Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Obama by American Muslim High School Student

What Obama and McCain owe American Muslims
by Mohammed Hussain
Mohammed Hussain will be a senior at Lincoln-Sudbury High School this fall.

Over the past few weeks, the national media has focused on the relationship between the presidential candidates and one minority group - that of American Muslims. Articles and opinion pieces in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the LA Times, with titles such as "Muslims Detect a Snub from Obama," "Let Muslims share the stage," and "Obama and Islam," have focused specifically on the Democratic candidate.

Although many American Muslims see Senator Obama's historic candidacy as hope for change, they are also troubled by the distance he seems to keep from them. Volunteers at a rally moved two Muslim women wearing hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women, from behind him, his aides turned down offers to campaign from Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, and, despite many invitations, Obama has yet to publicly visit a mosque. Senator McCain's record may be worse. Now, many Muslims themselves are questioning their place, or lack thereof, in the American political system and in the ongoing campaign.

If one is to look only at principle, Senators Obama and McCain should acknowledge the importance of Muslims as voters, be it by a symbolic visit to a mosque or whatever. Obama has stated that he does not oppose Islam and accepts Muslims, many of whom strongly support him. But he has not acted beyond the podium. By intentionally avoiding a group, its opinion, and its collective support, at least in public, after accepting it as part of the American fabric, Obama and McCain are being undemocratic, sidestepping the people so they can play the political game. A politician cannot consider it right to ignore a group who, if elected, he/she will be obligated to represent.

Unfortunately, public perception prevents both candidates from recognizing the political role of American Muslims. As a result of the scare tactics and wedge politics used today, the candidate who associates with Muslims will be penalized. While some fight against these methods, they do so to change the political system, rather than to support the civic rights of a group.

Misunderstanding still reigns as many Americans are unaware that mainstream Muslims, including national organizations such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, have for years and years publicly denounced terrorism in the strongest language possible. However, the media has diverted Americans away from this truth, creating the current image and political climate of fear and suspicion. If Obama or McCain tries to alter the American public's perception of Muslims, he will most likely lose. Even if we desire it of him, Obama should not reach out to Muslims merely to "rock the boat" - even if the boat has already capsized. We, as Muslims and Americans, hope for change, for a sway toward understanding, but until that happens, those running for office will not politically associate with us.

As Muslims, it's frustrating to have our voices ignored by a candidate many of us support, because his opponents will rely on the public's ignorance to attack him and because he does not have enough public support to defend himself or the truth. Unfortunately, we, and Obama, know the consequences if he does act to involve us. If Senator Obama tries to work against public opinion now, he may lose the election and the opportunity to change public perception and policy as president. Does one accept injustice in order to bring about greater justice later? I would not like to think so, but it looks as if that is the only option now for American Muslims.

Mohammed Hussain will be a senior at Lincoln-Sudbury High School this fall.

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