Obama may be inspiring, but what about his “people?”

Ray Hanania

Posted Jun 20, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Obama may be inspiring, but what about his “people?”

By Ray Hanania

Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama is a very inspiring person whose steady words seem to evoke confidence in his audiences. I wish he would drop that annoying Jesse Jackson-like rhyming that he does, and I am not quite comfortable about all the “people” who are around him. Imagine, for example, if John McCain’s “people” were organizing a public event and they decided that they didn’t want any Black faces in the crowd on the stage where Obama would be speaking. The outcry would be harsh.

Or, what if he asked that Jewish supporters wearing yarmulkes leave the stage, too. It would not only be harsh, but it would become a media crusade.

Probably no one would care if he asked members of that Polygamist sect with that distinctive hairstyle who have been embroiled in the alleged abuse of their children in Texas to leave the stage. They’re annoying.

But you get my point. McCain is White and these kinds of incidents would create havoc for his candidacy.

Now, turn things around. It’s not McCain on stage, but Obama. And one of his people thinks it’s probably not a good idea to have an Arab Muslim women wearing a Hijab, or head scarf, on stage.

Yes it happened. In Detroit. An aide actually asked two Muslim Women who were wearing a Hijab to leave the stage at an event where Obama was to speak.

Ironically, Detroit has one of the most prominent communities of Muslims, Arabs and Middle Eastern people, but the concern wasn;t the local audience. It was more likely how the national audience who might be watching on TV would react.

I didn’t expect Obama’s campaign to be the one to start the undercurrent of anti-Arab hatred that has been a part and parcel of American politics, since the days when presidential candidates returned campaign contributions when they learned they were made by “Arabs.”

The news media wrote the Obama story factually and almost without any real passion. The attitude seems to be, “Hey, this is Obama. He’s Black. He didn’t mean to be racist like that. Blacks are not racist. It’s all politics.”

Yes, in fact, aides were quoted as calling it “politics” when responding to the criticism and concerns suddenly raised by the Hijab-wearing women’s families.


Obama’s campaign later said the aides were actually volunteers and they were not directed to do what they did by the campaign. Maybe not directly. But clearly, Obama’s message hasn’t reached everyone in his campaign.

I don’t think so. Because the truth is we know what would have happened if this would have happened in the McCain camp. He’s White. This would have been “racism.” And, more than that, the outcry by the media would have been deafening.

But don’t think for a moment that the media cares about racism against Muslims or Arabs or people from the Middle East. They don’t. The media is the most racist of all. But the media is behind Obama, who is Black, and against McCain, who is White. They’re the ones turning this into an issue of race and color.

Obama’s “people” apologized.

It was one of those things where the media and the Obama campaign had one of those conversations like “Have your people call my people. They’ll handle it.”

The victims were quite relaxed about the bigotry and went out of their way to say they don’t harbor any ill-will against Obama. Obama is big in the Muslim community for the very reasons why he’s growing increasingly unpopular in the White, Middle Class mainstream American community.

They both know he’s not a Muslim, but the fact that his father and step-father were Muslim and that he was briefly raised in a Muslim country has inspired and irritated each group.

Politics in America is as much about the substance and the reality as it is about the perception. I would argue that perception is more important in America than the reality. Perception is often reality.

How else do you explain that one of the most educated people in the world, the American people, are so ignorant about so many facts and truths and realities in the Arab World, the Muslim World and the Middle East? How can they be so stupid when it comes to fundamental truths in the Middle East, that later come back to bite them on the ass, so to speak?

Americans can’t tell the difference between a Palestinian or a Pakistani, an Iranian or an Indian, a Shi’ite or a Sunni, a Christian Arab or a Muslim Arab. An Iraqi dictator or an al-Qaeda terrorist.

Yet they can tell the difference between someone who looks like they do, and a woman wearing a Hijab on her head.

And that is what prompted Obama’s aides to make an on-the-spot decision to keep the two Hijab-wearing women off the Detroit stage where Obama was to give a speech.

Because this involves Obama, the controversy will subside, although McCain’s people may or may not try to make hay out of it.

But it sure does tell you that there really is something wrong in this country, or maybe, not everyone is being honest about the reality of our freedoms in America.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. He is the managing editor of the Arab American Writers Group syndicate ( http://www.arabwritersgroup.com )