Maybe I’m hyper-jaded or have been in this business too long.
But when I learned some of Barack Obama’s volunteers kept Muslim women in “hijab” or the traditional Islamic head scarf from sitting behind the Democratic presidential candidate at a campaign rally last week, my irritation was laced with a yawn.
American Muslims have gotten used to the “thanks but no thanks” brush off from many elected leaders.
We understand there might have been more of a collective uproar if young men in yarmulkes or elderly nuns were booted from the camera’s watchful eye.
We get it. No matter how law-abiding or how much we bleed red, white and blue, we remain “the other;” a threat to our country.
And really, don’t Muslim females — especially those in head scarves — thrive on taking a backseat?
Not feisty Shimaa Abdelfadeel or Hebba Aref, who demanded an apology after the snub, which they said smacks against the diversity and tolerance Obama stands for.
While the actions of the volunteers didn’t surprise me given the perpetual false rumors “accusing” Obama of being a Muslim, I was taken aback when the Illinois senator called the women and said sorry. My cynicism even went deep into hibernation.
“The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign,” Obama said in a statement. “I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background.”
Some may take the apology as a shrewd strategical tactic to ensure the Muslim vote. And, yes, a few will say by reaching out to the Muslim women, Obama unleashed his true “terrorist” coddling nature.
I think it was a commendable gesture. For many American Muslims, including myself, the apology was an encouraging “yes we can” step toward political inclusion usually reserved for other religious communities that aren’t rubber stamped as a dangerous liability.
Muslims are often criticized for secluding themselves from the larger world. But the hundreds of Muslims who do put themselves out there or engage in political discourse sometimes find themselves shunned.
Muslims have had their campaign contributions returned by politicians fearing their opponent’s wrath. Then there are those wealthy Muslim donors who are welcomed with open arms, only to be told at fund-raisers they can’t take pictures with the candidates.
Many Muslims are scared to speak out, fearing retribution. Many more, like Abdelfadeel and Aref, want their voices heard loud and clear.
“The infringement on our rights occurred and has been addressed; now we are ready to move forward,” they said in a statement, declaring their continued support for Obama.
“Putting public pressure on politicians to act honorably and live up to this country’s promise is a perfectly democratic and American endeavor,” said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.
Obama, John McCain (Yes, Muslim McCain supporters do exist. I’m related to one) and other politicians should take note.
Just because some American Muslims cover their hair doesn’t mean they cover their mouths.
Rummana Hussain is a general assignment reporter at the Sun-Times.
Copyright © 2008 Sun Times