Obama Website Riles Muslims

Beth Reinhard, Miami Herald, July 6, 2008

Vanessa Alikhan was at a Democratic “unity party” when she overheard another guest indignantly refute the rumor that Barack Obama is Muslim, as if it were a racial slur. She later recounted the conversation to a friend.

“She told me that this is politics and that I should just deal with it,” said Alikhan, a Fort Lauderdale graphic artist who converted to Islam about five years ago. “To me this is the same as telling an African American or a Jewish person they should deal with discrimination because people aren’t ready to embrace them as a group.”

She and other American Muslims are speaking out, as the Obama campaign pushes back on widely e-mailed and patently false claims that he is tied to Islamic terrorists. The rumor could be particularly damaging in a must-win state like Florida, which has a large Jewish population.

{snip} While Muslim leaders understand the campaign’s responsibility to counter misinformation, they say the classification of being Muslim as a “smear” goes too far.

Their outrage peaked when the Obama campaign asked two women wearing head scarves to move away from the candidate—and the television cameras—at a rally last month in Detroit. Obama personally apologized to the women, but the incident reflected the difficulties of balancing hard-nosed political calculations with the campaign’s overall message of change and unity.

{snip}

But some Muslim leaders said Obama needs to do more to make it clear that he welcomes their support in his campaign. Though he’s spoken at many churches and synagogues—including a conservative congregation in Boca Raton—he has never visited a mosque, said Altaf Ali, executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. There are between 200,000 and 400,000 Muslims in Florida and about seven million nationwide.

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Saif Ishoof, president of the Center for Voter Advocacy, a nonpartisan group that educates Muslims about the political process, said Republican John McCain also needs to show more sensitivity.

Ishoof, a lifelong Republican, said he bristles when McCain consistently refers to “Islamic terrorists.”

{snip}

Though the Muslim community pales in comparison to other religious voting blocs in Florida, Ishoof noted that it is concentrated in central Florida, the battleground region of the state.

{snip}

Muslim voters could make the difference in several states crucial to winning the White House, including Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.

“Every vote is going to be critical,” Ishoof said.

{snip}

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