Mostly missed in coverage of Colin’s Powell’s Meet the Press interview yesterday (where he endorsed Senator Obama) was Powell’s clear challenge to the Islamophobia and old-fashioned bigotry lurking in the margins of the presidential campaign.
"I’m also troubled by, not what Senator 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 is ‘No. That’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can 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 were 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 can 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 a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his counrty and he gave his life."
It’s enough to oppose the campaign’s bigotry on the grounds that it is ignorant and contrary to the diversity that is one of this country’s greatest strengths. But from the point of view of security and foreign policy, building common cause with Muslims here and abroad should be a number one priority. The fact that the "Obama is a Muslim" bigotry has usually gone unchallenged as bigotry as opposed to simply factually incorrect rumor-mongering (including by the media and most Obama supporters) shows we have a long way to go.