Obama’s Team Needs to Drop Phobia Towards Arab-Americans and Muslims

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A couple of well-placed insiders have told me that US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad is going to make a quick split after the November 4th election. Some think he is going to position himself to run for the presidency of Afghanistan — which I sincerely hope he does not do. Others think he has lined up a financially lucrative perch at an investment house. The problem with the latter scenario is that I was informed by my sources of Khalizad’s departure agenda before the financial meltdown.
Khalilzad has been an effective and important successor to John Bolton at the UN on a number of levels, but one aspect of his service and identity that rarely gets attention is that he is the highest-ranking Muslim in the Bush administration.
America needs Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans in positions of responsibility in our government — and not just dealing with Arab-American and Muslim issues. This is important as America needs to keep open the doors of civic opportunity to all Americans however hyphenated.
Yesterday, Justin Vogt of The New Yorker wrote a piece titled “Imagined Community” for the new Abu-Dhabi based The National. His article is one of the most serious and comprehensive discussions of the state of Arab-Americans in American politics I have read. I had a few quotes in the piece including the comment that “Both Muslims and Arab-Americans have been ill-treated in this political environment.”
But the reason to read it is that we do need the ‘likely’ Obama administration to immediately suspend its generalized phobia of most things Muslim and Arab. McCain and Palin have been trying to slander Obama for relationships with “questionable” Arabs and have through a variety of means allowing a whisper campaign that he may be “Muslim.”
I agree with Colin Powell. Why should it matter?! Muslims and Arab Americans are no less American than anyone else reading this blog — or reading RedState.org or listening to Fox and Friends in the morning.
Although, shame on Tom Ridge for jumping on the bandwagon of hysterical demonization and slander of Columbia University Rashid Khalidi and Barack Obama even though Ridge said on Fox’s show Tuesday morning that he knew nothing about Khalidi or what he had written or said — but that this showed Obama’s tendency to associate himself with terrorists and questionable people. That was outrageous.
Some of these Fox critics ought to dig into the founding entities of the Likud party in Israel and apply some historical objectivity.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

24 comments on “Obama’s Team Needs to Drop Phobia Towards Arab-Americans and Muslims

  1. Arun says:

    Bah, school kids are coming home and asking their parents – is it true that Obama will end Christmas? We see the Republicans smearing Rashid Khalidi. We see their questions to McCain – isn’t Obama an Arab? A Muslim? – as reasons to oppose Obama.
    Obama hasn’t won anything yet; and will likely not win anything if he deviates even the tiniest bit from his script.
    The fact is that the Democratic convention looked like a rainbow; the Republican one looked uniformly white. The fact is that the Republicans have been demonizing people whom it turns out McCain too had embraced, and turning them into issues in the election. The fact is that the Republicans have won what elections they have in the past few years always pushing fear and suspicion. 20% of the voters think that Obama is somehow not American, or even forged his birth certificate – all because of the Republican attack machine.
    And our great The Washington Note says “Obama’s Team Needs to Drop Phobia Towards Arab-Americans and Muslims”.
    What BS!!!!!

    Reply

  2. rich says:

    annjell,
    Totally agree.
    You make a number of insightful points, especially:
    ” . . that blacks can’t get away with what a white person can. When blacks apply for jobs, they face more scrutiny than a white person. There is no such thing as affirmative action anymore.”
    Affirmative action overwhelmingly benefited white women—America couldn’t pass an equal opportunity bill for blacks without every other disadvantaged group jumping into the program for ‘fairness’—and since corporations were much more comfortable hiring white women than black men, they did. Women flooding the workforce allowed ompanies to meet requirements without ever having to hire black men.
    So I was angry with Geraldine Ferraro for uttering the lie that Barack Obama was getting a free pass: black men have to be twice as good, and are still accused of not being worth what they’ve clearly earned. She sided with Clarence Thomas, deployed a GOP wedge meme, and appealed to those old Archie Bunker/ Reagan resentments—consciously.
    As you rightly point out, the race card was overtly played—though David Brooks is frantically denying it—by McCain now, but also by Hillary Clinton’s surrogates (regardless of what Bill meant or whether he was treated right). As a white male, I’ll call Ferraro out on that til the day I die.
    John McCain’s legacy will never recover. The overt racism he’s tolerated and deployed isn’t something he can shake. On MTP last week he was saying “my friends, we face a historic choice and the difference between Barack Obama and myself is so stark . . (it’s the difference between black and white…).
    Your insight on building an inclusive and functional American nation is also instructive. When there is opportunity built into our economic and social structure, negative routes to survival or econonomic opportunity or just the chance to be heard are not attractive, nor are they necessary. Huge economic costs are avoided, obviously, by providing the education and the opportunity, whether or not the free market (that fictional term) is capable of doing the work it’s been assigned.
    annjell—post here more often.
    “But, when people feel disenfranchised, facing racial discrimination, racial disparity, they are going to go where they are accepted.”
    “In essence, the Right should take note of this, that when they shun what they consider undesirables, someone else is waiting to take them under their wings. This goes for runaways – there are pimps & molesters waiting. Kids that feel lonely & bored – street gangs & drug dealers/users are waiting.”

