Sunday, September 14, 2008

US/ELECTIONS: Thou shalt ignore thy Muslim neighbour as thou ignoreth no one else?

Writing for a Newsweek blog, Michael Isikoff talks to the Vice-President of Alaska's Islamic Cultural Centre, a chap named Osama Obeida. No, Osama isn't a terrorist or a relative of a certain Saudi business family. Rather, he is a Palestinian-American who runs an art gallery with his 82-year-old dad.

There are only about 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims in Alaska, and, while there are no mosques, Anchorage (which is home to most of the state's Muslims) does have an Islamic Community Center, located in a rented office in a strip mall, where members pray on Fridays. But Osama Obeida ... said his group has never had any contacts at all with Alaska’s governor. No meetings, no invitations to state ceremonies, no pro forma letters commemorating the observance of Islamic holy days. “She has never taken the initiative ...”
Is this a case of the very Christian governor of Alaska not showing much love to her neighbours? The blog post continues ...

Osama Obeidi acknowledged that the Anchorage Muslim community has never reached out to the governor either—nor did it have any dealings with previous Alaska governors. “We don’t like to get involved in politics,” he explains.
OK, so members of this small community, like many Americans of various persuasions and no persuasion in particular, choose not to get involved in politics.

The blog post continues ...

Still, the lack of contact has left Alaskan Muslim leaders underwhelmed about Palin’s presence on the national ticket. “Maybe she doesn’t know we have a community of Muslims here,” said Lamin Jobarteh, a Wells Fargo banker (originally from Gambia) who is president of the Islamic center.
What on earth does the term underwhelmed mean in this context? Are Muslims expecting Ms Palin to visit them all the time or with some regularity? Are they expected to be excited or indifferent to Ms Palin's presence on the ticket?

Its not as though Alaska’s Muslims don’t have issues they’re concerned about.
What sort of issues? Peculiarly Muslim issues? Why must Muslims necessarily have issues different to the concerns of non-Muslim Alaskans? Why should journalists and reporters assume that certain faith-minorities have peculiar issues that they can (or necessarily must) see their governor about?

The blog post continues ...

Osama Obeidi said he and his father have been repeatedly hassled at Ted Stevens Airport when they fly to see their extended family in the Palestinian West Bank. “They keep us for three hours,” said Mousa Obeidi. "They ask us, “Where are you going? Who are you going to see?’” Osama Obeidi said he was even briefly arrested a few years ago when he landed in Germany after leaving Anchorage on his way to Jerusalem. That prompted him and other members of the Islamic center to seek a meeting with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to complain about their treatment. After the meeting, Osama Obeidi said the scrutiny from Homeland Security officials at the Anchorage airport tapered off. But, he said, the group never thought of raising its concerns with Palin.
OK, so they had hassles which people of certain appearance or background are commonly having with Homeland Security officials. Are these the types of issues one would see a state governor about? Does airport security come within the purview of a State Governor?

The blog continues ...

Bill McAlister, the governor’s spokesman, said Palin’s lack of interaction is not by design. “I don’t know that it's ever came up” he said when asked why the governor has never met with the state’s Muslims. “Certainly there was no attempt to exclude Muslims.”
Makes sense to me. But then, what about other groups? How does Ms Palin treat other minorities of similar size? This is where the blog post tries to get interesting.

By contrast, Palin has visited with members of the state’s Jewish community (about the same size as the state’s Muslim community) and spoke at an Anchorage synagogue last year. (Escorted by Sen. Joe Lieberman, she also met with representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Republican National Convention last week and told the group how she has an Israeli flag in her office in Juneau, according to David Gottstein, an Anchorage investment banker who invited her to meet with the AIPAC group.) But McAlister said this does not signify any bias against Muslims on Palin’s part—even if, as McAlister conceded, he doesn’t know whether Palin has “specifically” met any Muslima. “She’s not a bigot,” he said. “I’m not aware of anyone she has snubbed.”
Certainly Osama and his dad might find this disturbing. However, this is more because they are Palestinian and probably less because they are Muslim. Osama's dad was a refugee who left Ramallah for the United States in the 1950's.

Ms Palin has strong Assemblies of God beliefs. It is well known that charismatic churches in the United States are very pro-Israel. In this respect, they are close to many Jewish Americans. Further, virtually all US law-makers could be described as pro-Israel. Heck, even America's first Muslim congressman stated during his campaign that he hoped his first overseas trip would be to Israel.

Ms Palin's pro-Israel sentiments would probably be of equal concern to Palestinian Christians. Certainly many of my Palestinian Christian friends (and people I have met of that background) are concerned about the refusal of Western Christian churches to show sympathy to their plight.

Muslims are having a hard time as it is. I'm not sure if this kind of reporting is really doing them any favours. I think Muslims probably wished they could just be left out of things, and that people know them less as Muslims and more as ordinary Americans.

This kind of reporting also unnecessarily creates divisions between Republican Party supporters and ordinary Muslims (quite a few of whom would probably agree with Palin's strong pro-life and moral agenda). Muslim voters should be seen as voting on the same basis as any other voter.

After all, when interest rates go up and housing foreclosures increase, it doesn't just affect American Christians or Jews or athiests. National security also means (or at least should mean) protecting the liberty and security of all Americans regardless of race or religion. Because when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, the huge blocks of ice and concrete didn't somehow manage to fall in a manner which avoided Muslim firefighters or which didn't quite kill this young chap.

I'm not sure if this is really a case of Governor Palin ignoring her Muslim neighbours in a manner that she refuses to ignore any other group. Who knows? Perhaps a future Vice-President Palin might remind Americans that Islam really is a religion of peace, even if some of her supporters will frown and mutter.

UPDATE I: Click below to watch a recent al-Jazeera report on Alaska's first mosque.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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