He looks like most Americans, well African Americans. And you definitely can't tell he is a Muslim by his appearance. So, it would be difficult to target him based on his religion.
"I look like a regular black man in Washington, DC," said Omari West, a 35-year old American Sunni Muslim. "Do I get targeted as a black man, now that's another case?"
Although West acknowledges that religious bigotry against Muslims exists in the United States, he believes the primary issue is still race.
Some Americans still "cling" to the inaccurate beliefs that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim or was sworn into Congress on the Koran instead of the bible. And as shown in a recent McCain rally, there is a portion of the American population who believes Obama is an "Arab." And they'll shout it as an insult to prove it.
West, who was born into his Islamic faith, says the Arab slur is a cover for their true beliefs.
"It's no longer politically palatable for people to openly admit that they don't favor a candidate because of his skin color. [African Americans] have gone through a long hard battle in this country to win the right of dignity and respect, at least in the public square."
West attributes the veiled use of the word, Arab or Muslim, as a code word for "other" or an even more derogatory word used against Black people.
"It's more convenient and less controversial for someone to call Obama a Muslim then it would be to call him the n-word." That's how the coding works.
West explained how that process occurs in multiple unconscious, yet subversive psychological steps.
First, to tarnish Obama's reputation, his enemies use his name Barack Hussein Obama to distinguish him and thereby paint him as an "other." In the senator's case, all three of his names are easily associated with the Islamic faith, said West.
"The name, Barack Hussein Obama, is of east African derivation," said West. "It's Arabic."
West says the next stage is "to paint him as an enemy by associating him with Arabic and Muslim extremists."
This identification with a negative Arab connotation is achieved by emphasizing Obama's middle name, Hussein. This name has received a lot of media attention because of its similarity to the notorious Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Hussein, who committed violent acts against his own people, was also a Sunni Muslim.
"All of the Arab talk is code word for his skin color and voicing disapproval as a form of racial bigotry, which can't be openly discussed," said West.
West, who is an American-born Muslim, thinks that the veiled Arab attacks against Obama are working. He thinks the focus on race can be shown in Obama's wavering support among union workers despite their leadership's endorsement.
West, a graduate of Columbia's law school and its undergraduate journalism school explained:
"Usually democrats are pro-labor because of the economic issues. They push for higher wages, unionization, etc. As a result, union workers generally vote democratic. There is a question now whether the rank and file members will follow behind the union leaders and vote for Barack. The argument could be made that people care more about racial and cultural issues than economic."
A recent New York Times article points to race as a reason for Obama's lack of support from union members.
"I think race is playing a major part," said Mac Davis Slade, a political activist with the painters' union, to the NYT. "I think that's why some people say, 'Isn't he a Muslim?'"
Although race and religion are being used against Sen. Obama, West said it is part of the reason he is supporting him for president.
"I do think those reasons - his race, culture, name and experience - go into making him the person that he is today. They are not separate from what he brings to the table. However, the most important reason is I think he's the most competent person for the job," said West.
The owner of his own international economic consulting firm, West explained that Obama was his choice because of his leadership on several issues like the war. He also admired the Senator's qualifications as a legislator and his impact on international relations if elected.
In terms of overall voting patterns for Muslims, West thinks they historically lean right on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage. However, in this election people of all religions will have to consider a hierarchy of issues, which include national security, education, civil rights and civil liberties. And on these political issues, West said Muslims lean left or Democratic. A 2007 Pew study confirms that only 11% of Muslims lean right or consider themselves Republican and 63% identify with the Democratic party.
"It's not because we're any less pro-life or in favor of gay marriage from a faith standpoint. There are other factors that are lives depend on in this race," said West.
He hopes the next president sets a tone of tolerance, and encourages a sharing of ideas and strengths among people of difference. This leader would point to how the variation among faiths and traditions all come from the same source, God.
Quoting from the 49:13 verse in the Koran, West states, "We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other." For him, this statement means we learn more about ourselves by encountering and understanding the "other."
"We are all brothers and sisters under God," says West, "we're all viewed as equals."
Only then would the use of the word "Arab" not be much of an insult.
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