The last seven years have been strange ones for American Muslims in politics. That much was evident at this morning’s first ever Muslim Democratic Caucus meeting. Aftab Siddiqui, a member of the Texas Democratic Muslim Caucus, walked me through the recent history. Prior to 2000, Muslims hadn’t been, as a group, particularly active in national politics. But in the run-up to 2000, a coalition of Muslim groups got together and decided to make a serious play for national political prominence and put feelers out to both the Bush and Gore campaigns. Bush met with them and Gore didn’t. They endorsed Bush. (NB: This story is unconfirmed, though there were scattered news reports at the time backing it up.)

Then 9/11 happened and, at what Siddiqui called “our moment of need,” the Republican party “wanted to have nothing to do with us.” The irony is that like many immigrant communities, the affluent second generation of Muslims, those with professional degrees, living in the suburbs, had been fairly reliable GOP donors. But no longer, according to Siddiqui “It’s very hard to find Muslims who say they are Republican now,” he told me. “Now they say they’re independent. When you meet a Muslim who says he’s an independent, it means he used to be a Republican.”

So now many Democratic Muslims are trying to organize within the Democratic Party: hence the morning breakfast, which was kicked off by a Koranic invocation (in Arabic, then English), followed by the presentation of the colors by a boy scout group and a quite beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Keith Ellison, who was elected to represent Minnesota’s Fifth Dongressional District in 2006, and became the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, was the headliner. “America, our great country, needs the Muslim community,” he said. “The fact is we have achieved an amazing success simply convening this meeting.”

The theme for the day was involvement: get involved in local politics, vote, run for office. “Where are our Muslim congresswoman hijab and without hijab,” said Indiana Congressman Andre Carson (the nation’s second Muslim elected to Congress). “Where are our Muslim city councilmen? We need more Muslims in the schoolboard.”

While Jerome Corsi and the reactionary right, whose antipathy towards Islam is well-documented, would probably have suffered heart-attacks watching it all unfold, what struck me the most about the event was just how traditional and familiar all of it was. Syed Hassan, the incoming president of the Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus (the first of its kind in the nation) pointed out to me that from the beginning of the American republic, marginalized groups: the Irish, Jews, African Americans, have organized themselves and sought to achieve a measure of political power as means of mitigating the challenges they faced. “It’s part of being American.”

It reminded me of the first rule of ethnic politics in diverse and combustible cities like New York and Chicago: if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.