- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008




When I learned that Sen. Barack Obama’s middle name was Hussein, as an Arab-American, I feared that this presidential campaign was going to result in more anti-Arab bigotry than any election I have ever seen.

Republicans, I thought, would use fear and ignorance to exploit the senator’s middle name for political advancement. Democrats, on the other hand, would do everything possible to distance themselves and the party’s standard bearer from any Arab affiliation or cause.

Unfortunately, I was right. Recent rallies for Mr. McCain have invoked the phrase “Barack Hussein Obama” and have seen a sweet-sounding elderly woman from Minnesota tell the audience and Mr. McCain that she doesn’t trust Mr. Obama because “he is an Arab.” And we have all heard about those e-mails that declare Mr. Obama is Muslim even though it is well-established that he is Christian.

As for Mr. Obama and his campaign, women wearing Arab or Muslim dress have been moved out of camera shots. Arab Americans working for the campaign were summarily dismissed without cause or any proof of wrong-doing when challenged by Arab-haters.

These developments made me and many other Arab-Americans angry, but, sad to say, we were not surprised.

What really has been shocking and outrageous is how the media, the political establishment and the candidates themselves have so openly tolerated racism and bigotry against Arabs.

When the woman in Minnesota said that she doesn’t trust Mr. Obama because “he’s an Arab,” did anyone ever actually condemn the remark as racist or bigoted against Arabs? No. Not Mr. McCain, not Mr. Obama, not the media. If anything, all we heard were accolades for Mr. McCain because he took the microphone away from the woman and “corrected” her by saying, “No, he’s a decent family man.” Corrected? Meaning what? He’s not an Arab, he’s decent? He can’t be an Arab, he’s a family man? Who’s more blameworthy? An elderly woman who is ignorant about Arabs, or an experienced politician seeking to be our president who, whether intentionally or not, was saying that an Arab can’t be a decent family man.

What’s more racist? The woman’s words or the media that praises Mr. McCain but fails to condemn either the initial comments or the senator’s response. George Stephanopoulos, one of the most respected journalists in the country, went so far as to call Mr. McCain’s response “honorable.”

For those who think I am making a big deal out of nothing, allow me to put this in more plain and simple terms. What do you think would have happened had the woman said that she didn’t trust Mr. Obama because he’s black? What would the reaction have been if she said that she didn’t trust him because he was Jewish? Do you think Mr. McCain’s response would have been the same in either instance? Would the media be so silent? Never.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the senator did not condemn any remarks directed against black Americans or Jewish Americans. Would Mr. McCain’s response still be honorable? Would the media hesitate for a second in roundly censuring Mr. McCain for failing to condemn the remarks as racist and bigoted?

Bill Clinton, who has fought all of his life for the rights and advancement of black Americans, was accused of racism during the Democratic primary because of his criticism of Mr. Obama. The media carried that trumped-up story for weeks.

Mr. Obama, who has made women’s rights and gender equality central themes of his campaign, was accused of being anti-woman when he used the very commonplace phrase “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The media played that nonstory for days. Yet when the candidates, their surrogates or their supporters say anything racist or bigoted against Arabs, the silence is deafening. Worse, it is often applauded.

Does anyone have any doubts as to why Mr. Obama’s opponents continue to promote, to resounding applause from the audience, “Barack Hussein Obama,” or the notion that the senator from Illinois is an Arab or a Muslim? Why do they do it? Because it works.

Why does it work? As the media and both presidential campaigns continue to remind us, being anti-Arab or anti-Muslim is the racism and bigotry that everyone continues to tolerate.

Edward Ayoob is a senior lobbyist in the Federal Relations Group at Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

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