.”

The event is scheduled for Saturday, April 12, 6-8 p.m. at the Islamic Center of Boston, 126 Boston Post Road, Wayland.

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