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October 20, 2008

To be American and Muslim (it's about time)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

There was one part of Colin Powell’s interview that stood out for me (I now see that Ilan was similarly impressed in his post below). Powell, yesterday, was the first politician of his stature to speak publicly, with eloquence and passion, about the tragic turn of this election – that “Muslim” has become a smear. In the process, a whole faith has been denigrated. It is has been a source of confusion and frustration for me that Democrats have failed, for the most part, to speak out on what I think is one of the defining moral questions raised by this campaign season – what it means to be “American.” It is ironic, but perhaps expected, that we had to wait for someone else to make us feel comfortable about doing what we should have been willing to do 12 or 16 months ago.

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?

Over the past two years, we have witnessed a discourse which has consistently demeaned Muslims as less than American. In turn, American Muslims have been in hiding, resorting to our usual mix of self-pity and helplessness. The joke in Muslim circles is that if we really want Obama to win, then we would best off endorsing McCain. No one wants our endorsement. No one wants to meet with our leaders. No politician wants to be seen as Muslim-friendly. We have brought this upon ourselves. If nothing else, this episode has shown us that we have to get more involved politically, that until we speak up, organize, and get our act together, and rid ourselves of our obsessions with our own victimization, not to mention our fixation with Palestine (at the expense of more pertinent issues for America like health care and education), we will be a political joke.

Anyway, Powell did us the service of telling us about a brave, courageous man – Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. I hadn’t heard of him before yesterday. When I heard Powell’s words, I was moved in a way I haven’t been since Obama’s speech on race in March. Powell’s statement was one of those rare acts of moral courage that we so rarely see from our politicians. In March, Obama spoke to what makes America a truly exceptional country. And, yesterday, Powell did the same.

So I read into Karim’s story. I saw this picture. And I had to hold back tears. This picture captures everything America is and everything I hope it still can be.


Yes, there are civil liberties abuses, the Patriot Act, and other infringements on the rights of American Muslims. But I can say without hesitation that there is no better place to be Muslim today than the United States, and that only becomes more clear, the more you spend in supposedly “Muslim” countries where if five Muslim men gather outside a mosque, they can get arrested. This is why when people who I care about tell me they’re happy 9/11 happened to us, I can hold my head up high and say that I love this country, and I see no conflict between my being American and my being Muslim. This is why my parents came to America. This is why my parents just contributed money to a political campaign for the first time in their lives. And this is why I will devote my life to helping America fulfill its promise – to, finally, live up to its lofty ideals, not just with rhetoric but with real policy changes that will give hope for a better life to hundreds of millions around the world who are looking to us for leadership.



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I thought Colin Powell's comments on this subject were consistent with the rest of his presentation, which strongly criticized nearly everything about the Republican Party except the incumbent administration.

Now, in this respect, Powell and the Bush administration held to a position I happen to agree with. The 9/11 suicide attacks, the last of a long line of terrorist actions taken (or more accurately claimed to have been taken) in the name of Islam, could have provoked a much uglier and more widespread reaction among Americans against the Muslim faith, and against Arab-Americans in particular, than it did. President Bush repeatedly went out of his way in public to head off that reaction, for which I've always believed he deserved great credit. His administration's actions with respect to individual detainees and specific prosecutions may be weighed on the other side, of course, but the public face of the administration after 9/11 gave no encouragement to those who might have sought an outlet for the feelings generated by the events of that day on Muslims who live in this country.

Having said that, I should say also that Powell's unequivocal criticism of many aspects of the Republican Party and the McCain campaign made a strange contrast with his waffling non-response to Tom Brokaw's questions about the Bush administration that has dominated Republican politics for the last eight years. It was a contrast that neatly summed up in a few minutes the reasons I have such a limited regard for Powell, who is willing to object to how completely the GOP remains George Bush's party as long as he doesn't have to go on record as critical of George Bush.

I don't know whether Arab-American groups need to have a specific position on health care, but I agree they would have more respect from the American political scene if they focused on Arab-American rights and on dividing the Muslim mainstream from ANY kind of association with extremists or those Muslims apologizing for extremists.

Arab-Americans should not dump their feelings about Palestine, but rights all over the Arab and Muslim world should be as important, particularly when they are dying in greater numbers than in the Palestinian intifada, because of other countries, Muslim or not. American politicians know that America gives a lot of money to Palestine, more money than Arab or European countries give the territories. Because of that, Palestine a lower poverty index than Morocco, Egypt, etc. in the UN's last development report. Most American politicians, however they feel about Israel's conduct in its goal of maintaining borders past pre-'67, don't believe the majority of Arab-Americans will ever be rational about an Israel-Palestine compromise.

Shadi, I applaud your plea for more Muslims in America to get involved with the life of America.

Once upon a time, I lived in Jordan for a few years. I've heard the sad and true stories from the children and grandchildren of 1948 and 1967. I've sat on the roof of the home of a Palestinian friend in west Amman looking at the night lights of Jerusalem on the horizon.

