The White House is quietly courting U.S. Muslim groups for political
support, but will it work? Though President Obama, who in June spoke in
Cairo about his desire to reach out to Muslims worldwide, would seem to
be a natural ally of Islamic organizations, he has been hesitant to
publicly embrace such groups, over fears of appearing to friendly to a
minority that is not always popular in the U.S. He has also been plagued
by false but lingering myths from the presidential campaign that he
himself is either Muslim or overly sympathetic to Muslims. Here's what
the White House is trying to do, why it matters, and the challenges it
- Why This Is Important The New York Times' Andrea Elliott explains,
"In the post-9/11 era, Muslims and Arab-Americans have posed something
of a conundrum for the government: they are seen as a political
liability but also, increasingly, as an important partner in countering
the threat of homegrown terrorism. Under President George W. Bush,
leaders of these groups met with government representatives from time to
time, but said they had limited interaction with senior officials.
While Mr. Obama has yet to hold the kind of high-profile meeting that
Muslims and Arab-Americans seek, there is a consensus among his
policymakers that engagement is no longer optional."
They've Accomplished New York Magazine's Chris Rovzar writes,
"Community leaders are taking part in high-level policy discussions, met
with top White House officials, and have even seen their influence
reflected in policy decisions. This month, for example, the government
decided to end a policy of additional scrutiny of airline passengers
from fourteen mostly Muslim countries. And a couple of Muslim academics
previously barred from the country have been allowed in by the State
Department under Hillary Clinton." Small steps, to be sure.
Is Listening' Arab American Institute President James Zogby beams, "For the
first time in eight years, we have the opportunity to meet, engage,
discuss, disagree, but have an impact on policy. ... We’re being made to
feel a part of that process and that there is somebody listening
- Blocking Obama's Outreach The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman sighs at
how low-level this has all been: "it’s a testament to how effective the
right was at smearing Obama as a clandestine Muslim who planned to
replace the Constitution with Islamic law and recruit your children to
al-Qaeda. Each Muslim nominee for an administration position receives a
level of background-dependent scrutiny from conservative fever swamps
that no one of any other background receives. That has the compounding
effect of disinclining the administration to seek out qualified Muslims
for important roles."
- Obama, Friend to Muslim Terrorists
As if on cue, conservative Powerline blogger Scott Johnson, reacting to the story, fumes at "the
melding of the left with Islamist forces at home and abroad." He cites
Obama's "support among Hamas and friends." He compares Obama to Keith
Ellison, the first Muslim U.S. Congressman. "Both Ellison and Obama have
friends among home-grown terrorists."
- Was Bush More
Pro-Muslim? The National Review's Daniel Pipes makes the
surprising case. "The overall Bush record showed great concern for
Muslim opinion. Data points include the symbolic, such as Bush’s adding a
Koran to the White House library and initiating celebration of the
Ramadan end-of-fast. ... He took substantive steps, such as prohibiting
any notice of a person’s religion in airport security and encouraging
more Saudi students in the United States."
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