The Muslims of Delaware have a lot of affection and respect for the former Governor, Jack Markell. To show their appreciation for his two terms as Governor of Delaware, they are organizing a felicitation event at the Islamic Society of Delaware on March 18, 2017. He is being recognized for his outreach to minorities of color and faith, for his pluralistic and inclusive approach to governance and his penchant to speak up for Muslims when they needed it most.
In the current age of Islamophobia, to understand how the positive outreach of politicians to Muslims is a significant departure from the norm, one must merely consider these politicians and their rhetoric.
President Trump during his campaign repeatedly promised a comprehensive Muslim ban, scapegoating Muslims in the process and one consequence of this rhetorical targeting was the steep rise in hate crimes against Muslims in recent months. He has also continued with this Islamophobic theme when he repeatedly implicated Islam with terrorism by calling terrorist acts by Muslims as Radical Islamic terrorism. He also refused to speak out against the attack on the mosque in Quebec where six Muslims were killed and many injured. Trump to his credit has spoken out against the rise of anti-Semitism, but not at the rise of Islamophobia.
Another case is of Congressman Steven King’s Islamophobic tweets and refusal to acknowledge on CNN that there is no difference between a German American and a Muslim American. Even former President Bill Clinton’s revealed his bias when he spelled out a list of conditions that would make American Muslims welcome in America, which was criticized by Muslim intellectuals, but repeated often by Hillary Clinton during her campaign. Former Congressman Allen West’s unbridled Islamophobia was the worst example of prejudice in politics. These are a few examples of Islamophobic postures of American politicians that alienates, sometimes victimizes, and increases Muslim vulnerabilities.
When you compare the tenure of Jack Markell as Governor of Delaware to these leaders, the contrast is breathtaking.
Jack Markell not only treated the Muslims of Delaware as any other Delawarean community but he also always responded to their needs. On December 5, 2015, he gave a keynote address at a community conference. He argued for acceptance of Syrian refugees, and celebration of Muslim contributions in America. He even quoted from the Quran and emphasized that most Muslims were peaceful and hardworking Americans and most importantly he reminded all of us that “We are not a country that turns people away”. And this was before the Muslim ban was even a thing. You can see the entire address here. In that same year, he also visited the community to keynote the Muslim Safety and Security Conference and made Muslims in Delaware feel safer. You can see his comforting remarks here.
His commitment to Muslim safety and his strong support for Syrian refugees has clearly endeared him with the community. But his inclusive style did not end there. He also became the first Delaware Governor to host an Iftar, the fast breaking ceremony in Ramadan, and essentially established a new tradition of inclusivity in the state. I have attended both the Iftar sessions he hosted, in 2015 and 2016, and at both those events he expressed the hope that such practices would not be the exception but the norm in America.
On a personal note, I and my family consider him as a dear friend. In 2010, when my son Rumi, who was then eleven years old showed interest in playing ping pong I started taking him to the Newark table tennis club. On our very first visit there, when it was Rumi’s turn to play, his first opponent was Governor Markell. The Governor played two games with him, and then chatted with him about his school and his hobbies. It was a wonderful experience for Rumi. This is one of the benefits of living in a small state. We all are neighbors, and we know each other very well. But the best part is, Markell always made us feel at home in Delaware and such personal stories are a common experience for many Delawareans.
Delaware, fortunately has been blessed with leaders who are truly cosmopolitan in their outlook. The speeches that Senator Chris Coons and current Governor John Carney gave at the mosque when the first Muslim Ban Executive Order was signed by President Trump were both heroic and eloquent.
Political thinkers argue that, inclusivity, responsiveness, equity, fairness and vision are some of the key components of good governance. I wish all the religious and racial minorities in this country are governed by leaders like Jack Markell who is a case study in Good Governance.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is a Professor at the University oF Delaware. He is an American Citizen and has lived in Delaware with his family since 2005. His website is www.ijtihad.org.