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Another slight for Muslims
Chicago Tribune
August 10, 2008

By Ahmed Rehab

"Muslim liaison for presidential campaign resigns after connections to Muslim community are found."

No, that's not a fake headline from The Onion's parody team. It's the gist of a real story announcing the resignation of Mazen Asbahi from his position as the national coordinator for Muslim-American affairs for Barack Obama's campaign.

Of course, resignations from presidential campaigns are not uncommon. Look just this year at Geraldine Ferraro (from Hillary Clinton's team), Samantha Power (Obama's) and Phil Gramm (John McCain's).

But most advisers who resign do so because of what they said or what they did. Asbahi had to resign for who he is: a Muslim who is well-connected within his own community.

I have known Asbahi for over a decade. As a patriotic young American Muslim, he had always dreamed of the opportunity to one day serve his country. He did more than dream; he worked hard to obtain his law degree cum laude from one of the nation's top schools, Northwestern University. He landed a prestigious position at a top law firm, Schiff Hardin. He remained active in his community.

When the Obama campaign sought a liaison for the American Muslim community, Asbahi was a natural pick. Yet a few days later, he is out in the cold.

His resignation from his volunteer position came amid claims that he had "connections" to "fundamentalist Muslims." Asbahi himself was not accused of being a fundamentalist, mind you, but his mere acquaintance with someone who is accused of being one was apparently enough to stain him.

The Asbahi affair is the latest episode in a long list of anti-Muslim blunders that have tainted the 2008 presidential campaign. It makes for a case study that offers ample insight into the nature of today's Islamophobia.

Typically, the cycle begins with allegations of questionable associations leveled against the subject from a dubious Internet source.

In this case, the source is The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report. I've never heard of it, and chances are you haven't either.

The Wall Street Journal, which likely considers its piece last week on Asbahi a work of investigative journalism, failed to investigate who runs this "Internet newsletter." If it did, then it failed to report its findings.

This Internet newsletter, which is privately registered, lists virtually every major American Muslim organization as being part of a global Islamist conspiracy. It is mind-boggling how seamless it is for Web sites harboring a blatantly anti-Muslim agenda to break into the mainstream media.

The Wall Street Journal itself can be "linked" in the same manner. Asbahi's link to Imam Jamal Said, the man they have labeled a "fundamentalist," is on the board of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund. The Dow Jones publishes The Wall Street Journal.

Of course, Said is not a fundamentalist. He is in fact a cornerstone of the Chicago Muslim community.

The Mosque Foundation, where Said works, is a noted contributor to Chicago's civic life. It is an active participant in Department of Homeland Security round-table discussions.

It is easy to point the finger at the Obama campaign for giving in so easily to anti-Muslim intimidation. But, to be fair, we must realize that the problem extends to our general political culture, which has seen every presidential candidate this year guilty of the same. It is also a culture that extends to the willingness of the media to let anti-Muslim absurdities slide.

Ahmed Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Copyright © 2008 Chicago Tribune

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