08/31/2012 03:55 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

Islam, Muslims and the 2012 Elections

This column was originally published in the Duke Chronicle. It has been reprinted with permission.

America's 2012 presidential election is around the corner. We the people of this beautiful country, as the rest of the world watches very closely, will soon go through another round of soul searching to decide the country's political leadership at a very critical time in our history.

The remainder of the election, as the candidates receive and accept the official nominations and conduct their intense campaigns, is one of the most crucial chapters of this soul search. In this remaining period of time, will we the people of America, as a nation, be able to talk, discuss and debate our real American issues, challenges and opportunities, or will we waste, as we already have, significant amounts of our energy, time and resources through partisan bickering, fear mongering, finger pointing, playing blame games and so on? Are we going to get distracted by imaginary things, issues fabricated by some interest groups? The answers to these crucial questions will determine the success of this soul search and its potential outcomes.

One of the most telling indicators of whether we will focus on real American issues or lose sight is the way in which Islam as a religion and Muslims, especially Muslim Americans, will be discussed as part of this election process. There are a couple of important questions in this regard: Will Islam and Muslims continue to be used as cheap and harmful scare tools to pump fear into the hearts and minds of Americans in hopes of influencing their decisions and choices in this year's elections, as has been the case in previous elections? Will Sunday newspapers distribute CDs full of sheer hate and flat-out lies and slanders in swing states again? Will politicians, yet again, give in to this fear-mongering campaign and shamefully shy away from being in the same picture with women with headscarves? When someone falsely claims that President Obama is not trustworthy because he is "Aiyraab, Moozlam, Izzlamic" (spelling intentional), will others disturbingly come to his defense and say, "No, no, he is a good family man"?

Instead of discussing the dire and urgent problems (including terrorism and the radical extremism threat we face) that affect many American lives on a daily basis, are we going to dangerously waste precious time endlessly talking about nonexistent Jihad cells in the country, sharia creeping over our secular democracy or Rep. Bachmann's all-time favorite: "There has been deep penetration and infiltration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood"? When will enough be enough and when are we going to put an end to this nonsense, with common sense and civility directing our attention to more real and substantial issues in the face of a presidential election?

I have absolutely no doubt that well-funded and organized Islamophobia-generating establishments in our country, through various propaganda tactics, will try their very best and give one more strong push to their fear-mongering campaign in these three months. I am sure we will all witness similar scare tactics by the same group of people that did this during the 2008 presidential election. They have everything they need in their hands: a fertile post-9/11 ground to scare people, a lot of money, and irresponsible and unwise media and public figures who are willing to be mouthpieces for their fabricated message.

The only thing that will undermine these harmful, divisive and misleading efforts is the civic, intellectual and spiritual health of our American society. It is that health and immunization against hate, deception and exclusivity that we need to invest in during these trying times. This election is a great opportunity to prove to ourselves and to the world that we the people of America have significantly recovered from our post-9/11 trauma. We have grown out of those internal and external challenges that we have faced. We breathe common sense, wisdom, compassion and inclusivity as we are about to decide as a nation our future leadership. This soul-searching process is an opportunity for us to show what we are made of and where our commitments to our foundational ideals lie. May it be a rewarding election season, and may the outcome be a source of prosperity, peace and strength to all Americans and to the rest of the world.