On Monday, 2 women wearing hijabs, the traditional Muslim head scarves, were denied seats behind Obama at a rally at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Apparently, a group of friends were standing in line, and some were asked if they’d like behind-Obama seats (visible on camera and in pictures), so they said yes, and told the volunteer that they were with 2 other friends, 2 Muslim women wearing hijabs. The women, Shimaa Abdelfadeel and Hebba Aref were asked to remove their hijabs, but they refused, so they were denied behind-Obama seats.
Ali Kousson, one of the friends told the following story to the Detroit Free Press:
An Obama campaign worker, a female in her mid-20s asked teh group if they’d like behind-Obama seats. Kousson said, “I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ She asked if I was with someone who looked like me and dressed like me. I was wearing a suit and tie. She told me to get them and meet her.”
He got the others and the volunteer said that they couldn’t sit there with the hijabs.
“She said, ‘It’s not personal.,’ She went on to say, ‘Given the political climate, we can’t be associating all that with the campaign.'”
Kousson described his attitude at that point, saying, “At that point, I was pretty upset.”
Yesterday, Obama called Abdelfadeel, “personally convey his deepest apologies and acknowledge that this was inexcusable” (her quote, not his), and left a message for Aref.
She told the Detroit Free Press, “We both immensely appreciate the Senator’s phone call and his commitment to remedy this issue. We commend him for displaying qualities befitting an effective President. … [The] incident was unfortunate and extremely disappointing [but] we will continue to support Senator Obama in his campaign and wish him the best as the race continues.”
Aref said that in addition to the phone call, she wanted a personal apology from Obama and up-close seats to a future rally. She also said, “I was kind of in shock that had happened. I’ve lived here practically my whole life, and never been treated that way. It’s so ironic that it was at his rally, he obviously would not promote any discrimination at all. I do appreciate they’re taking the time to look into what happened. I think it’s a huge deal. I was hoping for an apology from Senator Obama himself. He needs to send a strong message this kind of discrimination won’t be tolerated.”
The head of the Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, talked with both of the women, and told the Free Press, “We welcome the Senator’s apology. And we hope that he will continue to challenge bigotry wherever he sees it.”
Obama spokesman Bill Burton also wanted to chime in, telling Politico.com, “It is offensive and counter to Obama’s commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers.” The campaign sent pictures of women wearing head scarves behind Obama to prove that this is “not the kind of campaign [they] run.”
Personally, I don’t necessarily think that this was just a mistake by the one volunteer. Having worked on several campaigns now (ranging from volunteer to intern to campaign manager), I can promise you that volunteers don’t just make decisions about who to bring close to the candidate without having directions from higher up in the campaign. The campaign wanted to avoid to many Muslims around Obama, because of continuing rumors of his Muslim ties (which are, in my opinion, false and irrelevant). They got caught, so now they’re using this volunteer as a scape goat. Fess up and admit that your campaign was racially profiling. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a bunch of Muslims for the next few weeks, and then they start turning them away (or simply not approaching them to come on stage).
Either way – I don’t think religion should matter in this election, so people just need to accept others as what they are. I’d vote for an atheist conservative before a liberal Catholic, and I’m a hard core conservative Christian. I’m tired of this religious right attitude where “If he’s not 110% committed to God, I won’t vote for him.” Vote for the guy (or girl) who’ll uphold the values you believe, not your doctrines!
Tags: 2008 Election, Ali Kousson, Barack Obama, Bill Burton, Campaign, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, Democrat, Democrats, Detroit Free Press, Election, Hebba Aref, Hijab, Joe Louis Arena, Michigan, Muslim, Muslims, Politics, Shimaa Abdelfadeel