“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
– President-elect Barack Obama, Grant Park, Chicago
This afternoon, I cast my ballot for Barack Obama.
Less than ten minutes after arriving my polling location, I was stating my address and handing over my identification. An enthusiastic election official complimented my passport photo and directed me to one of the many available voting booths. From behind the privacy of a partition, I made my selections. I then walked over to the optical scanning machineto insert my ballot. I was assisted by a gentleman who was ultra-cautious to look away from the paper in my hand, sending me on my way with an accented “congratulations.”
For me, there were no lines. No one tried to influence my vote by threatening my liberty, my safety or my status. Gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, profession, political persuasion – none of these prevented me from excercising my right to vote. Not only is my choice of candidate my secret to keep (or share!), but it also isn’t something that could cost me my citizenship or my life. Walking away, I was more or less confident that my vote was accurately counted.
Well – duh, right? I’m in America, not one of those “other” places, where intimidation is par for the course or where women and minorities are barred from voting.
In Virginia, flyers bearing a mockup of the state’s official seal were distributed, indicating that Democrats should actually show up to vote on Wednesday — the day after election day. Latino voters have been phoned in Nevada and elsewhere, being told that they can vote over the phone rather than by showing up at the polls. Individuals have even been threatened with jail should they show up to cast their ballots.
For as monumental as it would be for an African-American candidate to win today’s election, it is just as significant that America’s criminal disenfranchisement laws mean that 13% of African-American men cannot vote at all. We live under a criminal justice system that already disproportionately targets black men. What this means around election time is that in some states, one in five black men is stripped of his voting rights. Human Rights Watch projects that, given current rates of incarceration, some 40% of African-American men will at some point find themselves permanently disenfranchised.
Nationwide, 1.4 million Americans (of all races) are prevented from voting – despite having already served their criminal sentences. These are ex-offenders who have re-entered society and who are expected to meet other requirements of law-abiding citizenship, including the payment of taxes.
Preventing these individuals from voting serves no defensible purpose. To argue that preventing ex-offenders from voting preserves the “virtue” of the voting booth is to say that our criminal justice system is not a place for rehabilitation or reform – but merely a “holding tank” for the subhuman. It also asserts that “virtue” is effectively a qualifier for American citizenship, including for the natural-born. As uncomfortable as it may be to say so, even those we consider less “virtuous” are still entitled to basic rights granted them by their American citizenship.
“Restrictions on the franchise in the United States seem to be singularly unreasonable as well as racially discriminatory, in violation of democratic principles and international human rights law.” – Human Rights Watch
Recently, I’ve covered two stories that have rightly raised alarm – not just among Muslims, but among concerned non-Muslims as well.
Inthis entry, I provided several links to breaking news from the Muslim world. One of the stories was that of a young Muslim woman who had allegedly been attacked at her university. Safia Jilani, 19, claimed that a masked gunman had attacked her because she is a Muslim. Her account of being knocked unconscious in a restroom of course raised both concern and outrage. Officials put the campus on lockdown in order to conduct a thorough investigation. Campus police offered Muslim students the option of free rides and escorts if they felt unsafe navigating the campus alone. Hundreds of students held a demonstration in support of Ms. Jilani, and concerned bloggers spread the news quickly, calling for action on her behalf.
Then, police investigation determined that Ms. Jilani’s story had been fabricated – she had in fact not been attacked.
Many non-Muslim Americans would readily acknowledge that, post-9/11, Muslims (and those thought to be one of us!) have been subject to Islamophobic backlash. Fueled by fear and often ignorance, some people have chosen to react to Muslims innegative ways– including with violence. (And good-old-fashioned capitalism). At the same time, many non-Muslims have been at the forefront of constructive initiativesto increase dialogue and understanding, including countering anti-Muslim sentiment in their communities. These allies aren’t just joining us in denouncing crimes against Muslims. They’re also risking ostracization within their own circles for doing what’s right. Don’t we owe them due respect by acting with integrity ourselves?
I mention the latest developments in these two cases not just to keep you updated – but also to caution our own against crying wolf.
If the blatantly Islamophobic, ridiculous and divisive campaignto convince us all that Barack Obama is a “stealth Muslim” out to “destroy Israel” and the American way of life tells us anything — it’s that what Muslims need is not just better representation in the public eye. We also need the help of reasonable non-Muslims who are willing to decry and combat this kind of absurdity. (Hey, Colin Powell– thanks! And Campbell Brown– shukran!)
The question becomes: can we expect our allies to continue taking risks for us when they find out about made-up cases of anti-Muslim violence? What could be more alienating to well-intentioned non-Muslimsthan pulling stunts involving tall tales of oppression? The truth is, anti-Muslim sentiment does exist. As do sexism, racism, and plenty of other “isms” ready to compromise a just society (not to mention ruin your day). Let’s not risk our cries falling on deaf ears, tired from stories like the above.
Do something constructive to combat discrimination: check out this organization’s** work.
…and the ever-talented Suheir Hammad. She’s got the support of Muslims and non-Muslims by using art for change. (Listen to some of my other favorites by Suheir here and here.)
**(June 2011 update: this line once linked to the American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee. Given recent revelations about the Committee, as well as additional information I’ve learned from trusted sources, I’m hesitant to continue linking to them until some pressing ethical questions can be answered.)
Not only does it appear that John McCain can’t do anything but defend “the surge! THE SURGE!”, but…
It also appears that he’s a little bitter about Obama’s celeb status.
A recent campaign ad got him into hot waterwith none other than the Hiltons. Why? McCain used the Hilton heiress, Paris, in his ad. You’ve got to see it– and then let me know if it makes any sense to you. I think they’re trying to suggest that Obama’s more famous than Britney or Paris, and just as unfit a statesperson. Or they’re trying to assert that his youth and fame will lead him to shave his head and get caught partying down with Lindsay Lohan. Maybe?
Doesn’t quite work, though. Kind of like his off-shore drilling plans.
What does work? Paris’ retaliation. Check out her spoof of the McCain ad here.
Oh, and p.s. – Paris’ mom is a McCain donor. Not a smart move on the part of his campaign.
I meant to share this article quite some time ago, but was reminded of it this week.
See this pieceby Zainab Al-Suwaij, founder of the American Islamic Congress, about how the US presidential candidates can best engage American Muslims.
“…neither Republicans nor Democrats have developed a clear approach to the Muslim community. Beyond the political implications for both campaigns, this shortcoming also impacts America’s social fabric. For the good of the country, McCain and Obama need to deal with the Muslim community openly and honestly.”
“O men, We created you from a male and female, and formed you into nations and tribes, that you may recognise each other. He who has more integrity has indeed greater honour with God…” Qur’an 49:12
In response to the kerfuffle over the latest cover of the New Yorker, Mona Eltahawy calls the left out – (bigtime!) – and explains why children of the post-colonial world have no fear of an “Obama Planet”.
Read her spot-on commentary here; and check out more of Mona Eltahawy’s writing here.