It's been a big challenge for the Obama campaign to deal with the Obama-as-Muslim or Obama-as-Arab rumors. They are apparently rife among folks who attend McCain/Palin rallies; it just doesn't seem that hard for any journalist to find someone willing to say the most outrageous things about Obama.
The problem with these rumors is that they're compound in nature. They're a.) an attack on Obama; but behind that is b.) a vicious, bigoted attack on Arabs and Muslims. The media, blogs, and Obama campaign have gotten quite exercised over a.) But those attacks would have no impact without an appeal to the utterly commonplace hatred and bigotry that goes into b.)
What the hell would be so wrong with a Muslim president? An Arab president? We have an Muslim Ambassador to the UN; what's the big deal?
There's a simple mental exercise: For any piece of ugly rhetoric dumped out by any of FAIR's ten Smearcasters, simply substitute “Jews” or “Judaism” for “Muslims”, “Arabs”, or “Islam”. If somehow the statements seem more shocking with that substitution (as they do to me), it just demonstrates how much we've simply accepted and digested anti-Muslim and -Arab bigotry as just a mainstream part of the national discourse. (By the way, Arabs are also Semitic; anti-Arabism = anti-Semitism, literally.)
I sympathize with the position of the Obama campaign. It's hard to cut through the media clutter with a two-pronged argument, against the attacks on Obama and their underlying assumptions. And even though it's utterly unfair, there's a sense that if the Obama folks were to decry Arabs and Muslims too vigorously, that that might make the attacks stick even more, by identifying the campaign too closely with those groups. It's a tough spot, no question.
That being said, what the hell else are you going to do? Even as they've defended their guy, several times the Obama campaign has bowed to the pressure of ignorance and hate. The resignation of Mazen Asbahi as the campaigns national coordinator for Muslim Affairs was a pathetic story, and not one that imputes any courage whatsoever to the Obama campaign. When, exactly, do you stand up and say, “Enough”?
Look, I'm not saying this is easy. It's much easier to make the clearer case that the rumors about Obama are false. But they're also vicious attacks on an entire group of people, on an entire religion. It's the second part that's actually much more virulent, and much more common. If we can't speak out against that — and if the Obama campaign just doesn't have the stomach for it — well, we all may be abetting current and future violence by our cowardice, against our Muslim neighbors and against our President.
Meanwhile, in the campaign, there's a place where maybe a number of interests intersect.
- Obama wants to minimize the effect of the rumors;
- John McCain wants to be free of the stain of being associated with the rumors, perhaps realizing that the chum-the-waters strategy will never, ever get him to 50%+1. Someone might give Sarah Palin the memo.
Perhaps they could both come out and make a coordinated public statement condemning both the rumors and the underlying bigotry they reflect. McCain has his Sistah Souljah moment, which he apparently needs; Obama gets … well, maybe his life, if he's elected President.