    Reply

  3. haypops says:

    arthurdecco wrote:
    haypops, you need to adjust your medication(s).
    ————
    Maybe so! Are you buying? 🙂
    Peace

    Reply

  4. arthurdecco says:

    haypops, you need to adjust your medication(s).

    Reply

  5. annjell says:

    Steve, thanks for printing that letter from the Saginaw Opinion.
    I changed my voter registration from GOP to DEM, and yes, I voted today.
    I am a black female. After hearing the hateful speech coming from the McCain-Palin rallies, and tv interviews, there’s no way I can support this political party again. Ever.
    Personally, I feel the GOP is going to lose a majority of the black supporters they have due to their actions.
    Yes, they may feel, oh well, it politics. No it’s not. I live in a beach community, with very few blacks, and now when I go places, I am given not so pleasant looks.
    Then you had the incident in Rancho Cucamonga, California, the Republican Women’s group (Chaffey College) with Obama’s face on food stamp dollars.
    When you put everything in perspective, this is not the time for the republicans to behave this way. You still have people angry, disheartened by the events of Katrina. There are states that would rather hire illegal immigrants than blacks under the pretext that blacks are lazy.
    You can’t say one thing, then do another. You know, please don’t deny it, blacks have suffered the most under this administration.
    You know this as fact also, that blacks can’t get away with what a white person can. When blacks apply for jobs, they face more scrutiny than a white person. There is no such thing as affirmative action anymore. The thing is cheap labor. With this I will say, that recently, blacks aren’t the only ones to suffer job losses, but it hit them first.
    Another point I’d like to make, the U.S. prisons are seeing a surge in blacks joining the Muslim religions, so is the caribbean.
    First, let me say, no, I am not muslim.
    But, when people feel disenfranchised, facing racial discrimination, racial disparity, they are going to go where they are accepted. And the Muslims have been able to go in and do what the government fails to do – example the Middle East.
    In essence, the Right should take note of this, that when they shun what they consider undesirables, someone else is waiting to take them under their wings. This goes for runaways – there are pimps & molesters waiting. Kids that feel lonely & bored – street gangs & drug dealers/users are waiting. People wanting to come to the U.S. illegally – human smugglers are waiting.
    Most of all, the Right need to take note, the Imams in the Middle East said they were going to take over the west.
    Maybe they feel it’s rallying their base, but, others don’t see it that way. I know, because I told some of my black friends that are supporters of the republican party, they now plan to either stay home election day or vote Obama.

    Reply

  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Only two groups in America are judged viable targets for hatred; Zionists and Asian-Americans”
    HUH????
    You must be joking.

    Reply

  7. haypops says:

    arthurdecco wrote:
    You must be joking.
    If only it were a joke. Only two groups in America are judged viable targets for hatred; Zionists and Asian-Americans.
    The NJDC has a fine video at:
    http://www.njdc.org/resources/entry/video_grandchildren_of_justice_brandeis

    Reply

  8. arthurdecco says:

    “Some of these Fox critics ought to dig into the founding entities of the Likud party in Israel and apply some historical objectivity.” Steve Clemons
    You must be joking.

    Reply

  9. Yasser Alghaslan says:

    Dear Steve,
    This is one of the most balances articles on this topic I have ever read, thank you for highlighting the issue in such a professional and well analyzed way.
    All the best

    Reply

  10. Steve Clemons says:

    chopper — guess you caught me….i’m a secret supporter of the Bush/Cheney regime. Glad you got that out there. 😉 best, steve

    Reply

  11. chopper says:

    “Bush and Cheney usurped authorities that they should never
    have been able to get away with. I have written a great deal
    about this — but the real enablers were those in Congress who
    refused to block their efforts.”
    What? You have consistently said you opposed impeachment of Bush and Cheney. Thus you, a well-placed Washington insider with a widely read media soapbox and not-inconsiderable influence made the choice to NOT support oversight and the actions that would be necessary for that oversight to mean anything.
    Sorry Mr. Clemons, but you are one of the enablers.

