Monday, October 13, 2008

The Offense No One Is Talking About

When a woman stood up at a recent McCain campaign event and said that she does not trust Barack Obama because she thinks that "he's an Arab", I certainty was not surprised. I believe this nation has made great progress since the civil rights struggle, but I am not so naive as to think that America has done away with the unconscionable disease of racial discrimination.

What surprised and shocked me, however, was McCain's response to the offense. In addressing that same supporter, he said: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have serious differences with on fundamental questions." Now, that sounds like a sensible statement and the media has certainly hailed it as such with some even calling it "courageous" and "commendable".

The problem with the statement—and the lack of substantive coverage it received—is that it legitimized a contemptible choice between being an "Arab" and being "a decent citizen". To Arab Americans, this exchange further confirmed the mainstream acceptance of anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab bias in America. Here, John McCain had a double-dip opportunity to (a) pull back on the dangerous vitriol directed against his opponent and (b) address in swift terms the larger issue of racism, which in this case was directed against Arab Americans. He addressed the former and completely ignored the latter. And everyone else did too.

To my knowledge, no one in either campaign has come out to explain that such statements are not just about some false rumor designed to attack the character of Senator Obama. These statements are injuring fellow Arab and Muslim Americans whose loyalties, decency, and contributions to our nation are unquestionable.

Would McCain’s response be called “courageous” had he reacted in the same manner to a supporter who might have said that they don’t trust Obama because ‘he’s a Jew’ or because ‘he’s black’. Would the “decent-citizen” response be deemed sufficient? The answer is No and righfully so.

It is offensive that John McCain has not even thought about reacting to his supporter by adding that beyond her false characterization of Senator Obama, Arab and Muslim Americans are decent, hard-working and patriotic citizens, no different from anyone else.

It is unconscionable that the leaders of this country continue to allow anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab sentiments to simmer above the surface and in plain sight.


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