My Thanks To General Colin Powell

General Colin Powell – former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, former National Security Advisor, former Secretary of State, and lifelong Republican  – today endorsed Barack Obama on Meet The Press. It was a powerful endorsement.

The endorsement brought me nearly to tears because of this passage:

I’m also troubled by, not what Sen. 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’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could 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 are 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 could 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 the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

I – a Muslim American – have been a rhetorical punching bag for the McCain campaign. Too cowardly to openly declare the racism that is the underpinning of his campaign, the McCain campaign has instead been using the "Obama is a Muslim" smear as a proxy for "Obama is Black". Obama has been forced to defend against the false charge. No one has been able to defend my faith. It is just not done in American politics – post 9/11.

Until now.

General Powell was perhaps the only American leader with the stature necessary to effectively push back on the anti-Muslim hatred coming from the McCain campaign. He did it by invoking the sacrifice of a brave young American – a Muslim American – who rests in Arlington National Cemetery under a headstone adorned with a crescent. It was an important moment in American politics and for American society.

After this election is over, the wounds the McCain campaign have inflicted on America’s national fabric will need to heal. The racism that has been stoked in the service of a few additional votes will have to be contended with. The fear of the other that has fueled the McCain campaign will take time to subside. But, it is my hope, that what General Powell began today by his statement will hasten that healing.

Perhaps the substance of what General Powell said today will be forgotten in the years to come. Perhaps most people will only remember today as the day General Powell endorsed Barack Obama. But I will remember more. So will, I suspect, a lot of other Muslim Americans.

I am grateful to General Powell for his words. He need not have said them. His endorsement of Barack Obama would have been no less powerful if he had left out these words. But, nonetheless, he spoke them. For that I am grateful, for me and for my 7 year-old daughter who – with her fellow Americans – will inherit the America we leave behind.

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13 Responses to My Thanks To General Colin Powell

  1. Rumi says:

    Somebody had to speak up. Someone had to remind America at the bigotry behind the anti Muslim mania.I am glad to see a person of the stature of General Powell finally did this. His remarks brought tears in my eyes.

    Unfortunately, this Muslim American part of his statement is not getting the media coverage, I hoped it deserves. I was glued to CNN, MSNBC. General Powell was all over, but not much focus on this portion of his remark.

    General Powell started it. More mainstream figures need to continue speaking about this issue.

  2. marais says:

    You know those moments when you heart just fill with love for America – that is what I felt when I watch General Powell’s endorsement, for his words of unity.

  3. Ingrid says:

    That has been notably absent from any MSM treatment; the thought that being Muslim was anti-American, was not considered part of the American cultural/religious landscape (most notably a lot of African Americans apparently but perhaps my knowledge is outdated) and heaven forbid, a critique on McCain’s campaign.
    Bigots aren’t that hard to find where ever in the world you live; with all that advancement, rats still do quite well thank you very much in our ‘civilized’ (and oh so hygienic) world..

  4. decatur says:

    That was the most beautiful commentary that I’ve yet read on Colin Powell’s beautiful defense of American Muslims. I’ll be sending it around to all my friends. Thanks for putting this up.

  5. Mash says:

    Rumi and Ingrid, the media has started to pick up the story. The NYT and Time covered it, and this morning I saw a report of it on MSNBC. With the election news coming fast and furious, it is difficult to stay on a story. I expect though that this is a story the media will circle back to after the election.

    marais, I second your sentiment.

    decatur, thanks. Powell’s words were moving, and I simply tried to articulate how I felt.

  6. jasper says:

    …and you articulate so well Mash.
    Obama admin may hire you to write speeches. Not kidding. 😀

  7. Ted Metzger says:

    Although the focus of your article is correct it is important to separate the man from the machine, as did Powell. Read it again. It is not McCain nor his campaign maligning Muslims, as you indicate. Powell never says that. Read it again. You think that he is saying one thing when, in fact, he says another. He rightly strikes at the guilty; you hijacked his intent to better serve your purpose. McCain, nor his campaign are indicted here. Read it again. Is it not wrong to misjudge the group, or even one innocent man, for the actions of zealots who have hate-filled hearts? Does that seem a familiar plague?

  8. Mash says:

    Ted, I have read it and listened to it. He is clearly indicting the McCain surrogates and the campaign – though he makes it clear that McCain himself has never said it. Nonetheless, McCain has permitted it, as Powell notes. McCain is the head of the GOP and his surrogates are going out on his behalf spreading the hate. If you don’t believe Powell was indicting the McCain campaign, then you missed the point of his endorsement.

    One would have to stick one’s head deeply in the sand to not see the message the McCain campaign has been spewing the last few weeks. Usually these things are left at dog whistle levels. But McCain’s own running mate is using the word “terrorist” and his chief surrogate in Virginia is playing word games with Obama’s name. Given the chance to repudiate these comments in the final debate, McCain’s response was quite telling.

    Yeah right, the McCain campaign is not guilty. Powell is not that stupid, and neither am I.

  9. Ingrid says:

    Mash, I am keeping this post alive by ‘posting’ on it.. it bears repeating and great that the MSM is picking it up but it needs to be spread around..
    just something to counter all that ‘batshitcrazy’ stuff…sigh…


  10. jasper says:

    yeah Mash, move this post up to the top.

  11. Mash says:

    Hi Ingrid and jasper, this post will show up on the latest comments as long as we are commenting here.

    CNN had a front page story up earlier today on Muslims in America. Of course, they buried the lede. The Powell statement was at the end of the story. Chris Matthews has now reported on this two days in a row. I think this story will have post-election legs.

  12. Anne says:

    It was a thing of beauty and a fresh breath of air to finally hear someone of status in this country say that the religion of Islam is not the problem. A lot of the fools trying to brand Obama this way either fail to realize, or have forgotten, that many Muslims died on 9-11–both American-born and foreign. This was at the hands of extremists who did not discriminate when it comes to any American.

    But the story about the Muslim soldier who died in the line of duty did a lot to personalize just how many Muslims live quiet, law-abiding, and productive lifes here–even going to war and making the ultimate sacrifice as this young man did.

    This has made me respect Colin Powell more than ever, and he is one of many Republicans who are repelled by the xenophobia, religious bigotry, and racism brought out by the Republican presidential campaign.

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