CNN – AC 360: Identity insults and democracy

“I don’t trust Obama… he’s an Arab!” This was the charge leveled by a supporter at a recent McCain rally.

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A visibly perturbed McCain took the microphone and gave an almost admirable response:

“No, ma’am, he’s a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with. He’s not [an Arab].”

I say almost because McCain not only failed to challenge the racism inherent in the woman’s charge but effectively engaged in the same when he suggested that being a decent family man is the moral opposite of being an Arab.

I would have loved to hear McCain say: “No, ma’am, he is not an Arab or is he Muslim – and let’s not use ethnic or religious identity to determine who is American – that’s un-American.”

This would have exhibited the courageous moral leadership and remind all Americans that bigotry and identity politics have no place in our democracy.

In that context, it is not surprising that A. Ghani, an American Muslim running for State Senator in Illinois, should wake up to find his campaign signs vandalized with the word “Muslim.” Or that Todd Gallinger, a California lawyer running for city council, should receive a death threat on accord of simply being Muslim.

As our nation faces a spike in civil rights abuses, political exclusion, intimidation, and hate crimes against American Muslims and those of Arab descent, it is critical to speak out. The reluctance of those entrusted with shaping public perceptions to acknowledge and address racial and religious bigotry signals an unspoken stamp of approval.

It is high time that such simple – but often lacking – reminders evolve from whispers into chants. Both campaigns as well as the political talking heads ought to send a clear message that no American should have to watch democracy from the bleachers due to their race, ethnicity, or religion.

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