Sunday, November 16, 2008

Discipline of the Brothers

Much has been made of the magnificent discipline of the Barack Obama campaign apparatus in pursuit of the presidency. In all accounts, the adjectives were glowing. But little has been said about the amazing restraint displayed by potentially controversial Obama supporters. Their active or energetic verbal advocacy would have served as fertile grounds through which desperate detractors in search of the tiniest morsels of taint would certainly have trolled endlessly for contaminates.

Except for a lapse moment and an open microphone Reverend Jesse Jackson was mostly on good behavior throughout. It had been widely expected that Jesse would be unable to resist inappropriate entry into either the policy or political debate surrounding the campaign. Jackson stayed in his lane and was a net plus to the overall effort. All Obama supporters should be appreciative of the Reverends righteous behavior.

Even Reverend Al Sharpton was a bastion of cautionary aplomb. Big Al held down his position with notable distinction. While not taking a back seat on any issue of local injustice he steered clear of inserting himself into the national debate and as such offered no competition to Obama for the mantle of Black thought or antics. Throughout the campaign there were many instances when Obama opponents carelessly cruised the lanes of white racism where Reverend Al might ordinarily have pounced. But he laid quietly in the cut patiently awaiting November 4th. Big ups, Al. You have our absolute respect.

Then there was Louis. How hard the opposition worked and stoked to unearth Louis. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was on the grill being roundly basted and lambasted by the tormenting fires from the deepest hottest hells of republicanism. Searing the flesh of Wright was sweet for the opposition. Just the red meat they cried out for. And then came Father Flager. Oh how delicious—a serving of apostatic delicacy that could only have been divined in one’s deepest state of revivalist froth and delirium. This was just unbelievable. The republican base thrashed about salivating in a ritual anticipated to take on viral proportions amongst the general public leading to the undoing of Obama the Muslim. Not quite, some shouted…we need Louis. With Louis in the brew, the ultimate intoxication would be certain.

Reverend Jesse was too acceptable. And he had not stepped far enough out of bounds for a thorough public excoriation. And Reverend Al had skipped across his tightrope without so much as a stumble. Reverend Wright had erred badly and was thus offered up as a sacrificial lamb; Father Flager added fuel to the fire ignited by Wright. Flager made the fire “White” hot. The religious right had a bundle—but not quite enough to make its anti-G_D ergo anti-American argument. The deal closer was Minister Louis Farrakhan. Together with Wright and Flager, Farrakhan would complete Obama’s “Chicago Trinity of Sacrilege.” But Louis declined the invitation. He demurred with a charming smile. He simply would not play. And for his adversaries the silence was as painful. Surely Obama knew him. Surely they had met. Surely Obama had attended The Million Man March. Surely Farrakhan knew best what we all secretly whispered, “Obama is a Muslim.” Flushing out Louis represented the completion that never came.

Minister Louis Farrakhan was uncharacteristically disciplined. He shut right down. He said and did nothing that might be unfairly used as a weapon to upset Mr. Obama’s chances for success. And because he is known to be so unbridled and at times caustic and bombastic, his tepid actions conveyed a deep sense of concern and affection for both the candidate and the nation. Imagine that, Louis Farrakhan the patriot.

So what now? Will these leaders, Jackson, Sharpton and Farrakhan who stepped out of character for the good of the many be kept out of the new political picture? Will they be treated as outcasts to satisfy the lingering blood lust of hate mongers? Or will there be a path back to the family table for those who make huge contributions though not universally unendorsed. These leaders have followers and supporters who are every bit as, or more, humanistic and American as the self proclaimed stewards of piety who denounce them. These hypocrites should certainly not have the last word.

Answers to these questions will resound. Opening wide the doors of full participation to views other than one’s own are at the core of democracy seated right next to “Mr. Freedom of Religion.” A stern pronouncement that all of our freedoms are in tact and robustly protected by our government is one of the many changes we need now.