    Reply

  12. DavidT says:

    Steve,
    Your sentiments, particularly as expressed in this comments section, are well argued and compelling. But I do feel that your timing suggests you are more interested in criticizing the Obama campaign than in dealing with the problem you quite rightly raise.
    First of all, you have argued in your blog and in these comment sections that the Obama campaign should not be taking victory laps before election day. Now you are arguing that they’re going to win anyway, so go ahead and take a chance on this issue. Which is it?
    Secondly, is the campaign taking on this topic 5 days before the election likely to be as compelling as say discussing it after the election, making a case without concern for electoral consequences, and reframing our view of 9/11 to explain why our foreign policy has been so wrong-headed and has contributed to people’s views of Muslims?
    Bigotry of any kind is wrong and intolerable. But dealing with its source, in my mind, is crucial to dissipating it. That’s why discussing this topic in a similar manner (a holistic way) to discussing the race question (the way Obama did after the Wright controversy surfaced) will in my view be much more effective. While the bigotry has reared its ugly head during this campaign, in so many ways the issue has been out there since 9/11 whether or not it came up during this campaign.
    The Congressional analogy you make in your comment is a mixed one. I agree that Congress should have been much more active in its oversight responsibilities. However, it is the explicit responsibility of the Congress to oversee the executive branch. It isn’t the explicit responsibility of one campaign to decry the slanders of an opposing campaign (and I feel pity for a candidate who takes on that mantle since they will be letting their opponents set their campaign’s agenda).
    I do much prefer campaigns who take the high road and take their opponents to task for all the evil they spew. But I think arguing that taxes are unpatriotic and that redistribution is wrong are awful lies that do great harm to this country as well. Yet I don’t hold the Obama campaign to account for not challenging the Republicans on these issues for if they tried especially hard to do so the White House might look dimmer from campaign headquarters.

    Reply

  13. DonS says:

    This arab phobia issue is just one of many in which I see, and fear, that Obama will choose the “safe” side rather than the “right” side. How much he is affected in this tendency 1) to win the election 2) position himself in the middle, against right wing propaganda and expectations as a ‘default position’ going forward or 3) actually expressing his own thoughts and instincts?
    It certainly sends a signal that we can’t comfortably expect Obama to bravely and creatively address the Israli-Palestinian question or perhaps other questions that array powerful entrenced forces and fear-based prejudices against progressive change.
    I’m less absorbed in the headline unfairness (since we all can see how rabid the republicans are in their bigotry), than in the soft bigoty of the entire political spectrum. But it is stupid of Obama and his campaign to think they can innoculate themselves against republican criticism on the “pro arab/muslim” issue; repubs spin it against Obama whatever he does, e.g., methinks the lady doth protest too much, etc.

    Reply

  14. Steve Clemons says:

    Dan K — I’m disgusted by the slander and bigotry that have
    been spun by many in the McCain/Palin camp. I have written
    about this — and I’ve spoken about it many, many times.
    But I don’t think that the Obama camp should yield an inch
    when it comes to compromising in supporting the role and
    valuable place that all Americans of various hyphenations play in
    the country, particularly Muslims and Arab-Americans. You
    should see the number of emails and even comments here and
    at HuffPost that think “this is the wrong time” to raise these
    issues….i.e. Obama has to win first. He will win — and it is not
    Obama himself I am worried about. I’m worried about the soft
    bigotry and the acceptance among many on his team that it is
    OK to let this embedded discrimination not receive the whack it
    deserves while running for office. I spent too much time with
    those rounded up and detained in Japanese-American camps
    after WWII to have any tolerance for ‘acceptable discrimination.’
    You are right that I could vent at McCain and Palin more than I
    do…but I am disgusted by these slurs, and they are going to lose
    the election I feel.
    I’m beyond that. I now want to see responsible behavior from
    Obama’s leading lights. They need to send a signal to the many
    that will lead in his administration that this trend that they have
    allowed to influence some of the optics and posture of the
    campaign has to be stopped. That’s my view…and I feel
    strongly about it.
    Bush and Cheney usurped authorities that they should never
    have been able to get away with. I have written a great deal
    about this — but the real enablers were those in Congress who
    refused to block their efforts. I feel similarly about Obama’s
    camp. They need to refuse to enable soft or even indirect, but
    real, discrimination and bigotry against American Muslims and
    Arab Americans.
    I sense you feel the same on the discrimination issue — but
    your problem is my targeting Obama’s team on this. I
    understand some of your concern….but frankly, I’m no longer
    willing to really play the game of pretending McCain might win. I
    don’t see any chance of that happening at this point — so I’ve
    moved on to issues that really do matter given what I am 99%
    certain will happen next Tuesday.
    As ever — and thanks for wrestling on this. It’s an important
    discussion,
    steve

