Monday, July 21, 2008

Ask and Thou Shall Receive

The Obama camp recently announced new hires: Corey Ealons to serve as the communications director for African American media, and – hold your breath! – a new Muslim liaison position, reported by Politico possibly to be filled by Haim Nawas, a Jordanian-American expert on Political Islam and a political analyst with the Rothkopf Group. Nawas filled a similar role for the campaign of General Wesley Clark in 2004.

So much has happened this election season with regards to Senator Obama’s campaign and his apparent ties to Islam. After months of dispelling the “smear” that he is Muslim, the incident at the campaign rally where two headscarf-donning Muslim women were asked not to be in the backdrop of a picture, frustrations by the American Muslim community with his and Senator McCain demeanor and lack of American Muslim engagement, and then the recent New Yorker article and its subsequent drama, it seems the good Senator has finally gotten the hint.

While the position is likely partly a political ploy, it is still refreshing to see a leading Presidential candidate make an effort to remain educated about the American Muslim community and take steps to politically engage it. Hopefully, this role will increase civic participation from American Muslim themselves, as well as encourage other politicians to play an active role in involving other underrepresented communities.

I recently had a conversation about Senator Obama’s handling of his “Muslim problem” with a group of Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans at an interfaith meeting. While some acknowledged that Obama could have better articulated his vision of inclusiveness and managed the “problem” better, they recognized the current political climate and Obama’s personable character and relationships, basically tolerating the negative representation of Muslims that was unfortunately, unintentionally espoused. I do not think, however, offensive representations of any community, faith tradition or culture, should ever be tolerated. If this were any other faith community that was negatively spoken about, there would have been an uproar - and rightly so. It is important that we hold our leaders accountable for their actions and words. Whether it is positive inclusive values versus discriminating against people at a campaign rally, fighting the smear on his reputation that he is Muslim in a way that is offensive or creating a position to increase engagement with a community of people, both the negative and positive require our attention and responses.

Americans around the nation have spoken up against way Muslims have been negatively represented, in both Senator Obama and Senator McCain’s campaigns. Senator Obama later personally apologized to the two hijab-clad women from the rally, emphasizing his commitment to the diversity of this nation. It is exciting to see that our responses have been acknowledged, and that the candidates themselves can institute a change for the better.


Post a Comment

<< Home