In endorsing Barack Obama this weekend, Colin Powell brought up a photo of the tombstone of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, being held by his grieving mother. Powell brought it up to make the point that Muslim-Americans are as American as anyone else, and it is wrong that the Republican party allows the whisper campaign to continue, that Barack Obama is somehow a Muslim.
Indeed, while John McCain has corrected a woman who directly told him that Obama was "an Arab," the campaign has also given those who believe Obama is a "secret Muslim" a wink and a nod, by continually using phrases like "he doesn't see America like the rest of us," and tying him to "terrorists." It is, incidentally, the same sentiment promoted by Benjamin Netanyahu in his campaign against Yitzhak Rabin, which Leah Rabin later blamed for her husband's assassination.
Colin Powell, though, might be more on point with his observation than he knew.
One of things you quickly learn when you're sent to Iraq or Afghanistan is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in those nations are peace loving people, who just want to be able to raise their families in a decent environment. Essentially, their overall hopes and dreams are not much different than ours. Most of them actually have fond views of America and the west, and are constantly curious about American culture. To the extent there are any anti-American sentiments in Iraq, it's that Iraqis want this war to end, and want to get back to a stable life. But, it's not right to say that most Muslims are "anti-America."
That's what's so dangerous about the kind of campaign Republicans are running, and frankly have been running even before Barack Obama. When FOX News continually uses terms like "Islamo-facism," it not so subtly conflates the entire religion of Islam with the select crackpots around the world who use their religion as an excuse to promote despicable acts. But, those terrorists are not representative of Islam, or Islamofacists, any more than someone who bombs an abortion clinic over here is representative of Christianity, or a "Christoterrorist."
To then take someone who has a funny sounding name, and use a flimsy link to a "washed up terrorist" to stoke fears that he might be a Muslim forces the issue down the slippery slope at blazing speed. The Genie of hate is tough to put back in the bottle. No longer does someone need to be an actual Muslim to stoke some people into a frenzy, all it takes is that they're somehow "different" to scare people into thinking someone has secret "anti-America Muslim tendencies."
Think about that on the macro scale, not just in terms of Obama, who is a Christian. Think about how neocons can use a sentiment like that as justification for war against pretty much anyone they want to wage war on - Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, atheist, etc. "Different" is the only thing they need to whip fear up into a lather. And, if I needed to remind anyone, that's when American troops deploy to war, and many don't come home.
That's the path that John McCain has condoned by allowing innuendo to be pushed around the radical right, to abuse the feelings of fear that many Americans feel at this uncertain time. It's not just dishonest, it's dangerous.
And, that's why Colin Powell breaching this issue, from a position of strength and legitimacy, was so important this Sunday. We can only hope that his strong words shake even more reasonable Republicans from their electoral daze, and cause them to speak up and object to the damage the far-right smear campaign is doing to America.