In yet another capitulation to Islamophobia, Democratic National Committee Chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently cancelled an appearance at a Muslim-American association’s event.
The organization is EMERGE USA. Wasserman Schultz backed off from headlining the group’s annual gala after a national rightwing operation smearing it. (I must acknowledge here my debt to Zaid Jilani at Salon, whose well-researched piece brought the story to my attention.)
The campaign was led by David Horowitz’s FrontPage. The website posted an article using guilt by association to besmirch a number of individuals associated with EMERGE USA. “In February 2011, [Farooq] Mitha participated in an event sponsored by the Obama-linked Center for American Progress (CAP), a group exposed less than a year later as being a vehicle for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements and positions,” said FrontPage. That, in itself, is a slander, but Horowitz’s website went on: “Laila Abdelaziz, the Field Coordinator of EMERGE, denounced Israel in a question she posed to President Obama, during a January 2010 town hall meeting he held in Tampa, Florida.” When you can’t criticize Israeli policy without being labeled, you know we’re becoming an intolerant society.
FrontPage’s main ammo was that Khurrum Wahid, one of the organization’s founders, has represented some unsavory characters (including some defendants accused of terrorism) as a lawyer.
“This line of attack was similar to one waged in 2010 against Department of Justice lawyers who represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” notes Jilani. “The group Keep America Safe referred to these lawyers as the ‘Al Qaeda 7,’ a charge so incendiary that even a former Bush official rebuked it, noting that ‘there is a long-standing and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or even controversial clients.’ ”
But the climate surrounding the Muslim community is so noxious that Wasserman Schultz caved.
In doing so, she followed the lead of the most prominent member of her party. President Obama has been so afraid of being tagged as an adherent of Islam that on a 2010 visit to India, he decided to avoid Sikhism’s holiest shrine because it might have made him look Muslim. This was just part of a pattern that started during his candidacy when he spurned the offer of Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to campaign at mosques for him, and never made the simple statement that there was nothing wrong with being affiliated with the second-largest religion in the world.
The rightwing onslaught on anything Muslim has led to this. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Congressman Peter King has held a series of hearings on Muslim-Americans and Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have made repeated anti-Islam statements. Politicians have spearheaded anti-Shariah law campaigns in several states.
“Rightwing activists, elected officials, and even some presidential candidates have launched an overt assault on American Muslims, using a religious minority as a scapegoat for any number of national fears and frustrations,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, last year in highlighting a report his group issued on the anti-Islam movement in the United States.
As a result, there is a widespread suspicion of anything to do with Islam, with corporations bowing to this sentiment. Whole Foods, for instance, backtracked on acknowledging Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, in its stores in 2011. A few months ago, Lowe’s withdrew its sponsorship of a Muslim reality television show due to objections from some groups. And a Pennsylvania school district cancelled the staging of an Arabian Nights-style musical fantasy.
Wasserman Schultz has disgraced herself by joining this know-nothing crowd.
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