Iftar Wars?: To Attend or Not To Attend - updated 7/16/14
Posted Jul 16, 2014

Iftar Wars?: To Attend or Not To Attend

by Sheila Musaji

Note:  2014 update at end of the article

In previous years, the White House Iftar Provoked the Islamophobic Lunatic Fringe.  This year there is a very different group objecting to the White House Iftar, the State Dept. Iftar, and in fact Muslims attending any government sponsored Iftars. 

Two articles with different points of view lay out the basic arguments, and seem to have been the first two to open this discussion.  The first, by Omid Safi A Call to Conscience: Boycotting the State Department and White House Ramadan Iftars calls for Muslims to boycott the Iftar until U.S. Government Policies change.  The second, by Aziz Poonawala Honored to be invited to the State Department Iftar – and grateful for the #WhiteHouseIftar lays out reasons he believes Muslims should continue to interact.

Both of these articles are reasoned positions and open a debate.  They both make points worth considering.  Opening a discussion on the pros and cons of attending such events is useful, although opening that discussion at the last minute is not going to make any difference one way or another for this year’s Iftar’s.

The discussion began in a civil manner, and Omid Safi even included this statement in his article:

“I should mention that disagreement among scholars and leaders is always seen in Islam as a sign of mercy from God.  I do not intend to cast any aspersion upon the character of those who do decide to attend.  Whether they choose to do so or not is their own business, something between their own conscience and God.  If they choose to attend, I have no doubt that they have weighed it in their own conscience and decided that the collective communal benefit of attending outweighs the negatives.  That is their business.”

However, the discussion On Facebook and twitter, and on some blogs in response to these articles has become strident and judgmental, and has in some cases descended to name calling and insults.  Names like “house Muslim”, “traitors”,  and other egregious comments are being thrown around with no context.  This is inappropriate and truly surprising coming from some individuals who have themselves been on the receiving end of such baseless slurs in the past, and should know better.  Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not enough to spell out a coherent argument, pro or con.  If those who are angry about the decision of others want to contribute to a reasonable discussion, perhaps they should write a cogent article explaining their reasoning, and post the link on social media.  There are perfectly valid arguments on both sides of this issue.  Name calling doesn’t advance any argument.

That this discussion has become so bitter is very problematic, especially when Muslims have struggled so hard for so many years in order to have their voices heard.  There is a full time Islamophobia industry engaged in a concerted effort to marginalize American Muslim civic participation.  To attack those who are attempting to build bridges, forge relationships, and open channels of communication in such a spiteful manner is destructive for the entire community. 

The strident argument is now getting International attention.  Al Jazeera posted #WhiteHouseIftar:  US Muslims call for boycott of government-sponsored Ramadan celebrations which includes some of the tweets under that hashtag. 

Shahed Amanullah posted this statement:

In an hour, 200 people will be joining me at the State Department for Secretary Kerry’s iftar dinner. Those Americans who are attending represent the best of both America and the Muslim community - committed changemakers who have invested in their communities, bridge builders healing rifts between faiths, social entrepreneurs whose work has changed the lives of thousands. A large number of our guests are young social activists who have many years of work ahead of them. This tradition has helped cement the bonds between government and stakeholders who are committed to diplomacy, outreach, and public service, and I’m proud to help organize it this year.

Haris Tarin, one of those directly attacked posted the following on Facebook:

Why I am attending the Iftar at the White House!

“I was asked by some friends to comment on the trend of calling out American Muslims who are attending the Iftar at the White House. Here is why I am attending the @whitehouseiftar and I’ll make it short because I have to get back to my oped against Ray Kelly becoming the next Sec. of DHS.

First, I was taught by two great individuals, Dr. Maher Hathout and Sh. Abdullah bin Bayyiah, that it is not who you meet with, it’s your integrity in the meeting and the context that is important.

I am attending the White House Iftar because I received an invitation from my President, I will also be attending the briefing a couple hours before the iftar that will focus on serious policy issues including Gitmo, Syria, Egypt and Drones.

I will also be attending the Iftar at the State Department with Sec. Kerry — even though just yesterday my colleague Hoda Elshishtawy was at a State Dept meeting and conference critiquing policies on religious freedom and violent extremism.

I will also be attending the DHS Iftar with Sec. Napolitano — even though yesterday I went on record at the Huffington Post critiquing the TSA’s Ramadan message about American Muslims directed at the DHS.

