Last week, two Muslim women in headscarves were moved from their seats behind Senator Barack Obama's stage where they would have been visible on video monitors. The campaign has apologized to the women, and explained that the request by campaign volunteers was "counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together."
It is hard not to sympathize with the campaign's predicament. Polls reveal that a significant percentage of Americans are not ready to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. With wild rumors circulating that Obama is a "secret Muslim," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has struggled to engage the Muslim community openly. Still, even many Muslims who enthusiastically support Obama are hurt by the headscarf incident, which seems to embody his campaign's mixed signals.
While this recent episode brought Obama under fire, the Republican nominee has not exactly blazed pathways into the Muslim community either. Senator John McCain's attention to Muslim affairs seems almost entirely about confronting "radical Islamic terrorism." Millions of Muslims share this goal, yet want to know how he intends to engage not just the radical fringe but also mainstream American Muslims.