    Reply

  15. Carroll says:

    I have thought for six years about how an adm can make sure America has policies and carries out actions that are fair to all and good for all and America.
    Most of this thinking was spurred by watching how the Jewish element has screwed with US ME policy and the Cubans have screwed with Cuban policy and the various foreign/ethnic camps that have taken up residence in the US in order to promote their own personal foreign interest.
    Do we appoint Muslims to undo or rollback the Muslim and Arab demonization that special interest have promoted?
    I don’t know the answer.
    But I do know we have to rid ourselves and our government of any ethnics/religious in government office and even in congress that can’t be objective about US policy and actions because of their own personal ethnic identity or religion or emotional attachment to a another country.
    Maybe we need to make any appointed government official take the oath of Oath of Allegiance….
    “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state,..”
    Hooked up to a lie detector while they recite that passage just to make sure.
    America is a country, it’s not the UN.

    Reply

  16. JohnH says:

    Khalilzad as President of Afghanistan? Striking parallel to Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union (1985-1990), becoming the President of “independent” Georgia. Such an appointment would be a blatant assertion of America’s colonial ambitions in Afghanistan.
    Why not parachute a top consultant from an oil company into the job instead? Oh, I forgot. They already did that.

    Reply

  17. Zathras says:

    I’m not an admirer of all of the contributions made by our endless campaign process to the public discussion ideas, but I think before we criticize what it is we need to be realistic about what it can be.
    The fact is that terrorism by Arabs, especially 9/11 but not only that, has defined the Islamic faith for many Americans. That’s what they have seen and what they know about Islam. Of course the picture is incomplete; of course it is grossly unfair to millions of Muslims who are good citizens of this country. To the extent it reinforces the already strong tendency within the foreign policy community to use “Muslim” as a synonym for “Arab,” this picture is also unhelpful to American foreign relations.
    The often negative view that many Americans have of Muslims, however, did not just happen, nor is it the product of spontaneous prejudice and bigotry — any more than the far more virulent public reactions against people with German names or Japanese ancestry were in the last century. It isn’t something momentarily gone wrong that any Presidential campaign — Sen. Obama’s or anyone else’s — can be expected to put right by “standing up” or “taking a stand.” Time and patience are the only remedies for such a condition.

    Reply

  18. PeterG says:

    Steve, Obama almost has to do this. The Republican’s are running a hard campaign to say that Obama is a Muslim. See, for instance, this letter publish as ‘Saginaw opinion’ in the Saginaw News yesterday:
    _________________________________________________
    Editor, The News:
    Barack Hussein Obama. Perhaps this name seems strange to many because it is Arabic.
    Obama’s father was 87.5 percent Arab, which would make Obama the first Arab-American president, not African-American. He was born a Muslim and practiced Islam daily at school in Indonesia and kept that faith for 31 years until his wife made him change (outwardly) as a strategic move to appear more acceptable for public office.
    Perhaps that’s why he referred to the “57 states” he has visited around the United States (there are 57 Muslim countries). Perhaps that’s why, during an interview with George Stephanopolis, he said, “I am comfortable with my Muslim religion.” Stephanopolis very quickly covered for this gaffe.
    The New York Times reported that he quoted the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting “Allah is supreme!” with a first-rate accent and described it as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”
    His membership at Trinity United Church of Christ is a good fit for him. This denomination is not considered Christian by mainstream Christian churches. It does not declare Jesus as God’s only son, the very basis of Christianity, but rather just a man and a prophet. This is a cult that is black separatist and sympathetic with those who declare war on Israel. Christian verbiage is liberally used in its publicity, yet lacks the substance that should unquestionably reflect Jesus as God.
    Obama’s favorite charity is Project Islamic Hope. He has the financial support of Muslims for Obama. Perhaps that is why he missed the Iran resolution vote on terrorism.
    Muslims who left Islam reveal that they were taught to lie and deceive unknowing people for the purposes of Islam. Perhaps that’s why Obama has established a long list of lies about his close friends, his voting record, his religion and political stands on moral issues among many others.
    He has a funny name because he is Muslim.
    _____________________
    So this is why he is waiting until after November 4 to embrace Muslims!!!

