Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obama - a Muslim Problem

The American Muslim Community's "Obama" Problem:

How do you root for a candidate who doesn't want you to root for him? Firas Ahmed's commentary below is one of the most thoughtful commentaries on the situation. I am rather pleased that I have not read any derogatory comment on Obama from the Muslim community, which is welcome. Obama reflects a moderate and all inclusive approach to solving the situations, the one that majority of Americans, be it Christians, Jews, Hindus or Muslims prefer.

He reflects the voice of the majority of Americans, which includes Muslims; the passionate rallies are nothing more than the joy one feels when we find some one who reflects the values of the common people - compared to the extreme values espoused by a few candidates. I agree with Firas Ahmed to go along with Obama, we need a right candidate, even though he wants to keep a clear distance from the Muslim community, I know, deep in my heart, that Obama is going to be a just ruler, a new thing in world governance. He is all about Pluralism and inclusiveness, which are Muslim values as well - Alhamdu Lillahi Rabbil Aaalameen.

The Muslim community has been exceptionally wise in this regard, not to demand a thing from him, because, he is not going to be anything like the other candidates. He is judicious and I highly recommend to read his book audacity of hope, and read this particular column, I have treasured at the foundation for pluralism website- Listen to his speeches, he is consistently inclusive. That is what we want, we do not want any special favors from any one, we want us to be treated like every one else and Obama has the propensity to deliver just that. Here is another one to read:

By the way, I am a Republican and will continue to be one, however, my individual obligation is the support the candidate who will do better than other candidates for our country, hence, I am going for Obama. I have dropped myself out from being a Republican precinct chair.

Mike Ghouse


The American Muslim Community's "Obama" Problem
How do you root for a candidate who doesn't want you to root for him?


As Obamamania continues to capture the imagination of the United States, parts of the American Muslim community are no less overcome by the Illinois senator's charismatic and overpowering vision for change. It makes sense. He is a man of diverse ethnic background who seeks dialogue over war, who can credibly represent change given his independence from establishment politics and whose life story suggests an intimate understanding of the Muslim world. In many ways he represents more than Muslims could have hoped for given the radioactive nature of Islam in America over the past several years. Someone who seemingly has a sympathetic ear and background that could build bridges.

But for many reasons, Muslims are one constituency Obama does not want to court. With a wink and a nod, Obama's Muslim supporters continue to work for a candidate who cannot afford to wink back at them. Given his perceived "closeness" to Islam, and the fact that he shares a name with a former Iraqi dictator, it could be strategic suicide for the Obama campaign to vocally acknowledge organized Muslim support. At a time when endorsements are worn like badges of honor, no major candidate is looking for the Muslim vote.

No doubt if Obama wins the nomination, the Republicans will exploit this issue far more than Bill Clinton attempted to manipulate race in South Carolina. Republican presidential candidate John McCain will never have to say a word, the "hit job" will be manufactured and executed by the sympathetic folks at Fox News, via the airwaves with Rush and Hannity (who would have overcome their issues with McCain by then) and through tabloids like the New York Post. Vocal Muslim support for Obama, if it happens, will likely be used as subtext for character attacks against his background and to fuel baseless rumors that he is actually a stealth Islamist who will subvert the establishment after taking power. As Don Imus can attest, racism and bigotry against African Americans is now largely unacceptable in public discourse. However, the same cannot be said of vitriol against Muslims. Attacking Obama for his pseudo-association with Islam is a far safer and more acceptable strategy for right-wing zealots than attacking him for being black. So if Obama has a campaign strategist worth his or her weight, we will never hear any serious public support or defense of Muslims from him or his campaign. For Muslims to demand anything from him simply demonstrates a misunderstanding of reality. Muslim support for Obama is akin to George Bush's support for democracy in the Middle East. The mere association with the former will undercut the credibility of the latter. It is an analogy that Muslims should understand.

Obama's lack of public defense of Islam is not so much an indictment against him as it is a demonstration of the infantile state of Muslim political participation in America. While it is impossible to tell, it would be reasonable to assume that if Obama could say something nice about Muslims he would because he wants votes from any and all Americans. Muslims fit squarely into the demographic that he appeals to most. Professional, educated and young. The only reason a candidate like Obama would not say something nice about Muslims is because he is making a clear political calculation. The votes he would gain from Muslims are far less than the votes he would lose from his association with Muslims. This should be startling. Unfortunately it has not initiated the kind of discussion within the community necessary to change these political ramifications for candidates in the future. To be fair, other candidates have lost votes based on their religious affiliation. Romney, a practicing Mormon, could have had a much better shot as the Republican nominee if he were from a Protestant denomination. But in terms of public perception, Muslims are a whole other category of disrepute. We are not talking about a Muslim candidate, we are talking about supporting a candidate who denies any connection, real or perceived, to Islam.

