What if Obama was Muslim or Arab?

powell-300x204.jpgOne aspect of the 2008 Election is reminiscent of the Sikh community’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of that fateful Tuesday morning, Sikhs began declaring that, “we are not Muslims.” Of course, the intention was not to deflect hate or anger towards properly-identified Muslims, but to inform others that Sikhs are members of a separate faith. An implication from the “we are not Muslim” approach, however, was that it was okay to target Muslims. Some Sikhs therefore began asking themselves, ‘what if I was Muslim?’ The answer, of course, is that the discrimination and harassment would still be wrongful. As a result, Sikhs supplemented their statements by not only explaining that they are not Muslims, but openly denouncing hate directed against anyone based on their actual or perceived race or religion.

In the last few weeks, with Election Day approaching (and political strategies and rhetoric becoming increasingly bold as a result), questions have resurfaced regarding whether Senator Barack Obama is Muslim or Arab. (For example, “When a John McCain supporter at a recent rally said she didn’t trust Obama because he was an Arab, the senator replied: ‘No. He’s a decent family man.'”). The answer, to anyone who has paid attention to the news over the course of the past ten months, is no, Senator Obama is not Muslim or Arab. But the underlying question again is, ‘so what if he was?’


This past week, Retired General Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President. As the editors of The Washington Post noted, what was lost in the endorsement was what General Powell said regarding Obama being Muslim or Arab. On this topic, General Powell pointedly remarked:

I’m . . . troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America. [Transcript]

It’s distressing that General Powell has to make such a simple, but necessary point — that there is nothing “wrong” with being Muslim or Arab in the United States. To be sure, there are some in America (perhaps the “real” Americans) who still believe in racial and religious purity and in an established hierarchy of races and faiths. Not all people are educated and not all people subscribe to healthy views regarding others; the Founders anticipated this.

But for a major political party to pander to such people is to validate that very anachronistic and discriminatory belief system. That, in 2008, is deeply troubling and is reflective of just how desperate and short-sighted the GOP has been in recent weeks.

General Powell may be remembered for being the American who presented the case for invading Iraq before the UN Security Council. He may have been wrong then, but on this question, his response is spot on. In this political climate, where standing up for Muslims and Arabs may not be the popular thing to do, it is also very admirable.


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6 Responses to “What if Obama was Muslim or Arab?”

  1. sonny says:

    agreed, i was quite impressed by powell's remarks on this issue, though it's sad that this is such an anomaly. i can't think of another example of a politician on a national level saying something like that. certainly doesn't undo his lies about WMDs and justification of invading iraq, but nevertheless a good thing.

  2. sonny says:

    agreed, i was quite impressed by powell’s remarks on this issue, though it’s sad that this is such an anomaly. i can’t think of another example of a politician on a national level saying something like that. certainly doesn’t undo his lies about WMDs and justification of invading iraq, but nevertheless a good thing.

  3. sonny says:

    agreed, i was quite impressed by powell’s remarks on this issue, though it’s sad that this is such an anomaly. i can’t think of another example of a politician on a national level saying something like that. certainly doesn’t undo his lies about WMDs and justification of invading iraq, but nevertheless a good thing.

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