The ‘politics of inclusion’ takes a hit

Hebba Aref and Shimaa AbdelfadeelA disgraceful thing happened at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena earlier this week.

Americans were discriminated against by other Americans who thought head scarves would send the wrong message about their candidate’s religious affiliation. In other words – the soft bigotry of Islamophobia is finally ready for its close-up in the Obama campaign.

Hebba Aref was born in the United States 25 years ago to Egyptian immigrants. She is a lawyer and a taxpaying citizen. Ms. Aref is also an American Muslim, though there is some debate in this country whether her religious affiliation undermines her claim to be a “loyal American.”

Ms. Aref and her friend, Shimaa Abdelfadeel, were among the 20,000 Americans who made the pilgrimage to downtown Detroit to cheer for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in person.

For months, Mr. Obama has been traveling the country, assuring audiences that the success of his campaign is proof America is turning the corner on the politics of racial and religious suspicion. Mr. Obama promises that he’ll be an exemplar of a more inclusive politics. He insists that the old divisions of race, gender and religion that polarize our politics today will not find favor during an Obama administration.

So the question must be asked: Why were two Muslim women wearing hijabs told by Obama campaign workers that they couldn’t sit behind the candidate during a televised speech because of the “sensitive political climate”? On what planet would such cowardice and discrimination be consistent with a politics of inclusion?

The Obama campaign issued an apology as soon as the incident was reported: “It is offensive and counter to [our] commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run,” the campaign statement read. “We sincerely apologize for this behavior.”

Fair enough, but how did lowly campaign workers decide that Muslim head scarves weren’t ready for prime time with Barack Obama? Could it be that the Obama campaign’s almost pathological fear of being associated with Islam when so many Americans continue to believe the candidate is a “secret Muslim” has trickled down to the ushers?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 June 2008

See also “Obama calls 2 Muslim women to apologize for snub at rally” in the Detroit Free Press.

Meanwhile the inimitable Debbie Schlussel is witch-hunting Hebba Aref and Shimaa Abdelfadeel with accusations of terrorist sympathies and antisemitism.