Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Playing the Muslim 'Fear' Card is Wrong for Colorado, and America

Rima Barakat Sinclair: Palestinian Muslim American Woman Under Siege

It's not because of her political ideology, or opinions about matters that concern the taxpayers and voters of the 6th Assembly District in Colorado – where she is running for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives as a Republican party candidate in a heavily Democratic district – on the contrary – Rima Barakat Sinclair is under siege because her nationality and faith.

Sinclair, 48, is a Muslim of Palestinian ancestry (originally from Amman, Jordan), sworn in as a U.S. citizen in July 1998. She is also an accomplished, educated woman of character and integrity, in addition to being a translator and successful businessperson with an excellent reputation for serving her community.

However, despite her accomplishments, Sinclair has been targeted by a Republican counter-part petitioning to qualify for the primary ballot alongside her, for the most vile and amazingly xenophobic excoriation imaginable: she has been called a "terror apologist", an "Islamist", and a person "waging jihad dressed up as a Republican candidate" – simply because of her faith.

But the vilification doesn't stop there. It has extended to outright racial attacks on the Palestinian people.

One critic even stated that "many in the Palestinian land movement are like cockroaches and light (sic) when confronted with the truth they scurry away and hide. Clearly Ms. Barakat is a Palestinian cockroach."

It's certainly permissible, and even expected, for individuals to express their public disdain for certain political ideas and positions expressed by candidates for public office. That's an expression of our precious rights of free speech and freedom of political expression.

But to call someone a terrorist or, God forbid, a cockroach, isn't political criticism. It is raw, unvarnished slander and racism. It does not pretend to try to discern the real political beliefs of Rima Barakat Sinclair. And it has no place in American politics, or for that matter, in America , period.

It is fashionable now, in some political quarters to make "Arab" or "Palestinian" coterminous with "Terrorist". Simply allowing a Muslim to run for political office is, for these people, tantamount to an assault on democracy itself. Some of them have even made a cottage industry out of their not-so-thinly veiled attacks on Muslim leaders and Muslim organizations, accusing everyone ( and their mothers) with all sorts of sinister associations and nefarious anti-American motives, all without the tiniest shred of evidence. They make slander and character defamation their personal tickets to front row seats on the platform of false patriotism.

But their problem, in this case, is simply that Rima Barakat Sinclair is no wannabe Osama bin Laden, or undercover enemy of the American people. She is simply a person who wishes to serve her community as an elected official (and a Republican at that), and she has absolutely no connections with anti-American rhetoric or violence.

To reject her politics, or even to personally dislike her, is fine. But the slanderous attacks against her, and against Palestinians, exposed the crude underbelly of the racism and anti-Muslim xenophobia that some persons, sadly, still wear as a badge of honor.

If the officials of the Colorado Republican party repudiate this sort of slander, then they should say so, in public, and declare that racism has no place in their party. I would call on their presumed presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, to make a similar statement.

Many persons, including Denver Post columnist Steve Laudeman, believe that Rima Barakat Sinclair would make an effective state legislator. That is certainly for the voters to determine. But the final determination of her ability to serve in elected office should be made on the merits of her qualifications and her ideals – not because of her ethnic or religious identity.

The true "cockroaches" in the Colorado political world, as it turns out, are not people of Palestinian ancestry – they are those who spew vile, racist and bigoted speech contrary to the best ideals of a free, fair, and democratic society.

Muslim Candidate Seeks Detente With Own Party
By Bill Johnson, Rocky Mountain News – Friday, May 2, 2008