Monday, October 20, 2008

Rejecting Islamophobia

Back when that messy-haired woman at a McCain rally accused Senator Obama of being "an Arab," I was glad that Senator McCain took the microphone from her and defended Senator Obama as a citizen, etc. However, I was bothered that being a citizen and a good family man was presented by Senator McCain as being the opposite of the attributes of "an Arab." So I was very pleased and touched to hear Colin Powell address the issue on Meet the Press yesterday.

Here is an article, quoted in full, by Abed Z. Bhuyan in The Washington Post:

Powell Rejects Islamophobia

On NBC's Meet the Press this weekend, former Secretary of State Colin Powell formally endorsed Barack Obama in this year's presidential election
Pundits will spend the next few days debating whether or not this endorsement matters. In truth, his endorsement of a politician matters less than his strong rejection of the Islamophobia that has tainted this race and that continues to exist unabated in many parts of America.

In a moment that would have made Tim Russert proud, Secretary Powell firmly renounced the divisiveness that has been perpetuated by his own party. During his interview, Secretary Powell exhibited a gravitas that has been unmatched thus far by politicians and pundits alike when it comes to an honest discussion of the state of a presidential race that has increasingly gone negative.

Since the beginning of this way-too-long presidential campaign Americans of conscience have longed for someone of such stature to repudiate the blatant bigotry towards Muslims. On Sunday Colin Powell lived up to his billing as senior American statesman.

I know I was not the only one moved to tears by the following remarks of Colin Powell:
"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his counrty and he gave his life."

It is important that Secretary Powell's statement not be minimized to a political endorsement. It was so much more.

But despite the powerful imagery and language used by Secretary Powell, there are two unfortunate facts that accompany his statement. First, the fact that I was so moved by his statement highlights the fact that the many calls for denouncing bigotry towards Muslims have gone ignored. Many Americans, not only American Muslims, have been denouncing Islamophobia in the campaign for over a year, making comments from high-profiled public officials long overdue. Secondly, the portion of the endorsement that I chose to highlight above is likely to get lost in the news. That is because decrying Islamophobia, even though it seemed to be the most important reason for Powell's decision to endorse Obama, is simply not sexy. Very few in the media will give proper credit to Powell for rejecting prejudice towards Muslims. But of all the bigotries exposed in this election cycle, including racism and sexism, Islamophobia has been the most consistent and unchallenged.

Now, given today's political climate, not holding or seeking office makes denouncing Islamophobia a lot easier. Furthermore, it should be noted that Islamophobia is not something that exists only within the Republican Party. After all, the man who has been the target of these so-called smears himself has not issued as strong and direct a rejection as Secretary Powell did this weekend. When Senator Hillary Clinton was battling Senator Obama for the Democratic nomination, she certainly allowed the Obama-is-a-Muslim whispers to continue. Obama has frequently denied the claim that he is a Muslim only by presenting the fact of his Christian faith and not addressing the crucial subtext of the claim: that there is something wrong with being a Muslim.

With his endorsement coming largely as a result of Obama's ability to transcend party and race, Secretary Powell has raised the bar for whoever does win this historic election. Politicians of either party have been unwilling to denounce Islamophobia for fear of appearing both weak and willing to 'pal around' with 'terrorists.' By unequivocally attacking the bigoted tenor of the campaign, he struck at the heart of what politicians have for this entire political season felt a taboo subject to address.

In addressing the Powell endorsement in the coming days, one can only hope that both candidates Obama and McCain see it more as a rejection of heightened bigotry than as a mere endorsement of any one politician.


Sylvia K said...

Clariz, great post! Says it all! Thank you for your comment on my blog today -- unfortunately, I'm having problems with Google and my account and can't sign it and therefore can't post any of the comments I've received. I've changed account name etc. Thought it was going to work for a minute this morning, but NO! So, looks like another day of frustration. May have to call the Geek Squad yet! Have a good day!

Sylvia K said...

Just so you know,
Google has trashed my ability to access my blog and told me that my gmail address is non-existent and they have given me a new email address for my Gmail account, so while my blog is still available to visitors, I can't post anything. I've spent two days trying to get something to work, someone to talk to me about what and why, but it's impossible. Geek squads don't handle anything relating to Google. So, my only alternative is to create a new blog, with a similar a name, The View from the Other Side of the Mountain, and my first post will be about the problem. If you wouldn't mind putting a little tidbit about this on your blog, I would appreciate it.
Thanks so much,


Margie's Musings said...

So far, I have only had that one temporary problem with my blog and for some reason it seemed to right itself although it still shows the html when I post a photo and so I can't move one of the photos if I post two.

Patty said...

great post and some really good points. Speaking of Islamphobia, have you heard about the hoopla regarding the fisher price doll ?

clairz said...

No, Patty, I haven't heard anything yet about Fisher Price dolls. Tell us, please!

penni said...

Thank you for posting on this overriding issue. It's not about a particular religion -- it's about all religion; it's not about a single race -- it's about all races. I am so hopeful that we will come together as a nation to deal with the problems that effect every one of us -- regardless of religion or race.