The U.S. presidential election has led to fairly significant debate on black-white race issues as well as gender politics. This campaign has triggered passionate hatred for Muslims and Arabs in this country, and yet that form of racism and prejudice has barely been discussed.
Just yesterday an elderly woman at a campaign event with John McCain rambled into the microphone about how she doesn't trust Barack Obama and then said, as if it were her kicker, "HE'S ARAB."
McCain took the microphone back, shook his head, and acting like he is suddenly better than gutter politics, said something along the lines of, "No, no, mam. He's a decent, family man."
What?! That old lady did not say Obama is a terrorist. She did not say he is a murderer or a rapist or a drug dealer to little children. She said he is "Arab." And yet, McCain automatically understood her point and equated "Arab" with "bad man."
Similar things have been happening on a regular basis throughout this campaign. Every time people spread emails and rumors that Obama is Muslim, they are not trying to inform voters of the man's religion. They are saying, Don't vote for him because he is Muslim. Every time some religious-right radio talkshow host uses Obama's middle name of Hussein, he is saying, Don't vote for Obama because he is Muslim.
Obama has on occasion said that it shouldn't matter if he were Muslim or not. But he has not done that enough. Usually, he just denies it, as if being called Muslim were an accusation. Wouldn't someone who wants to run on a mantle of hope and bring this country forward on race relations say over and over again, "There is nothing wrong with being Muslim. Muslims have the right to run for office. Muslims are not all terrorists."
When people accuse Obama of being Arab, he should similarly say, "There is nothing wrong with being Arab. We have many allies in the Arab world."
Step back a moment and think again about that old lady at the McCain event yesterday. Imagine her instead saying that she doesn't trust Obama and.... "HE"S JEWISH." Or she doesn't trust Obama and ... "HE'S CHRISTIAN." Or she doesn't trust Obama and .... "HE'S POLISH."
And then, imagine the man running on the Republican Party ticket to be president of the United States say, "No, no, man. He's a decent, family man."
Yes, of course, there is still plenty of hatred against Jews out there in the world. But a Republican presidential candidate would never say that because there would be a backlash from the Jewish community, and probably (hopefully) from many other communities.
So where's the backlash now? We hear a lot about this election getting "uglier" and politics getting "dirtier." We discuss those voters in the South or rural PA who say they'd never vote for a black man. So why don't we hear about the ongoing racism against Muslims and Arabs that has been coming out in this campaign?
I am Jewish and grew up learning about the Holocaust and the apocryphal story of the Danish king who wore the Star of David when the Nazis tried to round up the Jews. As the story goes, all the Danes then wore the Star of David, thereby protecting the real Jews from being sent to concentration camps. I grew up hearing stories about the German families who risked everything to hide Jews in their basement. And, of course, about the families who stood by and did nothing. To them, we said Never Again.
Now, in post-9/11 America, it is the Muslims and Arabs who are the object of racism. While there are so many Americans who are quick to correct the facts and make sure the public knows that Obama is not Arab or Muslim, where are the people speaking up and saying that the Arabs and Muslims are not evil, bad people? How come now almost nobody is saying it's not OK to hate?
Rather than correcting these lies by proving that Obama is Christian, we should be denouncing them. And, like the story of the Danish king, we should all be willing to say, I am Arab, I am Muslim.
*** Write for OffTheBus this weekend about this issue. Go out into your community and talk to Muslims about how this election has affected their view of the candidates and the United States. Visit local mosques and ask Muslim leaders what they think of the election. Which candidate do they support and why? How do they want McCain and Obama to respond to these slurs? Has this changed how they view this country? Do they feel targeted? What do they want the next president to do to address this form of racism in our society? Send your story (and headshot and brief bio) to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight on Tuesday, October 14.