by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie
You may or may not have heard that Obama’s volunteer national coordinator for Arab American and Muslim American affairs has resigned after ten days on the job because of a campaign in the media that alleged he had ties to Muslim fundamentalists, led by The Wall Street Journal. Here are some great perspectives on it from Arab and Muslim bloggers:
altmuslim discusses how WSJ’s shoddy journalism smeared Asbahi:
The Journal went out of its way to discredit this politically active volunteer-citizen by putting his name and picture front and center of its online edition (the second page of its print edition), laying bare portions of Asbahi’s resume, and questioning his affiliations as un-patriotic and terroristic. Journal readers must have been comforted to know that the Journal showed all the subtlety of a lynch mob in taking to task one of the most sensitive, peaceful and politically moderate members of the Muslim American community.
The kicker? The Wall Street Journal did so by quoting Washington insiders, who were so powerful and brave that they were given a veil of secrecy. Sure, don’t hesitate to scrutinize every blemish on the professional record of Asbahi, and blow up his picture large enough to show whether a hair is misplaced on his head. But for the people who brought this to light, let’s leave them nameless and faceless to lurk in the shadows, lest some other radically moderate Muslim get some crazy fundamentalist aspiration of actually participating in this democracy of ours.
The 1980s were a difficult time for Arab Americans. Politicians returned our contributions, rejected our endorsements, and many effectively hung “No Arab Americans allowed” signs on their campaign doors. Back then, we wrote about this situation, calling it “the politics of exclusion.”
We fought back. We organized, worked hard, and we emerged victorious — or, should I say, somewhat victorious? I now feel a bit tentative about our progress because what happened to Mazen Asbahi has set off alarm bells, causing me to wonder whether or not “the politics of exclusion” might not once again be rearing its ugly head.
The combination of bigoted websites, their echo-chamber bloggers, irresponsible mainstream media outlets, and fear and ignorance about all things Arab and Muslim have produced an oppressive environment detrimental to the full political participation and empowerment of the Arab American and American Muslim communities.
If Obama wants to reach out to the Muslim American community, he needs to do it by standing by them in the face of these and similar smear campaigns which are succeeding in making everything Muslim, and everything Arab, “untouchable” when it comes to politics and campaigning in the United States. He needs to take their concerns about immigration, Department of Homeland Security harassment, and foreign policy in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine seriously. If he does this, it will mean more to Muslim and Arab Americans than the invention of token campaign jobs which look good on paper but might not achieve much–after all, even George Bush appointed an advisor to the White House to represent the Muslim community during his term, but hardly anybody from the Muslim or Arab American communities would call that the kind of “change” they were looking for.
The Arab-American Institute has published a criticism of WSJ’s tactics and information on how you can get involved.