    Reply

  19. Florestan says:

    Terrible headline, Steve. You’re right about the new admin.
    flinging the Arab/Muslimophobia out when the slanderous
    campaign is over, and Powell’s comment was deeply moving. But
    the headline distorts the nature of the real problem, which Tom
    Ridge typified.

    Reply

  20. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve,
    I can’t tell you how dismayed I am by this perpetuation of your blame the victim campaign in this area.
    I know that you like to preserve an evenhanded position between your Republican friends and Democratic friends. But this is no mere “whisper campaign”, but an organized multimedia campaign of lies, hatred and disinformation carried out against Obama. The campaign is driven from the right. And you have never done anything at all to investigate the roots of the campaign, or identify and call out the perpetrators. You appear to be afraid of them. And you respond in the way many people do when they are afraid, by misdirecting their anger at the victims.
    You’re like a guy who stands up during the height of the McCarthy era, ignores McCarthy completely, and says, “Democrats need to stop being afraid of associations with socialists!” Well, sure. Many people on the left should have stuck up more for their democratic socialist friends who were not communist Soviet agents. They should have showed more courage. Unfortuantely they were at the same time busy defending themselves against lies and persecution. So don’t you think the McCarthyites themselves were just a *little bit* worse? What you are doing here is carrying water for McCarthyites by participating in the ganging up on their victims.
    You are standing right next to a man with a bloody whip in his hands. Obama’s back is flayed right in front of you. And you say “Obama needs to stop being afraid of whip marks.” When are you going to focus some attention on the guy with the whip?!!!

    Reply

  21. Tony C. says:

    Steve,
    While I agree that Obama has some work to do, this is a good
    segue to touch again on your starry eyed support of Colin
    Powell.
    You reasonably praised Powell for having spoken out on this
    general topic on Meet the Press. However, his recent silence is
    entirely consistent with his historical unwillingness to stand up
    forcefully when it counts. I say that because we haven’t heard a
    peep from him in the wake of the despicable attacks on Obama’s
    connection with Rashid Khalidi by John McCain and his
    surrogates (e.g. Andrew McCarthy).
    This is a truly disgusting, McCarthyesque smear job which is
    quintessentially racist at its core. Where is your strong,
    independent, courageous Powell now?

    Reply

  22. questions says:

    Dan,
    Obama has repeatedly moved “Arab-looking” people out of camera shot, has removed a liaison who had “questionable” ties to a “group” and so on. The real problem is that something like 22 or 23% of Texans STILL think Obama is a Muslim and that THEREFORE he should not be allowed to be president. Obama has little choice in his steering away from this issue for now, but one would hope that after the election, rationality settles in.
    The deeper problem is one typical of Republican thinking — they seem both in policy and in politics to be worried about short-term issues — quarterly profits, THIS election, rabidizing the base…. They thus lose sight of the need to run a whole economy over the long term, to govern the WHOLE country, to moderate people’s wilder swings of imagination. The result is that the government cannot govern when it most needs to govern.
    What we all really need to do is ease up on the crazy rhetoric.

    Reply

  23. Punchy says:

    With all due respect, Mr. Clemons, please hold off on these philippics until Nov. 5th. Nobody’s won anything yet, so to say this admonishment is premature is an understatement.

    Reply

  24. Dan says:

    Shouldn’t the headline of your post read “McCain’s Team Needs to Drop Phobia Towards Arab-Americans and Muslims”. Here’s a little advice from a freshmen English 101 class. An assertion found in a title or topic sentence needs to be supported in the body of the text. Nowhere in your post do you give any examples of Obama’s alleged phobia towards Arab-Americans, instead you give examples of the McCain campaigns attempt to demonize Arabs. Change the the title or provide some examples of Obama’s phobia.

    Reply

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