By Ahmed M. Rehab
Chicago Tribune, August 10, 2008
"Muslim liaison for presidential campaign resigns after connections to Muslim community are found."
No, that's not a fake headline from The Onion, the popular newspaper parodying everyday political and cultural absurdities. And no, it's not the concept of a skit from "Saturday Night Live."
It is however the gist of a real story from the Wall Street Journal announcing the resignation of Mazen Asbahi from his position as the national coordinator for Muslim-American affairs for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.
Resignations from presidential campaigns are not uncommon.
This year, Geraldine Ferraro stepped down from her position on the finance committee of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign after making racially charged remarks about Obama. Samantha Power, an Obama foreign policy adviser, resigned after calling Clinton a monster. Phil Gramm, a top adviser to John McCain, resigned from his role as campaign co-chairman after his comments that the United States had become a "nation of whiners."
But although most are forced to resign for what they said or what they did, Asbahi had to resign for who he is: A Muslim who is well-connected within his own community.
I have known Asbahi for over a decade. As a patriotic young American Muslim, he had always dreamed of the opportunity to one day serve his country. He did more than dream; he worked hard to obtain his law degree cum laude from one of the nation's top schools, Northwestern University. He landed a prestigious position at a top law firm, Schiff Hardin. He remained active in his community, working tirelessly to encourage civic engagement.
When the Obama campaign sought a liaison for the American Muslim community, Asbahi was a natural pick. Yet a few days later, he is out in the cold.
His resignation from his volunteer position came amid claims that he had "connections" to "fundamentalist Muslims." Asbahi himself was not accused of being a fundamentalist mind you, but his mere acquaintance with someone who is accused of being one was apparently enough to stain him.
More on this acquaintance later.
The Asbahi affair is the latest episode in a long list of anti-Muslim blunders that have tainted the 2008 presidential campaigning since the primaries. It makes for a case study that offers ample insight into the origin, nature and mechanics of today's Islamophobia.
Typically, the cycle begins with allegations of questionable associations leveled against the subject from a dubious Internet source. These allegations are quickly parroted by a more mainstream entity that is amenable to lending the dubious source some level of credence--usually a conservative-leaning media agency or elected official. The allegations are widely circulated to much fanfare involving everything but a responsible scrutiny of the allegations themselves or those who proclaim them.
In this case, the Internet source is the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report. I've never heard of it and chances are you haven't either.
The Wall Street Journal, which likely considers its piece a work of investigative journalism, failed to investigate who exactly runs this "Internet newsletter." If it did, then it failed to report on its findings. Sources are a big part of any story. Would the Wall Street Journal build an exposé around information obtained from the David Duke Daily Report? I would hope not. This Internet newsletter, which is privately registered, lists virtually every major American Muslim organization as being part of a global Islamist conspiracy. It is mind-boggling how seamless it is for mudslinging Web sites harboring a blatantly anti-Muslim agenda to break their hogwash into the mainstream media.
Ironically, the Wall Street Journal itself can be "linked" in the same manner as Asbahi. Asbahi's link to Imam Jamal Said, the man they have labeled a "fundamentalist," happens to be the board of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund, where both briefly presided. The Dow Jones publishes the Wall Street Journal.
Of course, Said is not a fundamentalist. He is in fact a cornerstone of the Chicago Muslim community and a respected American faith leader who has dedicated his professional life to the sort of everyday services that makes our communities safe and prosperous.
His daily work includes counseling couples in troubled marriages and owners of failing businesses, advocating for safe streets, fighting bigotry and discrimination, collecting funds to help the poor, encouraging congregants to vote and overseeing faith matters for hundreds of families.
The Mosque Foundation, where Said works, is a noted contributor to Chicago's civic life. It is an active participant in Department of Homeland Security round-table discussions and is hosting one in just a few weeks. In 2006, it generously donated a public garden to the City of Chicago in order to beautify its lakefront. It is environmentally conscious and is the first mosque in the nation to go solar.
It is easy to point the finger at the Obama campaign for giving in so easily to anti-Muslim intimidation. But, to be fair, we must realize that the problem extends to our general political culture, which has seen every presidential candidate this year guilty of the same. It is also a culture that extends to the willingness of the media to let anti-Muslim absurdities slide.
As long as the intellectual vanguard of this nation fails to recognize and deal with the phenomenon of anti-Muslim fear-mongering as a real problem plaguing our society, the politics of exclusion will slip by unchallenged.
Ahmed M. Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.