09/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Zero Tolerance for Muslim Participation in Politics?

2008-07-28-bnet_logo_white.gifIf you want to understand just how difficult it can be for Muslims to
participate in public service, look no further than my friend Mazen
Asbahi. An accomplished attorney and long-time Democratic volunteer,
he took on the position of Sen. Obama's national coordinator for
Muslim and Arab affairs last week. Unfortunately, he resigned
yesterday out of fear that his appointment would be a distraction to
the campaign.

The source of his worry? The fact that he had served on a board of
directors, for a few weeks, with an imam considered by some to be an
extremist, as well as his being an officer of the Muslim Students
Association while he was in college. Mazen himself was not accused of
being an extremist, or even of supporting extremist groups and/or
causes. Yet this was enough to ensure his quick departure from the
campaign, after only a week of work.

Think about this for a moment. No reasonable person would link the
reputation or activities of one board member to another, especially
(as was the case with Mazen) when you had no say in the nomination or
election of that other board member. And being an officer in a Muslim
student group -- nearly all of which operate independently of the
national MSA -- is only a liability if that particular student group is
accused of wrongdoing, which Mazen's MSA wasn't.

Mazen is a loyal Democrat who has worked tirelessly to help mobilize
millions of Muslim and Arab votes this coming November, and he has by
all accounts a stellar professional reputation. But two very tenuous
"links" -- if you want to call them that -- were enough to erase an
entire adult lifetime of achievement and cast an unfair suspicion over
him that will follow him through the rest of his life (thank you,

When I spoke to him last week, he was excited about the possibility of
bringing more Muslims and Arabs into the political system, to prove
that our communities can be a net positive contributor to the
societies in which we live. I cannot imagine another qualified Muslim
daring to follow in his footsteps, only to be subjected to
second/third/fourth-degree of separation accusations and (as we like
to say in political circles) "be thrown under the bus".

The very people who fight to push Muslims out of the public square are
also the ones clamoring for our communities to get out in the streets
and prove our loyalty to the US. If only they could see the
contradiction for themselves.