Barack Obama’s Muslim problem: Outreach coordinator Mazen Asbahi resigns after smear campaign

Under intense and unreasonable scrutiny from the very beginning for a perceived “closeness” to Islam, the Barack Obama campaign has once again fallen prey to the work of right-wing anti-Muslim organizations in the United States. The campaign’s freshly-appointed Muslim-American outreach coordinator Mazen Asbahi resigned after only ten days on the job following a misinformation campaign regarding his alleged “ties” to “Muslim fundamentalists.” National media, including the Wall Street Journal, by and large quoted these sources without investigating their claims or origins and, sadly, the Obama campaign has shown once again that it was not willing to stand by Muslim Americans in the face of this now routine anti-Muslim xenophobia. By letting his outreach coordinator go, Barack Obama is letting the Muslim American community go with him.

The Wall Street Journal, which was the first major media outlet to cover the story, quoted the “Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report” as its primary source for the information without even naming the so-called “scholars” or “Washington think-tank” behind it, or mentoning that the Report claims on its own website that it watches groups like the Muslim Student Association, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Islamic Society of North America. In other words, the Report keeps an eye on basically each and every major and mainstream Muslim American organization in existence, and then some. When it comes to campaign outreach, it seems that an affinity to any one of these groups should have been considered a qualification, not a demerit, for someone who is expected to work with Muslim American communities.

It would have been nice if the Wall Street Journal had bothered to look at the nature of these accusations rather than report them as if they were credible fact before it went to press. The accusation is that Obama’s campaign outreach coordinator has ties to “fundamentalist groups” because he served in the past on an advisory committee on which another man who had been accused but not convicted of ties to FBI-designated “terrorist groups” had also served. This is guilt by association, and a weak association at that: the anti-Muslim Global Report might as well have accused them of playing on the same Little League baseball team. The association is further weakened by the fact that there was nothing to be guilty of in the first place: the prosecution could not convince a jury to convict the man in question. True to their reputation, the Global Report and other groups watching Muslim Americans are simply kicking up dust in order to cry ‘smoke!’ — and the Wall Street Journal fell for it, reporting on a non-existent fire.

After 8 years of the Bush administration, Muslim and Arab Americans, like others, have been counting on a breath of fresh air to come their way so that they might feel safe and welcome in their own homes once more. When Barack Obama announced that he was committed to change, many felt for the first time that it was possible to hope for something less bleak than the legacy that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had left behind. Unfortunately the Obama campaign has shown over and over again that it is more interested in playing along with an irresponsible media and its electoral antics, than it is in building solidarity between Americans from all communities and walks of life. If Obama wants to be the candidate of change, he has to exemplify that change throughout his campaign, not only through promises to be fulfilled after the elections.

If Obama wants to reach out to the Muslim American community, he needs to do it by standing by them in the face of these and similar smear campaigns which are succeeding in making everything Muslim, and everything Arab, “untouchable” when it comes to politics and campaigning in the United States. He needs to take their concerns about immigration, Department of Homeland Security harassment, and foreign policy in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine seriously. If he does this, it will mean more to Muslim and Arab Americans than the invention of token campaign jobs which look good on paper but might not achieve much–after all, even George Bush appointed an advisor to the White House to represent the Muslim community during his term, but hardly anybody from the Muslim or Arab American communities would call that the kind of “change” they were looking for.


"Nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction." - Jose Saramago, All the Names