I left Jordan very aware of the anger about Israel that has been sustained for generatins, and also I left knowing that, day by day, Muslim families in Jordan worry about the same things as families in America.

Now, I live near Raleigh in North Carolina. The local Muslim population sustains a reasonably sized mosque. When an eid rolls around, it gets covered by local media as just another local religious observance, not as some exotic ritual conducted by threatening outsiders.

If Muslims in my community, and elsewhere, would stop being invisible and engage themselves in local community work and local politics, the benefits would be significant. We need Muslim Americans to jump into the mai0nstream.

Bless you Shadi, and all American're being slimed and demeaned by the Republican attack machine as un-American "terrists", and we all know the overwhelming majority of the US muslmim population are just good, decent people who want to realize the American dream and live in peace.

Thanks for this blog...more are needed!

To really claim the promise of American freedom, people of all faith traditions need to get a little braver. As a liberal Christian, too often I heard the teachings of Jesus distorted and have said nothing.

Shed our interest in Palestine for what? To integrate with the American "mainstream"? Must American Jews, Cubans or anyone else abandon their communities' concerns? No, our task is to continue to stand for justice for fellow Muslims everywhere while genuinely engaging in areas of particularly American political interest.

Furthermore, in what way did we bring this on ourselves? In what way does my wife deserve to be yelled at in the streets, "Go the f--k home, raghead!" In what way does Obama deserve to be vilified for Muslim connections? How did we ask to be singled out as the scapegoats here, in our own country? By being on the receiving end of 50 years of bad foreign policy?

Lesson, Shadi, from an old-stock American (and yes, Muslim), America fulfills its promise to those who DEMAND it, and to none else.


Great blog entry. More people like you need to come forward and openly confront, in a civil yet firm manner, this slander against your religion.
Americans listen, but they are being misled by the likes of Sarah Palin and the Republican attack machine. I'm saying "the likes" because it's not her fault, but she stokes the flames of a dangerous mindset that has been lingering since 9/11, and in a smaller way before then.
Polarization is the problem, the "them versus us" mindset that the Bush administration has perfected.
You're the new target, the new enemy. And I think the best way to combat it is to drag it out in the open and say, hey let's talk about it.
The brave Soldier whose mother is now grieving died for his country. And that country was the USA. And he knew that he's putting himself at this risk, for a country that at this time has a skewed view of who Muslims are.
Much like in Monty Python's "Life of Brian", the doubtful public will still say "And what else have the Muslims ever done for us?" in a blind rage. Show them. Show them how Muslims contribute to society just like everybody else and plaster it over the internet. People notice, people listen.

I wept on Sunday reading about Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan after General Powell mentioned him on Meet the Press. After I cried for ten minutes straight, I realized that I was crying for this mother and her family, but I was also crying for all of us. It saddens me to think that our nation has come to this point, where we are treating a group of our citizens as the "other" with such disdain and hate. Even now I weep.

I served in the Army for five years, with four of the five being under the senior Bush. Like Corporal Khan, I raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States, its land and its people. This pledge did not exnclude Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or any other non-White, non-Christian group. As a matter of fact, I believe it only identifies the people as citizens of the United States.

After Senator Obama's speech I told my friends that we have to be careful regarding the Muslim attacks. Not because of the alledgely "smear" against Senator Obama, but because of the attack against Muslims. I asked my friends, if people were not attacking Muslims, what other non-White group would be the target? Blacks? Hispanics? Asians? Homosexuals?

We have to be agressive in rejecting this attitude. Too much rambling, but I just think we cannot allow these attacks against Muslims or any group in America to continue.

Shadi, on the one hand you say that it's about time this was said about being Muslim and American, and I agree about Powell, and I also agree that Muslims have to be engaged.

But I can never accept what you say about Muslim so-called obsession with Palestine. In fact, it is the very real lack of organisation and unity amongst Muslims that goes together with the frustration and anger over Palestine. The Palestine issue is not about some country called Palestine with Arabs called Palestinians living in it. What people call Palestine just happens to be a spiritual and historical heartland of the Islamic world with the Al Aqsa masjid, amongst other important places that are now occupied. So the occupation of Palestine encapsulates the spiritual and physical occupation of the Islamic world.

This is something so focal and important, that one cannot just simply say that it is about another country called Palestine. Even if it were, no-one can go there, like I have, and come away without a sense of anger at the injustices that are happening as we speak. Compared to Palestine, the situation that Muslims face even with the Patriot Act and other oppressive measures are nothing. So if we're going to complain about the latter and say Palestine is not as important then it does make us into trivial whingers. The number one issue is still Palestine and it's really about time that people got that.

What a moron you are, Americans are ONLY interested in stealing middle east oil...

The comments here represent 2 per cent of the country -- The bulk of Americans couldn't find Canada on a map and hate muslims - They call you things like rag-head and worse...

Come to our side, unlike them we pay you market price!

Interview of above have good iformation. These Information of American and Islam is very good topic.

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