Column: Muslims Lose Out In Campaign Rhetoric

This story was written by Nana Duffuor, The Duke Chronicle

I can imagine the shock that Obama opponents felt when they realized that many Americans are no longer afraid of putting a biracial man-and, in accordance to the enduring one-drop rule, a black man-into the White House. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so I envision their brainstorming went something like this:

"What is the only thing scarier than a black man in office?"

To which someone responded, "A black man with an angry black wife."

That didn't work either.

So someone came to the conclusion that in a post 9/11 America-one with fear and prejudice resuscitated, at a time when the words Arab, Muslim and terrorist have become readily interchangeable-if the thought of a black man in the White House picking up that "3 a.m. phone call" isn't enough to send Americans into a shiver, then certainly a scary Arab-Muslim-terrorist is.

After recent criticism about going too negative, Sen. John McCain's campaign tried to switch gears and quiet disrespectful comments from supporters. At a recent McCain rally, supporters expressed their fear of an Obama presidency.

One woman said to McCain, "I can't trust Obama, I have read about him and he's not, he's not... he's an Arab."

McCain shook his head in disapproval and responded, "No ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about. He's not, thank you."

Although McCain admirably denounced his supporter's racist remark and corrected false information, I take issue with the way in which "decent family man" and "citizen" were posed as being antithetical to being an Arab.... as if Arabs can never be decent family men or citizens.

Rumors of Obama's religious background have flooded the election and, despite one very outspoken reverend, Obama's opponents have made consistent efforts to not so subtly link him with Arabs, which mean Muslims, which mean terrorists.

The reference to Obama as Barack Hussein Obama by McCain supporters looks to tie the presidential candidate to the villainy of Saddam Hussein, a strategy that has proven ineffective. A last-minute attempt to connect Obama with William Ayers, which inevitably involved a lazy attempt to connect Ayers with radical Islamic terrorism, proved even less successful.

Back in February at a McCain event, when the Barack Hussein Obama reference was made, McCain quickly condemned it. But the stakes have changed, and in this month alone the reference has been made on several occasions. Obama opponents have continually tried to use Obama's multicultural background to characterize him as a Muslim and, in so doing, as an anti-Semite.

On the flip side, in response to accusations that Obama is Muslim, the Obama camp's defense has been to relentlessly dismiss such rumors by reminding Americans not to fear, as he is no unfriendly foreigner but rather a God-fearing Christian just like "the rest of us."

My disappointment with both sides lies in the fact that neither has halted the finger-pointing to call attention to the fact that the rumors concerning Obama's religion and ethnicity are inherently bigoted. Questions regarding Obama's cultural and ethnic background are rooted in xenophobia and hold the very same religious discrimination that both sides so vocally condemn of anti-Semites.

The FBI reported an overall 8 percent increase in hate crimes in 2006, but acknowledged that some groups, including Muslims, experienced an even greater increase. According to the reports there was a 22 percent increase in attacks on Muslims, which came to 156 hate crimes in 2006. Although political leaders havecondemned the hate crimes themselves, they have been either too willing to capitalize on post-9/11 fears for political gain or too quick to dismiss these fears. Despite politicians' claims to be on the side of the American people, I don't see either side standing up for their fellow citizens.

The statement that has been made loud and clear is: If you are Muslim or an Arab, don't even think about running for president. Matter of fact, don't even bother considering yourself an American.

At some point I so badly wanted Obama to halt all conversation and beg the question that I think needs to be asked: "So what if I was a Muslim?" Surely that would have been the death of his campaign, and that scares me.