Mischievously, we are all left to wonder if Jesse, Al and Louis had executed the ultimate level of discipline and unity. Just imagine that after the dust ups of Wright and Flager they all got together and entered a pact of “Silence Until Victory.” Wow! Nah! Maybe?

November 16, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Muslim In America

It is a fascinating time to be Muslim in America. Making sure we do everything to keep our cool in the midst of not so subtle attacks on our faith and us. The emergence of Barack Obama in the high profile game of presidential politics has raised the stakes in the open expression of Islamophobia. Muslim haters who have long operated in the shadows have burst into the sunlight to link arms with the likes of Limbaugh and his minions. The thought of losing the White House to other than a White man is driving extremist Republicans crazy.

In 2008 the vaunted Republican political machine finds itself adrift without a coherent plan to capture the presidency. Absent a strategy, they have opted for a poorly conceived tactical battle rooted in fear mongering and divisiveness. And while their overall success seems dubious, they’ve achieved small thrusts forward when linking Obama to Muslims and terror. Unfortunately there are enough eager acolytes—Democrat and Republican—to make mischief for Obama by distorting the religion issue.

So here’s how it works: “Obama pals around with terrorists” —remember that? “Obama is a Muslim” —of course we remember that. “The greatest threat to our security is radical Islam” —we can never forget that. And the all-encompassing “Theorem of anti-terrorist rectitude”: Arab=Muslim=Terrorist. These well-sequenced mantras have been woven into an anti-intellectual fabric designed to shield ignorance against rational thought. As the adherents of Islamophobia contemplate the vortex to emerge from the “axis of evil” as God struggles mightly against satan, they never stray far from their security blankets. Again and yet again they recite their mantras. So certain are they. It is an inexplicable stupidity that holds just enough public sway to be very dangerous.

Many Americans of all political persuasions are suspicious of Muslims and antithetical towards Islam. The nature of world interconnectedness, however, beckons them to reality. Whether or not they respond depends on their willingness to accept the vulnerability of their own misunderstandings.

It is a poetic irony that the person who most boldly faced down the anti-Muslim crowd is General Colin Powell, a Black Republican Christian. He alone constructed an inescapable box around an anti-everything-else zealot Christian orthodoxy by proclaiming the right, and indeed hopes, that Muslim—and thus other— children will lay claim to the American presidency in their dreams. It was as though through his legitimated eyes and with his entitled throat he came face to face with each of them and said, “Yes You Can.” And in that moment of supreme humanity and ultra rationality, Powell endorsed Barack Obama.

George Bush has waged a war on Muslims and many Americans have enlisted as sympathizers. This war has been so vile and pervasive that Muslims all over America have been somewhat muted in their support for Barack Obama believing that a public outpouring might somehow hamper his quest for the presidency. How sad. But the end is near.

John McCain has attempted to take up the Bush banner against Terrorists/Muslims/Arabs. After thoroughly stoking the “Obama is cozy with terrorists” issue and firing up his supporters against William Ayres/Terrorists/Obama, one supporter told McCain that she feared Obama because he (Obama) was an Arab. McCain demurred, but the floodgates had already been broken open and it was clear to all of us in that moment the toxic entanglement of race and religion that impacts Arab Muslims could have profound consequences for international relations post November 4, 2008. Arab Muslims that I know are almost universally united in the belief that America has been waging war on Islam in the Middle East. And I suspect that notion is not lost on the Arab street. The election of John McBush might well concretize that notion to our detriment.

African American Muslims are uniquely suited to counter excessive anti-Muslim ravings. After all, we have survived both slavery and Jim Crow. For us the most rabid Islamophobia emanates from our own people, mostly Christian, though they have never accused us of being unpatriotic or terrorists. Having been prepared and instructed by history, it is natural for me to reject racist intimidation and, as well, religious intimidation. So as loudly and clearly as possible I exhort, Muslims are here to stay and Barack Obama for President. Insha Allah.

October 23, 2008