Experts say candidate attempting to sidestep controversy, but at his peril
The cover of this week’s New Yorker magazine may explain why Barack Obama isn’t reaching out to Michigan’s Muslims.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is shown in the Oval Office, wearing a turban and bumping fists with his wife, Michelle, who is in combat boots with a rifle slung over her shoulder. The cartoon, intended as satire, is a reminder of the dangers of any association with Muslims for Mr. Obama, who has fought false rumours that his middle name, Hussein, indicates he was born into the Islamic faith.
Muslim- and Arab-Americans represent four per cent of the vote in Michigan, a battleground in this year’s US election.
Yet Mr. Obama, who has held 13 events in the state during the presidential campaign, hasn’t visited a mosque or met with Muslim leaders.
Bill Ballenger, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said Mr. Obama, 46, has to strike a delicate balance. The Illinois senator “doesn’t have to pander” to such voters, who are likely to back him anyway, though he can ill-afford to “dismiss them in an arrogant fashion.”
While Mr. Obama is leading in Michigan polls, some politicians said it would be a mistake for him not to actively court the state’s Muslim voters, who went for Democrat John Kerry four years ago and Republican George W. Bush in 2000.
The Democrats “do this at their own peril,” said David Bonior, a former Michigan congressman who is advising Mr. Obama.
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News in Dearborn, complained that Mr. Obama’s arms-length approach demonstrates that he views Muslims as “a liability.” Many Muslims who once leaned Republican have been turned off by the Iraq war and the law enforcement scrutiny of their community put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Third-party candidate Ralph Nader, who is of Lebanese descent, was on the ballot in Michigan in 2004, and is petitioning to do so again this year. He could hurt Mr. Obama by peeling off 25 per cent of the Arab community’s vote, said Morley Winograd, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
“You have in Ralph Nader’s candidacy a genuine Arab-American who has a lot of notoriety and publicity,” he said. It “would be detrimental to Obama’s candidacy.”
Muslims in and around Detroit said they have been worried by several recent controversies, particularly a report last month that Obama campaign aides removed two young women wearing Muslim headscarves, called Hijabs, from his camera backdrop. The candidate later called the women to apologize.
Hassan Habhab, a 28-year-old Democrat who works at a Dearborn mall, said he supported Mr. Obama until the incident, though he hadn’t heard about the apology.
“I don’t know if I should vote for somebody like that,” he said.
Some of Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy stances also have raised concern. Last month, he was criticized by Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, after he told the Washington-based American Israel Public Affairs Council, the leading pro-Israel lobbying group, that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.
“As long as he believes this way, I do not believe he is going to get the overwhelming support of our community,” said Osama Siblani, who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a July 16, 2008 article by Heidi Przybyla over The Bloomberg Service