August 6th, 2008
07:25 PM ET

One key Muslim voice – lost

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/06/art.ahmedrehab3.jpg caption="Ahmed Rehab is the Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations – Chicago Chapter"]
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.

Filed under: Islam • Raw Politics
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Ilhana, Bosnia

    Islamophobia really took its roots, and it is definitely sad. People should not be marked off as terrorists and what-nots just because they're Muslim. Mary V., I agree with everything you've said!

    August 7, 2008 at 4:42 am |
  2. julie

    So. Do you give up?. No. It is part of being "American" to not give up on your beliefs. This is the first generation of Arab American that are coming up to the plate. Every emerging group has it's struggle to be respected and heard in the US. But in what other country are you given the chance? The purpose of each generation is to make it easier for the next generation.

    August 7, 2008 at 2:31 am |
  3. Gary Chandler in Canada

    I wonder how many GOP supporters could be found attending groups that that terrorists like Terry McVeigh and KKK members also attended?
    Obama should decline the resignation. McCain is a straight talker running a clean campaign, right? He would not make a mountian of a molehill.

    August 7, 2008 at 1:45 am |
  4. Rosie

    What a sad day, in which we live, when one can not show love for this country, unless he is willing to change his /her religious belief, way of speech, name, or associates.
    It is a sad day, when people are using labels, words, and religion, to cover their true thoughts and their true feelings concerning the people of color. When are we going to stop hiding from the truth? If we have a problem with another people, Why don't we speak the truth? As long as we keep denying the truth, we will continue to get further and further apart, and soon begin to believe these reasonings to be truth, and pass them on to the next generation. We are living in a world that is growing colder and colder with each generation, all because we don't approve of God's choice of colors, for his people.
    So my opinion is, that the only reason the Muslim's have become so important, during this campaign, is because it is a sure way to divide the people of color.
    In my opinion, this is not about being a Muslim, nor taking an oath on a Koran( which Obama did not do), but about coming up with ways to divide the people of color, thus weaking their support for Obama.
    Which is not a new strategy, but has been a part of the political arena for generations.
    Let's keep each other honest: If we have a problem with the color of Obama's skin. Let us not hide this truth behind words, or his name, or Muslim religion, or the Koran, or he did not put his hand on his heart, but let us live up to our own religion.
    Let us be honest, in our own heart, and confess that the overall problem is Obama is a non-white candidate. And if this is what is in your heart, it is okay, because who you receive into your heart, is between you and your God, or your own conscience.
    It will not change what my heart feel for my white sisters and brothers; which is a heart full of love and kindness. So that you might have an idea how old I am, I came up through the Jim Crow era, but the Jim crow era did not shape my character. My grandfather and grandmother were slaves, but the slave era did not shape my character; for all people are God's people.
    So while I see slavery and the jim crow era as being unchristian behavior, its my work to treat all of God's people as I would want them to treat me.

    August 7, 2008 at 1:05 am |
  5. bk

    Obama throws another one under the bus. Rev. Wright was correct Obama is just another politician. Political expediency is Obama's middle name. I can't believe people fall for this fraud. Obama changes his position so much no one knows what he is for or against.

    August 6, 2008 at 11:57 pm |
  6. Nadingart

    Even if Obama says he is not Muslim, if he is elected president radical Muslim groups around the world will claim the Islamic flag is at last flying over the White House, because Obama was born of a Muslim father and it is forbidden to convert away from the faith, so he is still Muslim as far as the faith is concerned.

    August 6, 2008 at 11:57 pm |
  7. tarneem

    its sad that people think that way... I remeber reading (like the flowing river) some part in that book..." if everyone of us look to other people with love and respect most of the world probs would be solved!!" and he is totally right.
    Unlikely most of people call them selves open minded, but they actually dont knw what does mean...being open minded is to be open to other people cultures and religions and respect them.

    August 6, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Jenn

    Religion should not be even a point of discussion in this election or any other for that matter. How does Obama's religion affect the decisions he would make as a future president of the United States?

    August 6, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  9. JIM....TEXAS

    Larry....and if it is........so what???

    August 6, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  10. Mehroz B.

    Ahmed, I see your points and understand the frustration that comes with instances such as these; I also see Andy's point in that not all change happens at once, and what we would hope at this point is that Obama gets to the White House and starts building the bridges that are long overdue among citizens of this country.

    It is truly difficult for me to see so many people within this nation continually alarmed at anything that might resemble Islam. Like Mary mentioned, there are many, many people all over the world who consider themselves Muslims. Islam, like most of the large religions, transcends cultures, man-made boundaries, nationalities, ethnicities, and certainly personalities.

    There's no denying that Islamic fundamentalism exists–but so does Christian fundamentalism if we're going to get technical. The point is, there is no logical reason to lump every single Muslim into one group. Not only is it unreasonable, but ignorant. And the sooner we as a nation learn to embrace the citizens who live here as individuals, as human beings and not just categories (Muslim, immigrant, low-income, etc.) we can start to move in a direction that is positive for our entire country.

    August 6, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  11. Faith Pa

    Please not another minority. I was given to understand that Muslim is the religion and standards by which they live. Is every religion a minority.

    August 6, 2008 at 8:25 pm |
  12. Ryan Field

    This is very "sad."

    What happened to all the hope and change we were supposed to be getting a few months ago? So far all we have is a world tour, with standing room only for a speech in Berlin that was followed by two free concerts.

    August 6, 2008 at 8:08 pm |
  13. Andy

    While I appreciate your article and sympathize with your concerns, the fact that there are still Americans (I am Canadian) who believe that Obama is a Muslim, took his oath on the Koran, and was educated in a madrassa, speaks to the ongoing fear of all things Muslim and, perhaps, the inability of Obama to get the truth out there to the last hands-over-their-ears die-hards.

    The mere hint at ties to radical Islamist groups, no matter how tangential, would undermine Obama's chances even further. Given the smear campaigns that have marked US elections for the last two go-rounds (remember Kerry's Swiftboating, and McCain's "love child?"), it is political suicide to be "tainted" in any way, even if it is all lies and innuendo.

    Obama has navigated these dangerous waters fairly well thus far and, while it is regrettable that good people will fall by the wayside due to these paranoid and (frankly) anti-Muslim times, it is preferable that he make it to the White House with a few people not along for the ride, than to not make it at all. Hopefully, once established in the White House, he will make efforts to rebuild the bridges between non-Muslims and Muslims in the United States (and abroad for that matter).

    Best wishes, Andy.

    August 6, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  14. Larry

    Is Chicago the capital for the Muslim community in America?

    August 6, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  15. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    I agree with you, Ahmed, that it is a sad day when "it is a victory for the anti-pluralist forces who lurk in the anarchic shadows of the internet......." Yes, you are right.

    What is tragic is that in the United States of America, being a Muslim is a BAD thing! How many times have we heard the media, pundits and even Sen. Barrack, himself have to deny that he is a Muslim!

    There are many Muslim's who are good people, who love the country they were born into! The USA. Not every Muslim is a terrorist. Just like not every German in this country was a Nazi during WWII NOR were every Japanese spies!

    We head down a dangerous slope when we question a person's faith, race or even..........patriotism when their name does not sound 'white' or there faith is something other than Christian!

    I am reminded of the Nazis, who preyed one anyone who was NOT LIKE THEM! God help us!

    August 6, 2008 at 7:55 pm |