Honored to be invited to the State Department Iftar – and grateful for the #WhiteHouseIftar
by Aziz Poonawalla
I am grateful and honored to have been invited to the State Department Iftar hosted by Secretary John Kerry, which will take place tonight in Washington D.C. It is with sincere regret that I am unable to attend due to my other obligations during Ramadan.
President Obama will also hold an iftar at the White House tomorrow evening, which will be his 5th (one every year of his Presidency thus far) and continues a tradition begun by President George W. Bush in November of 2001.
Now, this year these Iftars have come under fire by certain political activists in the Muslim American community. Their basic argument is that Muslims who accept the Iftar invitation by the President or the Administration are “house muslims” who are somehow betraying the Muslim community. The intention of these activists is to shame and embarrass any Muslim who embraces Barack Obama.
Ironically, they do this not because they are fundamentalist jihadist Muslims who see America as a great Satan; it is because they are fundamentalist left-wing Muslims who see America as a great Satan. The litany of major complaints is a familiar one: the drone war (which targets Muslims abroad), domestic spying on Muslims (which Obama had nothing to do with), and force-feeding of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (which Obama did try to close but was stymied by Congress). They consider any outreach by Obama to the Muslim American community as hypocritical and self-serving appeasement, and blame Muslims who accept that outreach for essentially validating those policies and even perpetuating and being complicit in them. There is even a hashtag – #WhiteHouseIftar – where these activists are making their case.
Obviously, I am biased. Not only did I receive an invitation, but I also was the Editor of MuslimsForObama.com and so these debates about whether Obama is anti-Muslim and whether he deserves any support from the Muslim community are not new. What is new, however, is the unseemly and hostile tone of these attacks on the President and fellow Muslims, especially during Ramadan.
prays for justice. While Obama dines with some Muslims at the #WhiteHouseIftar, he is also murdering and torturing them elsewhere…
— Zahra Billoo (@ZahraBilloo) July 24, 2013
Is this the kind of language and behavior that characterizes our community? Is this type of rhetoric appropriate in Ramadan? I think not.
I believe that as a political community, we can and should have a debate on these issues. But the way to effect change is not to burn a bridge with the Administration, which is what the angry activists would have us do. Look at their arguments on the hashtag – they accuse the President of being a murderer and make sickening jokes about force-feeding the attendees at the iftar. This is a childish tantrum that delegitimizes the efforts by the community to gain influence and persuade the Administration of our perspectives. It undermines everything that the actual leaders of the Muslim community – not these self-styled moral scolds on Twitter – have been working for towards the actual betterment of our community for decades.
The reason that Presidents Bush and Obama hold these events is to meet ordinary Muslims face to face, hear our stories, and understand how we are a part of the fabric of America. It is why President Bush was the first to call Islam “a religion of Peace” after 9-11. It is why President Obama has included Muslim Americans in his Administration, including Farah Pandith and Rashad Hussain. Events like these Iftars are the reason why Obama spoke out against Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qur’an, supported the Park 51 project, and defended the role of Muslim Americans during the State of the Union even as the Republicans were holding “witch-hunt” hearings about us on Capitol Hill. When it comes to the Muslim American community, President Obama has consistently emphasized our importance, rejected offensive terminology and Islamophobia, and made it clear that Islam rejects violent extremism.
Remember, Muslim Americans are Americans. Yes, we should be concerned and have a debate about drone strikes in Yemen and in Pakistan, but those are decisions that Obama made in the context of national security, which includes and benefits our community too. We cannot expect all of Obama’s governance to be made through the filter of our concerns. Obama is not just the President for Muslim Americans, but all Americans, and sometimes we are going to have to agree to disagree. That does not make us any less a part of America and it does not invalidate the very real efforts Obama has made to address our community and include us in the conversation about our life here.
We should be thankful this Ramadan that President Obama continues his outreach to our community. And we should disavow any self-styled leader of the Muslim community who acts in such a manner and publicly shames and embarasses us all.
American Muslims that are invited and attend the #whitehouseiftar follow the American way of life & there's nothing wrong w/ that.
— Ainy Kazmi (@AinyKazmi) July 24, 2013