The Bumper Sticker Says It All.

We’re not expecting dude to be pure or perfect around here, but his defense of the FISA “compromise” was eyebrow-raising and legitimately worrisome. We didn’t even get to catch our breath before we learned that he was screwing over all the Muslim Americans who were clamoring to support him.

As Senator Barack Obama courted voters in Iowa last December, Representative Keith Ellison, the country’s first Muslim congressman, stepped forward eagerly to help.

Mr. Ellison believed that Mr. Obama’s message of unity resonated deeply with American Muslims. He volunteered to speak on Mr. Obama’s behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, one of the nation’s oldest Muslim enclaves. But before the rally could take place, aides to Mr. Obama asked Mr. Ellison to cancel the trip because it might stir controversy. Another aide appeared at Mr. Ellison’s Washington office to explain.

“I will never forget the quote,” Mr. Ellison said, leaning forward in his chair as he recalled the aide’s words. “He said, ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ”

When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace.

While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations — unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts — have been ignored. Last week, two Muslim women wearing head scarves were barred by campaign volunteers from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit.

In interviews, Muslim political and civic leaders said they understood that their support for Mr. Obama could be a problem for him at a time when some Americans are deeply suspicious of Muslims. Yet those leaders nonetheless expressed disappointment and even anger at the distance that Mr. Obama has kept from them.

“This is the ‘hope campaign,’ this is the ‘change campaign,’ ” said Mr. Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. Muslims are frustrated, he added, that “they have not been fully engaged in it.” [NYT]

What’s the upshot for Obama here? He doesn’t want to fan the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors, but the problem with this tack is that it reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with being a Muslim. The people who think he’s a Muslim (despite the many, many refutations of that idea) are people who are almost certainly not going to vote for him anyway. He didn’t even change course until Ellison called him out in a closed-door meeting with Congressional Black Caucus.

When Hillary Clinton was not-so-subtly courting the racist in the final primaries, she was rightly pilloried for it. So it should be here.

[photo from edgeofthewest]



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • LH

    The notion that Barack Obama should embrace Muslims ignores the present sociopolitical reality, which is that Muslims are perceived by many as terrorists or terrorist sympathisers.

    Whether this is true is no more relevant than whether Obama is a Muslim. As ever, the key is perception.

    Obama isn’t campaigning in a vacuum. By way of innuendo and outright fearmongering, John McCain and right-leaning 527s would have a field day if Obama were to be photographed shaking hands with, say, a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf, or a Muslim man wearing a kufi.

  • there is nothing wrong with being a muslim, and obama knows it. he also knows that there is nothing wrong with being a tolerant/reconciliation-minded christian even tho ur pastor may not always preach that from the pulpit. yet he still had to disassociate himself from the church / pastor that he had known for so long. it’s unfortunate that obama has to distance himself from certain ‘elements’ in order to keep from adding fodder to the media frenzy that’s just waiting to link him to some muslim group that just might have ONE member who has a cousin that bought a book on jihads in 1994.

    at the end of the day the man is a politician and (for him especially) perception is everything. unless he can do detailed background checks on everyone that may be affiliated with these orgs, it’s probably not worth the risk.

    better to be safe than sorry.

  • LH: Again, this assumes that the people with Obama/cryptomuslim fears are votes he can even get. I seriously doubt they’re in play for him. He gains nothing by going this route.

    Ksolo: same as I said to LH. He’s positioned himself above maneuvers like this, and I think by not getting in front of it he’s only making it worse. Why should Muslim voters who are considering voting for him do so now?

  • LH

    G.D.: You’re assuming that none of the voters who support Obama harbour the cryptomuslim fears you speak of.

    Also, evangelicals, for example, seem to be at least open to the possibility of voting for Obama, if only because they’re turned off by John McCain. Obama may or may not get their votes, but we know he won’t get them if he starts pressing the flesh with Muslims.

    My question is this: what does Obama lose by taking this tack?

  • quadmoniker

    I think what he loses is any legitimate claim to the notion that he’s a different kind of politician who will appeal to everyone. Polls show that ten percent of Americans ( still think he is a Muslim, despite the whole Reverend Wright “controversy,” which shows that those people aren’t paying attention, anyway.

    I think he has less to lose by at least meeting with those groups. I don’t think this has anything to do with evangelical Christians and everything to do with the Jewish vote in Florida.

  • LH

    I don’t know that Obama has made any such claim. Even if he had, America’s wildly heterogenous political, economic, cultural, religious and racial makeup lays bare the notion that any politician can appeal to everyone as a pipe dream.

    The evangelical bloc is too large to every write off, but I think you’re right about Jewish voters–and not just those who reside in Florida. If Obama is seen pressing the flesh with Muslims (read: maybe he is one of them) he can kiss his already tenuous support among Jews goodbye.

    I appreciate that Jewish voters comprise a miniscule portion of the American electorate, roughly five per cent. But that is almost twice the number of Muslims in America, which is approximately 8 million. Keep in mind that of those 8 million people, not all of them are voters.

    Obama’s tack thus far can be boiled down to political expediency.

  • Mmm, Clinton’s courting of racists isn’t the same thing as Obama’s avoiding reaching out specifically to Muslim voters.

  • I have to second bitchphd.

    But still, this is one of the harder things for me to stomach as an Obama supporter. I disagree with a few of his policy positions, but Muslims aren’t policy, they’re people. I could try and rationalize his reticence to meet with them, but it comes down to the fact that as a change candidate, he’s not putting in any effort to change relationships with and perceptions of Muslims.

    However, Obama has displayed an ability to admit to and correct mistakes, sooner or later. I just hope that he does it sooner.

  • LH

    Shanio: There’s an expense associated with changing relationships and perceptions of Muslims: Obama’s viability as a candidate.

    He can’t afford to position himself as redressor in chief.

  • He can’t (so he thinks). It’s messed up that we can get so anxious about perceptions and shi+. The news makes it no better. MSM just needs a reason to say non-WASP are the boogie men. And when social pathologies infect them (teen pregancy in Glouchester, MA or with FLDS girls) it must be a conspiracy…They don’t say it but it is like they want to say this doesn’t happen to us.

    No respect for other people and especially other religious cultures. If anything the history and legacy of christian missionary work should scare the hell out of anyone. Early christian missionaries terrorized indigenous people across the global and destroyed cultures — anything not European is bad, evil, inferior, etc., the savage explanation.

  • elliemaehoya

    I was pissed about the whole Muslims not being allowed to stand behind Obama in Detroit thing. Like you said, those ignorant people who’d have a problem with it wouldn’t vote for him either way.

    Also, I love the bumper sticker.