American Muslims: The New Untouchables?

Having served in his capacity as Muslim liaison to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for no more then a week, Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi resigned from his position. His resignation came after an online newsletter wrote about his "involvement in… various Islamic groups," reported the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

The Journal later went on to link Asbahi to an imam of "a fundamentalist-controlled mosque" and note that Asbahi "is a frequent speaker before several groups in the U.S. that scholars have associated with the Muslim Brotherhood."

The associations they charge Asbahi with, amount to his sitting on a board, which the Imam also happened to be on, for a stint of a few weeks… eight years ago. What is more, the Journal provides no actual facts to substantiate the “fundamentalist” label they so easily ascribe; it is seemingly passed as common knowledge.

Similarly, the groups that Asbahi spoke before remain unnamed, as do the anonymous scholars who associate those mysterious groups with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the midst of these murky rumors and hazy accusations, one thing is resoundingly clear: the Journal has regurgitated baseless claims of a fringe right-wing website and passed them off as mainstream fact.

So the recipe for a first-rate stinking smear is as follows: First, make (or borrow) dubious and unsubstantiated charges against an individual. Second, draw a weak and illogical association between the individual and a high-profile personality. Let simmer in the columns and fringe websites of partisan journalists, and voila! You’ve successfully roasted your opponent.

Shockingly, the Obama campaign ate this all up, and within hours their first and only Muslim advisor was sent packing.

It’s worth noting that these same type of smearing campaigns have been used against Obama many times over this political season, and by the same right-wing pundits. Obama has responded to these allegations in a way that has distinguished him from the same old politics. When attacked for his connection to the "radical" Reverend Wright, Obama stood by him, saying, "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."

Asbahi wasn’t so lucky. Obama was quick to disown his only Muslim advisor, and with him the American Muslim community at large.

While it is not very surprising to me that the Wall Street Journal has chosen to pander the simplistic and shopworn “Muslim fundamentalist” smear, what is disheartening is the Obama campaign’s reaction to it. Throughout his campaign, Obama has time and again sidestepped the politically safe route, for the judicious and intellectually sophisticated high road. And yet he consistently breaks this rule when it comes to his dealings with American Muslims.

The Obama campaign has in effect contributed to equating any person with a connection to the American Muslim community as politically untouchable.

While American Muslims have overwhelmingly supported Obama, and enthusiastically followed his progress through the primaries to the present, the recent rhetoric espoused by the Campaign gives them very little to be hopeful about. After all, a campaign that has consistently distanced itself from the American Muslim community is very unlikely to translate into an Administration that proactively engages that community.