I also attended the Iftar at the Pentagon with American Muslims in the Armed Services to ensure that they have a place to practice their faith freely.

And for those friends who have taken to twitter and Facebook with rude and outlandish messages about those of us who leave our families every night and ensure that we build the relationships that will hopefully allow us to impact policy one day, even though I vehemently disagree with you, I defend your right to be rude and call me a house Muslim or uncle Tom, because that is what makes our faith and country so great, and if you want to know what we are doing on Gitmo, Drones and everything else, you can ask rather than remain uninformed! If anyone wants, we can give you our Iftar itinerary for the month so that you know exactly whom we are having a meal with.”

I can’t help but wonder what exactly prompted such an angry discussion this particular year.  These Iftar’s have bee going on since 2001, and I don’t remember ever seeing this sort of discussion previously.


UPDATE 7/29/2013

There is still a lot of conversation about this issue.  Here are some of the articles written since this first became a heated debate.

Omid Safi wrote a follow up Beyond #WhiteHouseIftar: 6 points towards a principled action of solidarity - See more at: http://omidsafi.religionnews.com/2013/07/26/beyond/#sthash.2SNjOpKn.dpuf

...  In some ways, we have succeeded in having an important conversation, and it was gratifying to see sources like Aljazeera covering this debate.  In other ways, we have fallen short, with the typical name-calling questioning some of our qualifications to continue living in America (on one hand) and the typical name-calling of “House Muslims” (on the other).

It seems good to offer some preliminary thoughts on how to move beyond the current stalemate and reach for a more effective strategy.

... In the last thirty years, we as Muslims have had intense conversations about our multiple and overlapping identities as Americans and as Muslims. What this present conversation is about is something else: what kind of America we want to belong to:  an America that is an Empire, or a land of liberty and rights.  If it is the latter, words will not suffice.  We need to be participants in making that a reality.

Aziz Poonawalla wrote a follow up a Muslim American agenda: speaking truth to power and “standing firmly for justice” (Qur’an 4:135)

...  The issue of religious persecution is deeply personal for me. Members of my own Bohra community were the target of systematic, targeted murder in Pakistan last year. The Ummah, by and large, did not really rouse itself to care.
The truth is that many of those who lectured Muslim Americans as “traitors” and “house Muslims” for “denying the Ummah” in favor of the White House Iftar outreach devote most of their time to the “sexy” causes for Justice like drones, Gitmo, and of course the Palestinians. These are the issues that generate the most passion amongst the Muslim middle class in America. But if we make a simple tally of human lives, the calculus is skewed – far more Muslims suffer injustice and persecution at the hands of their Ummah brethren within Dar al-Islam than have ever suffered at the hands of the American Empire that Omid warns about.

Yes, we should stand for Justice. I criticized the drone warfare policy over three years ago, long before it was fashionable. More importantly, I have argued that Muslims should adopt a campaign against the doctrine of collateral damage in warfare, using the same moral arguments as those against land mines. But apart from critique, there is no analogy to be made with the civil rights movement as Omid tries to invoke, because these are injustices that are not subject to the sympathy and compassion of the American public. Bluntly, civil rights were about domestic oppression, whereas drones and Gitmo are about national security. And the actual victims of both are relatively small in number relative to the Muslim victims of injustice at the hands of their fellow Muslims. However, that latter injustice, though greater in scope, is not given prominence. Why? Is it because it is “easier” to blame America for the sicknesses of the Ummah rather than admit there is something rotten within? Or is it because of a reluctance to stand against “our kin” ? (as per Qur’an 4:135).

I fully agree with Omid that we as Muslim Americans should organize collectively and productively, following the example of the civil rights movement. But our target should not be foreign injustice, it should be the injustice right here at home. Examples:

* Islamophobia-inspired violence against Muslims and “Muslim-like” minorities (ie Sikhs)
* Religious freedom in terms of building mosques and Islamic centers (notably, Joplin and Park 51)
* Racial profiling, especially of African Americans (who comprise half the Muslim American population)
* TSA and immigration and customs persecution of Muslims (particularly, the No-Fly list)
* Invasion of privacy and domestic surveillance of Muslims by the NYPD (even in Jersey!)

and we should also lend our organization towards these causes which affect more than just the Muslim American community:

* Government data collection on all citizens (NSA/PRISM)
* Economic injustice (Detroit going bankrupt)
* Feeding the poor (budget cuts to child food programs)
* Jobs, jobs, jobs

These are all areas in which sustained Muslim American organization and action can make a substantive impact and directly influence the quality of life and increase social justice not just for hundreds of thousands of Muslim Americans, but millions of Americans overall. That is how we should be spending our social capital and the justice we should be standing for.

