Ahmed M. Rehab
Executive Director, Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations
There are many words I can use to describe Mazen Asbahi’s fresh resignation from his position as the Obama campaign’s national liaison for Muslim American affairs, and the circumstances behind that decision. But I will suffice with one that I think says it best: “sad.”
I have known Mazen for many years now. He is exactly the type of person many in this country would love to see step up and serve in a campaign that promises change. He is energetic, enthusiastic, and harbors a deep sense of patriotism. A brilliant student, Mazen graduated Northwestern University’s Law School, cum laude. He subsequently worked for the prestigious law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP. Throughout, he has remained ever active as a community volunteer in various social charitable causes.
Of course, he is also a Muslim.
The Asbahi affair is sad for three reasons:
One, it is a victory for the anti-pluralist forces who lurk in the anarchic shadows of the internet where they are at liberty to churn false allegations and conspiracy theories against a vulnerable American Muslim community. They wish to block its efforts to become politically involved alongside America’s other diverse communities, and instead wish to project it as a fifth column growing in our midst.
Two, it is a lapse of judgment on the part of a respected news agency like the Wall Street Journal that curiously chose to parrot baseless allegations from a dubious “internet newsletter” sans the requisite scrutiny and professional journalist integrity.
Three, it sends a terrible message to the young Mazen’s out there who had come close to believing that they too stand a fair chance of one day serving their country, working for change, and being embraced as equal Americans. They read the news today and feel that regardless of how qualified you are, and what credentials you possess, you may be denied an opportunity the moment someone so much as levies a baseless allegation against you – proven or not.
Islamophobia on the presidential campaign trail is a reality that needs to be addressed.
The course of the 2008 presidential campaign is replete with examples of anti-Muslim innuendo uttered by some of the candidates or their surrogates. In the meantime, internet smear campaigns against mainstream Muslim groups, such as my own, that are calling on their constituents to join the democratic process, fuel the climate that makes such rhetoric surprisingly acceptable.
Yet, we the nation’s Muslim minority have not lost hope. We still believe that the ideals of pluralism and equal opportunity that are enshrined in our constitution will one day reign supreme. We are working hard to make sure, for our sake and that of all Americans, that this much awaited day is sooner than later.
For now, Mazen will have to lick his wounds.
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