Photo Caption: Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, who was killed serving in Iraq. The New Yorker.
Election '08 is in the history books, and the arm-chair analyses have begun in earnest. One observation gaining traction in the mainstream media at the moment reveals a seamier side of the American electorate.
It seems many Americans, especially some conservatives, have yet to eradicate the ugly prejudices ignited by the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Because some of the hijackers involved in the infamous deeds were determined to be Muslim extremists of Middle Eastern descent, a perverse extrapolation has been forged tainting the vast majority of honest, hard-working and law-abiding Muslims in America as undeserving of the kind of respect most of us citizens take for granted. NPR, OnPoint Radio, American Muslims and Election '08
First off, there were the continual attempts to suggest that president-elect Barack Obama was a Muslim. It happens to be incorrect. He is a Christian. But it was a long time before any public figure asked what should have been the obvious: So what if her were a Muslim? What is wrong with that? Colin Powell made the following remarks on "Meet the Press" in October:
"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?. . .
". . .I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are 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 could 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 the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."
Obama didn't exactly help matters along when answering claims that he was a Muslim. Rather than pointing out the subtle bigotry embedded in the false claims in the first place, he merely corrected for the record which faith he actually observed, and in so doing missed a golden opportunity to even further demonstrate one of the signatures of his political persona - tolerance.
At a John McCain town-hall meeting in Minnesota, a woman said she didn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab." In a slightly miscalculated response, McCain took the microphone from the woman and said, "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." There's plenty of room for misinterpreting these remarks when dissecting them and, in all likelihood, McCain surely did not intend to suggest that being an Arab and being a decent family man were mutually exclusive. But many people - including some Arabs - took offense and drew precisely that inference.
Another more ominous incident was the dissemination in roughly 70 American newspapers of the anti-Muslim propaganda film, Obsession. Funded by a group with remote ties to Israel, the film seeks to capitalize on post 9-11 hysteria and suggest that Islam is out to destroy the West.
These and other events served to stir up resentment among many Muslims because they felt they could not be themselves during the presidential campaign season. Vociferously aligning themselves with Obama might have provoked the very bigotry and discrimination they were so diligently trying to stamp out. Consequently, many Muslims cowered into passivity and silence.
As one panel member on the NPR broadcast pointed out, now that Barack Obama has been elected, maybe he can redress the mistreatment of Muslims during the election without fear of political recriminations.