America's largest Islamic civil liberties group on Wednesday defended Sen. Barack Obama after the Democratic presidential candidate's Muslim-outreach coordinator resigned because of a brief association with a suspected Muslim extremist.
"Muslim bashers play a 'six degrees of separation' game of guilt by association with any Muslim who dares to engage in positive social or political activism," said Ahmed Rehab, executive director for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The Muslim group's defense came two days after Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi, who was appointed national coordinator for Muslim-American affairs by the Obama campaign on July 26, stepped down.
Questions had arisen about Mr. Asbahi's connection to Jamal Said, the imam at an Islamic fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois. In 2000, Mr. Asbahi served with Mr. Said on the board of Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a Delaware-registered trust.
The Justice Department had named Mr. Said an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the racketeering trial last year of several people accused of fundraising for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic terrorist organization created by the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The proceedings ended in a mistrial.
Mr. Asbahi is also a regular speaker before several U.S. groups that scholars associate with the Muslim Brotherhood.
An associate at the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin, Mr. Asbahi, who had volunteered for the coordinator position, sent an e-mail Monday to the Obama campaign that said:
"In 2000, I agreed to serve as a member of the board of trustees of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund. I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board. Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down from the volunteer role I recently agreed to take on with the Obama campaign as Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator in order to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change."
The Obama campaign did not address the allegations.
"Mr. Asbahi has informed the campaign that he no longer wishes to serve in his volunteer position, and we are in the process of searching for a new national Arab-American and Muslim-American outreach coordinator," spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
Mr. Obama, a Christian who has been criticized for his ties to a church headed by a pastor criticized for anti-American views, has been fighting false Internet rumors that he is a Muslim. The campaign previously conducted outreach to the Muslim community through its interfaith-outreach program and the Muslim-American outreach office at the Democratic Party.
Muslims are poised to play a significant role in several states this November. Muslim and Arab Americans represent about 4 percent of the vote in Michigan, which is expected to be a battleground state. Mr. Obama now leads in polls in the state, where Muslims went for Democrat John Kerry four years ago and Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
Nationwide, 42 percent of Muslims went for Mr. Bush in 2000; in 2004, after the attacks of Sept. 11 and moves by the administration seen as aggressive to Muslims, Mr. Bush got just 14 percent of the Muslim vote, with 71 percent opting for Mr. Kerry.
Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR's Michigan chapter, said Mr. Asbahi was a victim of Internet rumors.
"This incident just shows how Islamophobic the political climate is right now," Mr. Walid said.
"Baseless smears about a Muslim with a very good reputation was used to marginalize not only him, but the community, from the political process," he said. "If someone like Mr. Asbahi can't be vetted to work for the Obama campaign, then who can?"