Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Obama should not have thrown Mazen Asbahi under the bus

My friend Aziz at City of Brass asks the Obama campaign, if it is going to keep firing Muslims for no real reason, "why even have a Muslim outreach advisor?":
Mazen Asbahi, appointed as national coordinator for Muslim American affairs by the Obama campaign, has resigned from his volunteer position because of claims that he has "ties" to the Muslim Brotherhood, and served on the board of advisors for an Islamic fund at the same time (8 years ago) as another member, Jamal Said who is a fundamentalist imam. Asbahi actually resigned from that position after only a few weeks, once he learned of allegations against Said. In other words, Asbahi got the jihadi cooties, which are kind of like a mixture of anthrax and herpes.

Obama continues to disappoint on this score. He still remains unable to state publicly that "no, I am not a muslim but it would make no difference even if I were." It would have truly been a hope-inspiring change to see him defend Asbahi and take on the whisperers, because caving to them makes them all the stronger. That would be audacity I can believe in.
I guess I am a bit less optimistic than Aziz when he says, later in the post, that "If any politician had the power or the pulpit to take on the ugly, dark side of American culture that Islamophobia represents, it's Obama." I think maybe no politician has that power -- and even if Obama it's possible Obama has it, right in the middle of a hard-fought campaign might not be the time to find out.

But that's not a defense of firing Asbahi, and it's not a defense of Obama's overall approach to dealing with "The Muslim Issue."

The campaign is right to have poured resources into combating the misperception that Obama himself is Muslim. But he needs to couple that with a statement -- at least one statement -- that although he is Christian, his fight-the-smears campaigns should not be understood to mean that all Muslims everywhere are bad.

I very much doubt that saying so would have a significant political cost, but it would have real benefits -- political, and even better, moral.

UPDATE [8/8 5pm] ... This wasn't just a bad call, it was a terrible call, as detailed by an emailer to Five Thirty Eight. (Thanks Matt for pointing me to this.)

Look, I think the moral case has to precede the political one here. But the political question raised by Haahnster is a fair one, and it's one addressed by the emailer directly:
If Obama doesn't want to stand up for Mazen on principle, how about standing up for him on pragmatism? Maybe he doesn't feel he needs to, since it's not like Michigan is a tipping point state in this election or anything. And it's not like Michigan has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims of any state in the union. And it's not like Mazen is from Michigan and his resignation is certain to depress turnout in the state from one of the Obama campaign's most reliable demographic bases. Seriously, who made this decision? Karl Rove?
By most measures (FiveThirtyEight's, prominently), Michigan is among the very most important swing states in this election. So besides having the effect of furthering a form of bigotry, this decision should be counted as a serious political fuck-up by the Obama campaign.


haahnster said...

"Islamophobia"... could be the title of the next Rob Zombie-directed flick.

I think it's quite clear that the Obama campaign feels that even Obama is in no position to fully confront "Islamophobia" head on. In fact, he's particularly unsuited for it. Nearly half the country seems to want him to apologize for being both black and smart. You know, the whole "doesn't know his place" mentality. But screw that, I suppose. No need to appeal to quite that low a common denominator.

As a sheerly political calculation, what do you think the numbers are? (I.e. number of potential Muslim-American votes to be gained vs. number of Islamophobe swing voters to be lost) After all, sometimes the morally right thing might end up being the politically effective thing, too.

Rob said...

I just posted an update to the post that speaks to this. The short answer is Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. That's where the Muslim vote matters most, and it also happens to be a very important swing state.