Sunday, October 19, 2008
Powell: So What if Obama is Muslim?
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, a life-long Republican who served George W. Bush in his first term and argued for Iraq war at the UN, endorsed Senator Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States on NBC's "Meet the Press". While the endorsement was not unexpected, what caught my attention was the statement that Secretary Powell made about Barack Obama's faith. By asking "So what if he is Muslim?", General Powell has gone where no US politician , including Obama, has ever dared to go before him. Here's the relevant part of the transcript of Powell's statement:
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But 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 there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America. I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
I admire General Powell for his clear statement followed by a reprimand of some of his party colleagues regarding the questions and rumors about Obama’s faith. In particular, I appreciate the argument General Powell makes about the Muslim Americans, willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, be given the same rights as Americans of any other faith. I wish his views were commonly shared and embraced by fellow Americans. And I also wish that Obama would say something along the lines of what Powell did in his endorsement. But, unfortunately, the fact is that Obama himself and his campaign have practically treated the Muslim label as if it were an epithet.
Let’s also acknowledge that it is easy for Powell to be “statesman-like” when he has nothing to lose. It reminds me of the many US presidents and secretaries of state who criticized Israeli policies and its treatment of the Palestinians only after they left office. It is much harder for someone like Obama to do what Powell has just done.
There is a lot of rhetoric about “Profiles in Courage” in America these days. Some engage in hyperbole describing Obama as a "Transformational Figure" or even extol him as "The Messiah" who has been "sent to change" the world. The sad reality is that the politicians of all stripes, including Obama, can not stand up to the powerful lobbies in America: right, left or center.
Here's a video clip of Secretary Powell's endorsement: