Friday, July 18, 2008

Oh No....

It would seem that Republican nominee John McCain may need to put some distance between himself and former POW and campaign supporter Bud Day. In a recent conference call with reporters, Day, speaking for the presidential hopeful, said "The Muslims have said either we kneel or they're going to kill us... I don't intend to kneel and I don't advocate to anybody that we kneel, and John doesn't advocate to anybody that we kneel." Such a statement has no place in any nominee's campaign. It is clearly a gross oversimplification of an extremely complicated conflict. Though this story has not been picked up by many of the major news outlets, I think it would be wise for McCain, in a statement or in his next discussion of the war, to demonstrate an understanding that the present situation cannot be and should not be reduced to a war of religious ideologies.

In terms of anti-Muslim sentiments coming out of this presidential race, this event reminds us of when a Muslim woman was prevented from sitting on stage with Sen. Obama because campaign representatives did not want the Democratic candidate to appear in photographs with a Muslim wearing a headscarf. In both cases, the candidates themselves were not directly involved. Also, I would suggest that also in both cases, these events may have more to say about the attitudes of American people, or the candidate's perceptions of the views of Americans, rather than the candidates themselves.

What these separate though related occurrences suggest is that Americans, as perceived by political strategists on both sides of the aisle, do not have a positive perception of Muslims and do not want to see the leaders of this nation associating with Muslims. The rumored connection between Obama and Islam is illustrative of this point, as it has served as a major impediment to his campaign. Some voters, even though Obama has repeatedly discussed his devotion to the Christian faith, are cautious of supporting the presumptive Democratic nominee because even the slightest connection scares them. So, in order to counteract such fears, we see not only Obama but also McCain, distancing themselves from the Muslim-American community while simultaneously trying not to appear outwardly hostile or intolerant.

So it seems that Bud Day's comments are a more potent version of something that underlies each campaign's strategies and their understandings of the typical American voter. Some will say and have said that Day is 83 years old so we should understand that he developed his world view in a very different era rife with prejudices, stereotypes and generalizations. This may be true, but this is also not a valid excuse for words and actions in this era. Times have changed and comments such as these are unacceptable. Obviously these words did not come directly from McCain. However, the McCain camp must also recognize that anything said by a campaign surrogate may be taken as coming from the candidate himself and McCain must be wary of invoking the aid of people who speak of such falsehoods. Furthermore, events such as these bring issues of intolerance to the surface and I would challenge both candidates not to see them as speech which requires damage control but rather see them as opportunities to discuss something that affects each and every one of us in some way.


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