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Progressive Revival

The Obama Campaign, at it’s best, has not been about Obama.

It’s been about a mass movement, a coming together of long time
activists and newcomers, who have dared to restore hope to politics, to dream that
there is a place in the arena of politics for the good. That’s what makes
the character assassination and subsequent resignation of Mazen Asbahi from the
Obama Campaign so hard to take, so bitter.  The lamentation has been heard
from many of the leading voices in both the Muslim and the Arab community. (See
here and here and here.) As it had been reported on
this blog
, Asbahi had been appointed by the Obama
campaign as the designated contact with both the Arab and the Muslim
populations, two distinct yet overlapping communities who have bore the brunt
of post-9/11 xenophobia. It was a long-overdue yet important step to mirror
earlier connections and indeed commitments from the Obama campaign to Jewish,
Catholic, and evangelical communities.

Yet almost as soon as this began, it was over. Asbahi was
forced to resign not due to anything he had done, not due to anything he had
said, but because of an immediate and deliberate attack on him started by
rightwing bloggers and picked up by the Wall Street Journal. At the center
of their charge, this accusation: for a period of about two weeks Asbahi
served on the board of a charity, Allied Assets Advisors Fund, that also
featured an imam of a Chicago mosque who was connected to someone who may have
been connected to someone who might have possibly been connected to… 
you get the picture. 
The
legal cases implicated in the above ended in a mistrial.
 Yet apparently we are no longer in the realm of
innocent until proven guilty. We’re no longer in the realm of fact, certainty,
or law. It is the absurdity of playing
the “Kevin
Bacon” game
with the wellbeing and
representation of persecuted communities like Arab-Americans and Muslim
Americans.

Any political campaign that would want to find a legitimate
community contact person would want to find someone like Asbahi, someone who is
rooted in a community, and is well-connected. And by the logic of the
“Six Degrees” game made famous through the actor Kevin Bacon, yes,
every Muslim can be tied to another Muslim who can be tied to another Muslim
who can be tied to… someone found not guilty of a crime.  By that logic,
can we also implicate
Karen
Hughes, who spoke before ISNA?
 How about Condi
Rice who met with ISNA leadership?
 And how
about John McCain’s connections to John Hagee, of the maniacal “Christians
United for Israel”,
with its support of right-wing Jewish settlers? Or to Rod Parsley,
who
talks about eradicating Islam?
 It is not
hard to play Kevin Bacon, and end up with not suspected evil, but actual
evil. Is this how we want to live?

The goal of the campaigns against Muslims and Arab-Americans is
much more sinister. It is no less than the disenfranchisement and
marginalization of Muslims and Arab-Americans from the political
arena. The blog that led the charge against Asbahi also identifies
other
potentially “Islamist” organizations:

  • The
    Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
  • The
    Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • The
    Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
  • The
    Muslim Student Association (MSA)
  • The
    International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)

In other words, every single significant group representing
Muslims in America. All
are suspect, based on this paranoid criteria. 

The right-wing bloggers that targeted Asbahi also insinuated that
since he had served in a leadership position in the Muslim Students
Association, somehow he was a secret Salafi-Wahhabi. This is part of the
problem of our age, where it is sufficient to repeat two words in the same
sentence in lieu of proving a link. Had they actually studied Asbahi’s
faith, words, and deeds, they would have seen him a part of the subtle and
beautiful community of the
Nawawi Foundation,
one of the leading lights of the American Muslim community. Yet we have
seen how simply putting Iraq
and 9/11 in the same sentence is sufficient to persuade significant portions of
the American public. And now we have another casualty in this game of
insinuation.

The real casualty is that these types of episodes are precisely
what the Muslim-haters like Daniel Pipes count on, with their public and stated
agenda of fighting against the participation of Muslims in civic life, a goal
of engagement that Muslims like all other citizens re entitled to. This is
their stated goal, after all: 
“[The]
increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American
Muslims…will present true dangers to American Jews.”
 The goal is to make sure that other Muslim activists,
leaders, public intellectuals, and citizens retreat from the public space into
a self-exile.   

We refuse to be part of this campaign of fear-mongering. To
the right-wing bloggers and their emissaries of hate, we have to respond by
saying that we will meet your hate with soul force, your ignorance with a will
to educate, and your xenophobia with  a capacity to love.   And
yet we cannot do it alone.   Here the Arab-American and
Muslim-American community is in need of help, of alliance, of networking with
others committed to the dignity of all, to make sure that there are no more
innocents thrown under the bus.  And yes, even the most ardent supporters
of Obama need to hold the Obama campaign responsible and ask that we go not
gently into this abyss of fear-mongering.

The casualty is not just Mazen Asbahi and the next Mazen Asbahi.

The real casualty is the dream where politics can be an arena for
the good.    

 

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