A Break in the Clouds

When I heard the Big News that Colin Powell was going to endorse Barack Obama, my reaction was a resounding “meh.” C-Pows had lost me years ago, for all the reasons that Melinda Henneberger lists here. (Nutshell version: if you believe that the President is wrong about the reasons for war, and wrong about the methodology by which that war will be faught, and wrong about what its terrible consequences will be, RESIGN. Going to the U.N. to argue in favor of such a war is a distinctly inferior option.)

But Powell’s actual statement blew me away. He stood up and defied his party by endorsing a Democrat, but then he went on, and addressed the “Obama is a Muslim” rumors. Powell, unlike every other public figure I can think of, (including Obama himself), pointed out the true problem with those vicious rumors: the suggestion that it is inherently wrong to be Muslim.

It isn’t. The suggestion that it is is disgusting. And given this country’s history as a refuge for those who have been oppressed because of their religion, it is Un-American in the most basic, factual sense.

It took moral courage for Powell to call attention to the silent acceptance of the assumption that Muslims should be excluded from American public life. It took political courage to accuse his own party of of giving refuge to people who publicize that view:

“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 is ‘No. That’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with 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 were 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 can 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 a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his country and he gave his life.”

And then Friend-of-WrongingRights Marina sent me the link to the video below, in which moderate McCain supporters approach a group of people outside a McCain rally and challenge them on their offensive claim that Obama is a Muslim. Sure, it seems a little bit orchestrated by whoever was shooting the video, but I still think it’s progress, and it still makes me happy.

Three’s a trend, people. We just need one more.

Amanda Taub

One Comment

  1. I think Powell’s comments do indeed reflect moral courage, something long absent from the political Right. However, I have always been reluctant to condemn his UN performance, which I see as the actions of a “good soldier” in what was, at the time, no worse than a questionable cause. While many in his own department rejected the intelligence provided to him by the CIA, his President and the NSC accepted it and in his own mind there was apparently not enough doubt to prompt a resignation — his only other alternative. I admit that I might be clinging to my first impression of Powell, formed when he was a rising star in the Army during the 1980s. He was seen by most of the rank and file as a general with real integrity and a concern for the welfare of the troops — not just one of the many “perfumed princes” of the Army’s general officer corps (as David Hackworth termed them). Not knowing the facts surrounding his decision to be the administration’s point man at the UN, I have to assume that integrity was something he still had.

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