This agenda is not focused on the Ummah, it is focused on our neighbors and fellow citizens. The Qur’an commands us to help the poor (107:1-3) and to do good by our neighbors both near and far (4:136). The Qur’an praises the People of the Book (3:113-115) who are our neighbors and fellow American citizens. By embracing a domestic agenda that uplifts our own communities, and benefits the broader community of citizens (Muslim and non-Muslim alike), we will automatically be standing up for justice – social justice, economic justice, and religious justice, in full compliance with verse 4:135. ...

Faheem Younus wrote A better alternative to boycotting the White House Iftar in which he noted:

...  It’s obvious: We, the American Muslims are struggling to identify the right posture: Boycott, and you sever a diplomatic tie; attend, and you are seen as endorsing a policy.

While I empathize with the demands laid out by Professor Saifi -I believe the Obama administration should abandon overseas drone attacks, halt nationwide racial and religious profiling, and release select Guantanamo Bay prisoners – I knew the boycott will fail to achieve anything beyond creating a social media ripple.

...  Boycotts are glitzy; introspection is dull. It makes us go out of our comfort zone and ask hard questions.

Yes, drone attacks are immoral and should be stopped. But where is the call for boycott of the Saudi funded madrassas that have fueled terrorist attacks that have claimed over tenfold Muslim lives as compared to the drones?

Yes, we should stand up for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners who are being force fed. But let’s also stand up for the well documented and sustained extrajudicial killings of prisoners at the hands of Muslim officers of the Pakistani army.

Yes, the pockets of racial and religious profiling by the U.S. authorities should be protested but who is going to wail against the institutionalized racial and religious oppression (and in some cases, killings) of the Shias in Pakistan, Ahmadis in Indonesia, Bahai’s in Iran and Copts in Egypt?

Demanding the same rights in the U.S. which we so blatantly trample in the Muslim countries takes away the strength of our moral arguments. It equates us with the very mindset we resent. It enables the White House to fill up the sought after Iftar dinner to its brink despite our calls for a boycott.  ...

Svend White wrote The pros and cons of White House iftars in the Obama era in which he notes:

...  I happen to consider both Omid and Shahed dear friends, but I find myself agreeing with Omid here.

At the same time, I don’t have illusions about Muslim Americans’ influence under the circumstances. Many on the other side of the debate would no doubt argue that boycotting would reduce our already very modest influence within the government, and perhaps embarrass and/or alienate the few friends we have left these days in Washington. And they’d be right, at least from the conventional standpoint of Beltway politicking and jockeying for influence.

...  Perhaps, as a result of participating Muslims are occasionally able to participate in policy debates behind the scenes and occasionally makes a policy a smidgen less cynical and counterproductive. Maybe things would indeed be much worse if no Muslims had a seat at the proverbial table (albeit one by the kitchen door). I doubt it, but one can make the argument.

In any case, we don’t have a wealth of options in this political landscape.

But playing by the Beltway’s rules doesn’t get you far when you’re utterly outgunned, and by multiple factions. In that situation, I believe your only chance to win the day is to change the rules of the game by challenging the dominant discourse by forcing the public to grapple with the complexities and moral ambiguities of government policies that are being swept under the rug by the powers that be. You have to scream bloody murder so the numbed body politic notices something is terribly wrong. Quixotic calls for boycotts, like ones for secession or reparations, get attention and spark debate, which is desperately needed.  ...

Fatemeh Fakhraie wrote #WhiteHouseIftar and the Tactics of Activism in which she notes:

...  Full disclosure: I attended the State Department iftar twice when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. And I attended despite my disagreements with the administration on Iraq, Afghanistan, sanctions on Iran, drone strikes, and my general dislike of politics and politicians. I went because I believe it’s difficult to change the conversation when you’re not sitting at the table.

There are two ways of effecting change and they are both necessary. One way is working from the inside, as attendees of these events attempt, and another way is from the outside, by principled boycotts. Civil rights leaders use both of these tactics to advance dialogue and access to power structures; the American Muslim community must use both these tactics together to accomplish the same.

This should give all those who are still struggling to reach a conclusion about whether or not to attend such events locally or nationally more than a little food for thought.


UPDATE 7/14/2014

This year sees a continuation of the White House Iftar War.  The arguments and counter arguments are very similar, and the inappropriate comments on social media are just as angry and judgemental.  There are twitter hashtags for #whitehouseiftar and for #whitehouseiftarboycott.  There is a Facebook page calling for a boycott and protest. 

There is a petition calling for a boycott of the White House Iftar.  However, although the petition includes the statement: “We are a group of scholars, advocates, activists and grassroots organizers ...”, They do not list the signatories.  I personally have a difficulty with anonymous statements.

The Washington Post reports that “The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.”  The ADC statement said in part:

... “We ask that all government iftar invitees stand together on behalf the community and reject the normalization of the continuous breach of our fundamental rights,” the statement said. “Political engagement is important and having a seat at the table is crucial — but only when that seat is intended to amplify our voice as a community, not tokenize or subdue it.” ...

MPAC posted a statement which says:

In 1996, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) collaborated with diverse organizations to work with then First Lady Hillary Clinton to host the first White House Eid celebration in recognition of the heritage and contributions of American Muslims to the mosaic that makes up America.

At that time, we had significant policy differences with the Clinton Administration, including the ongoing sanctions on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the use of secret evidence in legal proceedings. We supported the first White House Eid celebration because we believed that American Muslims must be recognized by our government and policy makers as a significant and contributing component of our society, and that positive recognition from our public institutions could positively influence public opinion of American Muslims.

Each year, there have been calls by some community members to boycott the White House Iftar. In recent days, we have seen the same call issued in light of ongoing policy differences, including revelations of NSA and FBI surveillance of American Muslim leaders, the administration’s failure to call for an end to the assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and a host of other issues.

MPAC respects the right of all Americans to exercise their civic and political conscience in the way they see fit. In fact, much of our work in national security and civil rights focuses on creating safe spaces for individuals to articulate their conscience and activism no matter which view they may hold.

If mainstream American Muslims are not at the table, they will be replaced by voices who seek to further marginalize our community and promote problematic policies. This year, we plan to discuss the NSA and FBI surveillance of American Muslims and the administration’s failure to call on Israel to halt its appalling assault on Palestinians.

History teaches us that every community and movement for change has deployed multiple approaches to bringing about progress in both public opinion and policies. We respect the right of those who choose not to attend Iftars hosted by elected officials. At the same time, we believe that the White House Iftar and other agency Iftars are part of a great national tradition of celebrating diverse faith communities in America. At such events, MPAC raises substantive policy issues with senior administration officials. This year MPAC plans on giving the White House a letter from KinderUSA Chairwoman, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, addressing the plight of the people of Gaza.

We believe that the Iftars cannot be a replacement for engagement or the only form of engagement between the President and the American Muslim community. The Iftars must be followed up with meetings between the White House and the American Muslim community focusing on specific policy issues.

We urge all American Muslims to express their civic and political conscience in the way they see fit and to respect the various approaches to bringing about needed change in many of the challenges facing our diverse communities. During this blessed month of Ramadan, we should reflect the message of the Quran by finding the common ground which brings us together to improve our communities even while we hold divergent points of view.

Rami Nashibi, Executive Director, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) published [url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rami-nashashibi/iftar-white-house_b_3678139.html?utm_hp_ref=tw]
Iftar at the White House- Navigating Power, Privilege & Justice in Ramadan[/url] explaining why he thinks attendance is important.
Abdullah Al-Arian and Hafsa Kanjwal published The perils of American Muslim politics which expresses their concern that such events should be avoided.

Rep. Keith Ellison posted a tweet saying “A boycott of the #WhiteHouseIftar dinner tonight won’t help advance an agenda on the policy matters we care about”.  He also published Rep. Ellison Statement on Boycott of White House Iftar Dinner in which he said:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement today after groups attempted to organize a boycott of the White House Iftar dinner.

“I’m looking forward to visiting with President Obama at the White House Iftar. While I certainly share the concerns of the people who have called for the boycott, I disagree with the tactic. It will not close Guantanamo Bay, guarantee a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine or undo the NSA’s targeting of Muslims.

“The leaders of the Montgomery Bus boycott and the United Farm Workers’ boycotts didn’t have the opportunity to speak directly to the White House about the issues affecting their communities. Boycotting was one of the few tools on the table at that time. A boycott of the White House Iftar dinner tonight won’t help advance an agenda on the policy matters we care about.  If the boycott was successful and no Muslims showed up, then no one would talk about the issues on behalf of our community.

“Precisely because the people adversely affected by these policies cannot be present, passionate and articulate members of the community must be there tonight.”

Yasmine Hafiz article from last year White House Iftar: To Boycott Or Not To Boycott? did a good job of laying out both sides of the issue.

Each of us will have to make up our own minds about where we stand on this issue.

There are decent people on both sides of this issue.  Whether or not an individual supports attending or boycotting, if that choice is made with good intentions as a moral decision, then those of us who hold a different opinion should respect their personal decision.  What is important is the intention, and how the opportunity to attend or to boycott is used to benefit the

I have great love and respect for many individuals on both sides of this issue, and know them to be thoughtful, caring, and ethical people.  I respect those who can express their reasons clearly and logically.  I have lost respect for those who have expressed their disagreement in backbiting and even slander against particular individuals.  There is an enormous difference between saying I disagree with you because of x, y, or z and between those saying I disagree with you therefore you are a “sell out” or “house Muslim” or “traitor”.  This sort of behavior only further divides an already divided community.


UPDATE 7/15/2014

Last night was the White House Iftar.  Some boycotted, some attended, and some protested.

At the beginning of Ramadan in the President’s statement on the occasion of Ramadan, he said:

... As I’ve done every year as President, I look forward to welcoming Muslim Americans from across the United States to the White House for an iftar dinner.  It will be another opportunity for me to convey America’s appreciation for the contributions of Muslim Americans to our country and to wish Muslims around the world a month blessed with the joys of family, community, peace and understanding.  Ramadan Kareem.


If the purpose of this event was to “convey America’s appreciation for the contributions of Muslim Americans to our country and to wish Muslims around the world a month blessed with the joys of family, community, peace and understanding” - then he failed miserably.  His actual remarks at the Iftar dinner were certainly not in that spirit.

The President or his advisors must have been aware of the The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee statement that they would not attend that evening’s annual White House Iftar dinner, in protest of the U.S. government’s “current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically.”  They must have been aware of the split in the American Muslim community over whether or not everyone should boycott the event.  They must have been aware - but, they obviously did not care.

Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador was invited to the Iftar (and am uncertain why that should be).  Why was Dermer invited?  In his remarks the President made a clear statement that “Israel has the right to defend itself ... ”  I have to wonder if the President condemned the illegal Israeli settlements during the White House Passover Seder, or if any representatives of the Palestinians were invited to the Seder?

It really seemed as if President Obama was being deliberately provocative and actually demeaning his guests and the entire American Muslim and American Arab communities. 

President Obama’s full remarks at Ramadan Iftar can be seen HERE At 5:49 he begins discussing foreign policy including the current Gaza crisis. 

I have to admit that I wish at least some of the attendees had walked out.  I still hope that we might be a statement or statements issued by some of them expressing their dismay about the Gaza comments.

Omid Safi posted this comment on Facebook about the President’s comments:

A critical commentary on what might have been going on inside the President Obama’s head when he was offering the 2014 White House Iftar comments:

President Obama: “And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens.”

[Commentary: Which is why I am so glad Palestine is not a country, because if it were, they wouldn’t accept having Israel bomb them and fire at them either. Oh, and that’s why we in the United States use drones to kill civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia. Not rockets. That’s totally different. Drones. Not rockets.]

President Obama: “And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

[Commentary: Please, please, nobody ask me if Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from inexcusable attacks from Israel. Because then I’ll either have to say that the US has to use its considerable leverage to put an immediate pressure on Israel to stop, or, o crap, I have to say that Palestinians have the right to defend themselves against Israel, which… o crap… since they have no army, o crap, that means either HAMAS or suicide bombing Wow. I don’t like this at all.]

President Obama: “At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”

[Commentary: yeah, we’ve worked long and hard….to send billions of dollars in military hardware to Israel, which it is now being used to unleash hell on earth on a defenseless trapped civilian population already malnourished, thirsty, sick, and underemployed.

And ‘regardless of who they are.’ Of course all the civilians since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza are Palestinian, but anyway, ‘regardless of who they are, or where they live’—I mean they could be in Gaza City, in Khan Younis, in any of the places in Gaza.

And by the way, sure hope how nobody noticed how I called Palestinians dying a “tragedy” and not a crime. And note to self, Obama, wow, you are really smart. You just managed to talk about death of injury of Palestinian civilians, without ever once using the word Israel as the agent. Smooooooooth.

Oh, and I will mourn the three Israeli teenagers and talk about my own grief as a father, but good God, if I have to actually name any of the Palestinian children killed by Israel’s bombing, wow, that would not go over well.]

President Obama: “In the United States of America, there is no place for false divisions between races and religions….We are all Americans, equal in rights and dignity, and no one should ever be targeted or disparaged because of their faith.”

[Commentary: ‘No one should be targeted’….well, except that part where we use tax-payer money to do NSA surveillance on people precisely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity. Yeah, in that case, screw them.

Oh, and ‘Americans are equal in rights and dignity/, except the poor people who now stand at a greater level of income equality than any point before. So let’s talk about equal rights, without talking about income inequality, re-distribution of wealth, a corrupt system of corporate influence, etc.

And can we just say that we are all equal, without anyone asking me about what the heck is happening in inner-city Detroit, please? Because if I have to explain why water is being shut off to half of the families in Detroit and the UN now considers that a violation of human rights, oh Jeez… can’t we just stay in the realm of equal rights and not talk about issues of poverty and justice? Please?]

Enjoy the meal, no questions, don’t forget the goodie bags.
al-salam alaykum! See you next year!


UPDATE 7/16/2014

There are now beginning to be comments from active community activists and from some who attended.

Haroon Moghul posted on Facebook:

“You know what they would like, more than anything in the world? That you get up, excuse yourself, and leave the room, so dismayed and disheartened that you decide not to be part of the process at all. That, because you heard the articulation of a policy that is or should be obvious given the news, you give in, give up, decide nothing’s going to change, and depart.

Maybe some people feel better about themselves, knowing they walked away. That’s their decision. But I do not see what you have accomplished, and so I do not see this as a meaningful form of protest. Not for me, at least. That’s far, far too easy. Stay and fight. Stay and fight, no matter how uphill the climb. You may never win, but you are far, far more likely to if you do not yield at the first sign of trouble.

Stay, stomach the blow, articulate your perspective—which is truth—and keep on keeping on.”

Haris Tarin posted on Facebook:

So here is the last post on the subject.  Yes I did attend the Iftar and proud to have attended. Yes we spoke to the president and his senior staff for almost two hours about Gaza and Surveillance of Muslim communities and yes it was a very heated conversation at times. Yes I thought the President’s remarks on Israel and Gaza were unacceptable, the moral equivalency is wrong, and yes that was frankly relayed to them by more than one person.

Now that folks have gotten in their snarky remarks and have made judgment lets take deep look at ourselves. When it comes to Gaza and many of our other issues, we live in our own bubble, preach to the choir and when we step out of the bubble we realize how ineffective we are in changing public perception which will ultimately be a leverage point to power.

And yes, when my institution today releases a statement criticizing the administration strongly for saying what it said during the Iftar I will have the ability to push back even further and as an attendee criticize the administration position.
And if we cannot accept multiple forms of advocacy work, then yes we will continue to keep marginalizing ourselves because one thing is clear, bullying will not work.

Everyday, I work here in Washington to make sure that American Muslims have the right to express their conscience how they choose, free from government intrusion, and I will keep fighting for that no matter what!

MPAC published a statement MPAC Troubled by Obama’s Remarks on Gaza at the White House Iftar:

As an organization that champions the principle of engagement, MPAC Washington DC Director Haris Tarin and National Policy Analyst Hoda Elshishtawy seized the opportunity to raise pressing policy concerns with President Obama and his senior staff regarding Gaza.

Tarin and Elshishtawy directly stressed to the President and his senior staff that the disproportionate Israeli military response is a deeply concerning reality for innocent Gazans. They also stressed the need for the U.S. to push for an immediate ceasefire.

After highlighting the accomplishments of three American Muslims in their communities and reflecting on the themes of Ramadan, President Obama turned his attention to Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

In the past eight days, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes. In his remarks last night, Obama supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Given the growing international outcry calling for an immediate ceasefire and a halt to Israel’s military assault on Gaza, it is appalling that the President continues to give Israel a green light to resume their assault on Palestinians.

President Obama said in part:  “And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens.  And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

“The U.S. cannot continue to be seen as giving a green light for Israel’s disproportionate military aggression against the Gazan people,” said MPAC National Policy Analyst Hoda Elshishtawy. “The underlying factor here is the occupation. Until the occupation is dealt with and ends, the conflict will continue.”

During the Iftar, MPAC delivered a letter to the White House from KinderUSA Chairwoman, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, addressing the plight of the people of Gaza. MPAC is calling for more substantive policy discussions with the administration concerning Gaza, surveillance and other issues impacting the American Muslim community.

Tariq Ramadan’s official site posted this on this controversy:

It was supposed to be an evening where the American President showed respect to a religious community, to the millions of American Muslims who have been fasting during the sacred month of Ramadan.

It was supposed to be a political expression of respect. It ended up being a political instrumentalisation of (voluntarily) trapped Muslim leaders listening to President Obama justify the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians, declaring Israel has the right to defend itself. One wonders what is the relationship between the Iftar celebration and Israel ? What is the US administration’s implicit-explicit intention in putting the Muslim leaders in such an embarrassing situation? To test their loyalty or rather their capacity to compromise or betray? They obviously remained silent.

The Israeli ambassador, Mr. Ron Dermer, also invited (why?), was actually the first to speak. One must remember what he said about Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims : Palestinians have “a cultural tendency towards belligerency” that is “deeply embedded in the culture of the Arab world and its foremost religion”. This is the man who was invited to celebrate Iftar with the Muslims meanwhile his Government is destroying Gaza. From the White House he tweeted, triumphantly : “@WhiteHouse for Iftar dinner. Appreciate strong statement there by President Obama about Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Obviously Muslim leaders didn’t tweet. It was enough of an honor for them to be invited to the White House and to have met the President. An honor, truly, dear Muslim leaders? Ordinary Muslims (and proponents of justice and dignity from other religions) in the US and around the world, as well as Palestinians, might think differently.

Ahmed Rehab posted on Facebook:

MPAC, an organization whose activists and leaders I know to be sincere, hardworking and trustworthy tireless advocates doing their best to uplift the Muslim community, and who chose to attend the White House Iftar publicly pushes back on the President’s remarks:

“MPAC was appalled that the White House would take the Iftar as an opportunity to express unequivocal support for Israel…. “The U.S. cannot continue to be seen as giving a green light for Israel’s disproportionate military aggression against the Gazan people,” said MPAC National Policy Analyst Hoda Elshishtawy. “The underlying factor here is the occupation. Until the occupation is dealt with and ends, the conflict will continue.”

Good for them. Every attendee, individual or organization, needs to follow suit and fast. Publicly.

I agree with him 100% - we need to hear from “every attendee, individual or organization”.


Spencer Ackerman published White House Iftar dinner guests press Obama on surveillance of Muslims in The Guardian which included this:

... Some of the people who attended were signatories of a letter sent to the White House in the wake of the Intercept story urgently requesting a meeting with Obama. Without that commitment yet in hand, took the opportunity to raise the issue with Obama personally at the Monday dinner.

“I specifically asked the president if he would meet with us to discuss NSA spying on the American Muslim community. The president seemed to perk up and proceeded to discuss the issue, saying that he takes it very seriously,” said Junaid Sulahry, the outreach manager for Muslim Advocates, a legal and civil rights group.

Obama was non-committal, Sulahry said, but displayed “a clear willingness to discuss the issue.”

Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that she brought it up as part of a “table-wide discussion” on post-9/11 surveillance of US Muslims.

“Our communities can’t be seen as suspects and partners at the same time,” Elshishtawy said. ...

 

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Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989.  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( https://twitter.com/SheilaMusaji )

SEE ALSO:

To White House Iftar or To Not… , Josh Shahryrar http://sjoshs.tumblr.com/post/56376832929/to-white-house-iftar-or-to-not

Why Muslims Should Skip the #WhiteHouseIftar http://stopislamophobianow.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/why-muslims-should-skip-the-whitehouseiftar/

White House Iftar: To Boycott Or Not To Boycott?, Yasmine Hafiz http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yasmine-hafiz/the-whitehouseiftar-boyco_b_3652694.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

Originally posted 7/24/2013