For many Muslim- and Arab-Americans, comments former Secretary of State Colin Powell made over the weekend about what in their view is the Islamophobia surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy were a much-needed salve on a festering sore.
On Meet the Press Sunday, Powell said what many Muslims and Arabs said they have waited to hear from a prominent figure like Powell throughout the 2008 presidential campaign.
Addressing the false rumor that Obama is a Muslim, Powell said: "The really right answer is: What if he is? ... Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no. That's not America. Is something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?"
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations' Chicago office, called Powell's comments "a real morale booster."
"With many politicians looking the other way out of political expediency, here was someone who called truth to power," he said.
A DVD about Muslim radicals distributed en masse in swing states and questions over Democratic candidate Obama's religion have left Muslim- and Arab-Americans weary of what they see as widespread antipathy toward Islam in the United States.
"There have been feelings of estrangement, feelings of bewilderment and feelings of being marginalized and stereotyped," said Shafic Budron, a board member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the Arab community's leading civil rights groups.
Both parties have been equally to blame, Arab and Muslim activists said.
Muslim and Arab groups both cited Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, a 2006 documentary film distributed by the nonprofit group Clarion Fund, as doing the most damage this election year. Nearly 28 million copies of the movie, which organizers said was about Islamic radicalism but critics said implied that all Muslims and Arabs are terrorists, were mailed and distributed as paid advertising in newspapers in swing states.
"I've never seen anything this concerted," said Laila al-Qatami, spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "It was a clear campaign to try and affect voters in swing states by promoting a lot of fear of Arabs and Muslims, and playing into the rumors circulated about Barack Obama being a Muslim."