Magazine article Tikkun

Dear Senator Obama: Let Me Tell You a Story

Magazine article Tikkun

Dear Senator Obama: Let Me Tell You a Story

Article excerpt


When I ran for class representative in seventh grade, a girl in my mostly-white junior high in the western suburbs of Chicago said, "You'll never win. You look like the guy in Madonna's 'Like a Prayer" video." She meant the black guy.

"I'm not black," I told her. But I knew, and she knew, that her comment wasn't about my skin color. It was about which skin color should represent our 7th grade class.

I can't help but think ofthat experience every time the issue of your secret Muslim identity is raised.

Let's get one thing straight People who don't know that you're a Christian must have looked hard for the biggest rock they could find and climbed under it You have participated in countless high-profile Christian events, from Rick Warren's conference on AIDS in Africa to the Compassion Forum on CNN. You have written eloquently about your faith in both of your best-selling books.

Your faith is not what this whisper campaign is about The people running the campaign know how you pray. Like the girl in my junior high, their target is different

When I look back on my junior high experience, I feel humiliated about how I responded to that girl. Even at thirteen, I knew what she was saying. And I knew that I had chosen to be a coward, to pretend that the issue was about my election, not the broader racism that infused her comment.

Similarly, I suspect that you know that the whisperers are using the cover of your middle name and your Indonesian childhood to make a statement about the role that Muslims should play in America. It is a statement made repeatedly by mainstream figures in the American media, like CNN commentator Glenn Beck. Beck welcomed Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, on his show with the following challenge: "Sir, prove to me you are not working with our enemies."

Senator Obama, you have been courageous and direct on a range of issues-the Iraq war, race, foreign policy. Why not do the same with the whisper campaign? Why not dismiss the question about your faith in one line and then make a statement on the real issue: that this is a thinly-veiled attempt to disparage and disenfranchise an entire group of people based on their religion. It is unAmerican bigotry. Period.

One of the most attractive parts of your candidacy is your eloquence about identity. "I was engaged in a fitful, interior struggle," you write in Dreams from My Father. "I was trying to raise myself as a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant"

There is a generation of young Muslims coming of age in America who experience a similar struggle. …

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