~ Sammer Aboelela, a friend of Faith House, is Community Organizer with the NYC Community of Muslim Progressives. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Muslims for Progressive Values.
“Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President?”
With this simple rhetorical question, Colin Powell concisely expressed the frustration felt by many Americans toward the use of the American Muslim identity as a foil for partisan fear-mongering. In case you missed it, during the lead-up to his widely publicized endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President, Powell cited the rumor campaign against Obama, which claims him to be Muslim, as one of the factors weighing in his decision to endorse Obama over McCain. Choosing not to simply disavow the claim of the rumor, Powell challenged the underlying bigotry by openly rejecting the notion that being Muslim would somehow disqualify a Presidential candidate.
(the whole thing is 7 minutes, Powell speaks about Muslims at 4:25 point)
As a Muslim myself, I am grateful to hear an acknowledgment of this nature from a figure such as Colin Powell, and was genuinely moved by the way he framed his message. The optimistic image of a Muslim child hoping to someday lead our country truly caught me off-guard, as did the story Powell relayed of a young Muslim American soldier laying down his life for his country. Through these twin images of hope and sacrifice, he was able to convey that Muslims share fundamental American ideals – a point that many of us in the Muslim community have been struggling to make for years.
Still, I feel compelled to point out one implication of the rumor campaign that I don’t believe Powell addressed directly enough. It has become clear to me over the past several years that my religious identity is being used as a wedge to cleave many non-Muslim Americans away from their political interests. As those Americans who would benefit more from Barak Obama’s proposed tax and health care plans choose to vote against him based on the possibility of his being Muslim, they might just be voting against their own futures, the futures of their children, and the well-being of the country at large (this is just an example of course - not a political endorsement of one candidate over another).
The price of bigotry, therefore, is not simply borne by its targets. Indeed, bigotry is a form of self-inflicted collective punishment upon a society, and can only be effectively confronted through interdependent action and willful introspection. As a prominent non-Muslim standing against Islamophobia, Colin Powell demonstrates this point. For that, I thank him.