Issue Wedgies on the Campaign Trail

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You’d think we’d come a long ways from the days of “no Irish need apply,” and all the other exclusionary nonsense that passed for all-Americanism. Salam Al-Marayati and Steven B. Jacobs point out that if that’s what you think, you might be mistaken:

Just one day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped out of the Democratic race, Sen. Barack Obama rushed to receive the blessing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Last week, his campaign volunteers rushed to remove Muslim women wearing head scarves from a Detroit rally. Though Obama apologized, Muslims felt stung by a candidate supposedly running on a platform of inclusion and change.

But the snubs aren’t limited to Obama. Sen. John McCain recently dismissed a Muslim American businessman from an important campaign committee. In March, McCain visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem but made no similar visit to the adjacent Muslim holy site, the Dome of the Rock. And although both candidates have made frequent stops at churches and synagogues, neither has made a campaign stop at a mosque.

Oh wait! We did elect an Irish fellow president — wasn’t that progress — during the climactic years of Jim Crow. And now we have a chance to elect an African American president, but it seems that Muslims are the folk we hide from view or banish from our midst when scrutiny comes a-knockin’ and askin’ “who’s there?”

Al-Marayati and Jacobs summarize the problem exactly:

The issue of excluding Muslims to get Jewish votes is not about ensuring domestic security, it is about cowardly politics. It is about playing to fears, not processing facts. It is about the canard that Muslims and Jews have been fighting since ancient times and nothing will change. It is about blaming both for America’s problems. We Muslims and Jews, along with all people of faith, represent the spirit of God. There is much that binds us together. It is in the spirit of this shared history, and our common interests, that we must stand against these divisions being created by the candidates.

Abraham Lincoln argued against the politics of fear, holding out hope for the “better angels of our nature.” Our presidential candidates must display such higher thinking in the coming months. Likewise, we — American Jews and Muslims — must do the same.

About those angels — sometimes it seems like that joke Ronald Reagan used to tell about the overly optimistic boy who dug furiously in a shed full of manure one Christmas morning, convinced “there must be a pony for me in here somewhere.” There must be better angels in here somewhere. They’re easy to find when nobody feels challenged by other peoples’ fear.

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