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