Yesterday, while commenting on his endorsement of Obama, Colin Powell said something that needed to be said about some of the nasty smears against Obama. The rumors that he is, in fact either Muslim or Arab play on the most insidious parts of Americans’ prejudices, putting Obama in a position where if he publicly defends Muslims and Arabs, he will probably suffer politically.
This follows McCain’s mild rebuke of a woman who said at a rally that she couldn’t vote for Obama because he’s an Arab. Of course, he’s neither an Arab nor a Muslim, but that isn’t the point. Instead of pointing out that in addition to being neither Arab nor Muslim, so what if he were? McCain said that, no in fact Obama wasn’t an Arab, he was a decent family man, leaving, of course, the implicit assumption that being such a man is incompatible with being an Arab.
This, of course is completely untrue, and the leaders of this country, be they Republican or Democrat, need to stand up and say so loudly.
This is what Colin Powell did yesterday, and Americans of all political stripes should be proud of his comments. Using this photo that appeared in the New Yorker to make his point, he put the mean-spirited and racist innuendo that’s been surrounding American attitudes about Arabs and Muslims to rest:
I’m also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say. 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 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim,and he might be associated with terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
Colin Powell is troubled by the slimy rhetoric that says there’s something wrong with being Muslim or Arab in America, as should we all. If you haven’t already, watch the whole thing.