This is a political reality that Muslims in America must face. It is a clear demonstration that the collective efforts of Muslim institution building over the last 20 years have largely failed to make any real progress when it comes to impacting the American political process, at least at the national level. Muslims have found the perfect candidate, but cannot vocally support him for fear that if they do, they may be the reason he loses. How is that for a wake-up call.

At the core of the problem is the public perception of Islam in America. While global events, and of course 9/11, play an undeniable role in shaping the image of Islam for Americans, Muslims have ignored establishing some of the most basic institutions that are necessary for any minority community who seeks to have their voice taken seriously. There are no widely circulated national publications that explain Muslim perspectives. There is no widely recognized think tank expressing Muslim understandings of policy debates. There are a scant few public intellectuals from Muslim backgrounds that articulate mainstream views or who represent general Muslim thinking. While there are a number of very talented Muslim academics, very few have been able to cross-over and achieve mainstream credibility. Every other minority community has multiple inventories in each category listed above. What Muslims have are a number of smaller efforts that lack support, lack funding and lack human resources. If Muslims have failed in all these arenas it is not for a lack of talent, but rather for a lack of collective vision.

Instead, Muslim have invested in a handful of advocacy groups that, to their credit, work extremely hard to bring a "Muslim" slant to whatever breaks in the news that day. Advocacy groups play an important part of any community, but they are not sufficient for any community to make a serious play for political clout. In fact, the degree to which Muslims are publicly represented by their advocacy is inversely related to how they will be positively perceived by the general public. Advocacy groups are inherently divisive. The African-American civil rights watchdog NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups all play important roles in American democracy, but they are also polarizing organizations. Muslims need to take the edge off the way they present themselves in the broader public discussion. While this includes important and pioneering efforts like Unity productions, which has produced excellent work in the area of documentary film, much more is needed on a number of different fronts.

Policy and political decision making in America is not decided entirely on Capitol Hill. It is decided in the complex interaction of think tanks, academic institutions, book stands, radio shows, the evening news, newspapers, editorial pages, opinion polls, Hollywood blockbusters and much more. It is the confluence and interaction of all these institutions that inform how politicians behave, not the other way around. Politicians are simply seeking votes, and votes are determined by people's inclinations, perceptions, prejudices and perspectives. If you want to win politicians, you have to build constituencies by changing the way people think.

If Muslims do not want to suffer the indignation of political irrelevance for many elections to come, instead of giving money to politicians, they should start investing in journalism scholarships. They should establish fellowships for Muslim academics to take a year off and write a book for a general audience, and then back them up with a PR firm to get the book on a best seller list. They should invest in publications that demonstrate a breadth and depth of thinking on a range of issues. They should invest in think tanks that analyze public issues and present actual value to the overall public discussion. All of these institutions exist right now for Muslims in America. But for the most part they are underfunded, underappreciated and undervalued. Because the community in general has not rallied behind them, they are for the most part invisible. Because they are invisible, Muslims are effectively invisible when it comes to Obama or any other serious candidate.

Another real tragedy here is that the part of the Muslim community that has made significant headway in all these areas, the Blackamerican community, remains effectively marginalized from leadership roles in the larger Muslim establishment in America. Blackamerican Muslims have been civicaly, politically and socially engaged in America for centuries. The rest of the Muslim community discovered these words a few years after 9/11. If all Muslims did was change the public perception of Islam in America to identify more with Blackamerican Islam than Arab or Pakistani Islam, the community would move forward in leaps and bounds. It is no accident that the first Muslim congressman is black. Until the Muslim leadership in America begins to recognize and reflect this historical reality, progress on a number of fronts will be slow. The Middle East and the subcontinent will remain powder kegs for decades to come.

Muslims largely misunderstand the process by which minority communities in America achieve their proverbial "seat at the table." It is not achieved through campaign donations and political posturing. It is achieved through understanding and executing on a collective vision that nurtures real, active, social, economic and political participation that improves both one's own community and the broader community that surrounds it. It is achieved through understanding that public perception is not entirely devised by a select few, but rather it is earned through hard work and sacrifice. It is achieved when a community actually adds some value to the society from which it benefits.

There is little strategic understanding of how to develop political capital within the Muslim community in America. If there was, Obama would not have to rebuke his Muslim supporters. The proof is in the pudding. Either Muslims deal with it, or do as they have done for the last 25 years: blame the media.


FIRAS AHMAD is deputy editor of Islamica Magazine.

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.