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October 16th, 2008
08:08 PM ET

Identity insults and democracy

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/16/art.3presdebate.jpg
caption="Senators Barack Obama and John McCain shake hands at the start of the third presidential debate."]
Ahmed M. Rehab
Executive Director, Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

“I don't trust Obama… he's an Arab!" This was the charge leveled by a supporter at a recent McCain rally.

A visibly perturbed McCain took the microphone and gave an almost admirable response:

"No, ma'am, he's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with. He’s not [an Arab].”

I say almost because McCain not only failed to challenge the racism inherent in the woman’s charge but effectively engaged in the same when he suggested that being a decent family man is the moral opposite of being an Arab.

I would have loved to hear McCain say: “No, ma’am, he is not an Arab or is he Muslim – and let’s not use ethnic or religious identity to determine who is American – that’s un-American.”

This would have exhibited the courageous moral leadership and remind all Americans that bigotry and identity politics have no place in our democracy.

In that context, it is not surprising that A. Ghani, an American Muslim running for State Senator in Illinois, should wake up to find his campaign signs vandalized with the word “Muslim.” Or that Todd Gallinger, a California lawyer running for city council, should receive a death threat on accord of simply being Muslim.

As our nation faces a spike in civil rights abuses, political exclusion, intimidation, and hate crimes against American Muslims and those of Arab descent, it is critical to speak out. The reluctance of those entrusted with shaping public perceptions to acknowledge and address racial and religious bigotry signals an unspoken stamp of approval.

It is high time that such simple – but often lacking – reminders evolve from whispers into chants. Both campaigns as well as the political talking heads ought to send a clear message that no American should have to watch democracy from the bleachers due to their race, ethnicity, or religion.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. LJ in MD

    Speaking of double standards...
    Why is it that, by McCain's own admission, Obama ads attacking McCains positions on Healthcare, finance reform and other real topics are "hateful" and, by some crazy stretch, equivalent to McCain ads calling Obama a lying terrorist sympathizer and baby killer?
    That John Lewis saying that he "sensed" hatred and racial tones in McCain's and Palin's rhetoric (having rescinded the inference to Wallace) was so painfully hurtful and over the line, but they and their own supporters saying Obama is un-American, attends a "white-hating" church, was schooled in radical Muslim madrassas and wants to destroy this country is patriotic?
    That the civic organization trying to expand voting rights to more American Citizens while following all rules for disclosure of all registrations is "tearing down the fabric of democracy", but strong arm tactics of intimidation, willful miscounting of ballots and blind purging of lawful citizens from voting rolls (all documented in last 2 cycles and started already for this one) are "assuring voting laws are upheld".?
    Seems like every perceived flaw on the left justifies a massively disproportionate response from the right.

    October 17, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  2. David Longman

    Everyday on the main stream TV news the political talking heads spew out babble for why John McCain is falling in the poles. IE his campaign is to negative, to inconsistent on its messages, his VP pick, too old, too angry and on and on.
    The fact is simple "it's the economy stupid". He is running after, eight years of failed policies under the Bush administration. McCain would have troubles getting elected with Jesus himself on the ticket!!!

    David Longman

    October 16, 2008 at 8:48 pm |
  3. Bryan

    Your blog drew out the thoughts of millions of Americans who watched those Republican rallies which drew out many threatening and insulting comments towards African-Americans and Arab-Americans across this great country.

    I believe thousands of Americans who watched the debates last night found it very IRONIC that Senator McCain voiced his anger towards the negative campaigning of his opponent, but then never explained why he and his VP candidate did not temper or earnestly correct his offensive supporters and make a immediate apology for the inappropriate remarks they made towards Senator Obama and Arab-Americans. Did he not realize how offensive those comments were to those who heard them?

    Is there a double standard for John McCain when it comes down to offensive comments? That is the question.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:44 pm |
  4. Clarence Albuquerque

    This was a well thought out article.... but I don't believe that McCain or any of us would have had this ready contrast. I believe that We we're all shocked and stunned by the remarks made by the gal.... Who was she anyway.?.. certainly not Josephine the anti-plumber receiving any media interviews. I think the public is not t so much concerned about who Obama is as who she is.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  5. Chris Lampropoulos

    Fear and Religion

    I’m sure everyone is well aware that this election (just like every US election) is of keen interest by peoples outside the US

    Looking at past and present tactics by the Republicans ( robo message etc), As an outside observer it seems that Barack Obama is running against G. W. Bush in this campaign. George W. Bush ran his campaigns on little substance, and a healthy helping of fear punctuated by deceit, seems John McCain is a man cut from the same cloth.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  6. Suze

    p.s. maybe you should think of changing your last name for ahmed REHAB sounds like a place to rehabilitate arab muslims... just kidding but couldn't help but notice the name... 🙂 I bet you get that a lot! Keep up the good work making sure we really are a country without bigotry and with religious freedoms, and may I second that we stay a country that doesn't let cultures and religions also dictate bigotry and religious intolerance and from my standpoint, especially sexism. Peace. Shalom.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  7. Suze

    I thought the same thing... should McCain have gone one step further to say, Ma'am this is America, and although Senator Obama is not an Arab nor a Muslim as what she really meant probably, in America we are a melting pot and being Arab or Muslim should not be a reason to be afraid or not trust someone as you state you are. Now the question is, how far do we go with this. I recently had a man from Saudia Arabia refuse to shake my hand in a business situation, me being the only woman engineer in that meeting, and he said some degrading things to me. My first thought was he was an Arab/Muslim and despised women and wanted me put in my place, and I am ashamed I have thought that the reason rather he was just a power hungry misogynistic egomaniac... so the question is do some cultures and religions today still bread those attitudes and are we being racist or antireligion when we are offended by their attitudes and sexism against us??? I really feel a conscientous tug on this one! But I see your point and agree.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Bret Peters

    We are reading to much into a noble gesture. I support Obama, and I think Mcain knew were she was going and cut her off before the word terrorist was said. I do not like that 5 hrs. later Mcain went back to insinuating Obama could be a terrorist in an interview. But Obama at the debate hopefully put an end to that.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  9. Max

    Sorry there JUST can't be any MORE room in the world for RACISM.

    Watch the ROOTS series if you need to BE reminded.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:12 pm |