Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Muslim American Makes the Case for Obama

We've seen purists like Glenn Greenwald and Conor Friedersdorf attempt to make the case about why they will not support President Barack Obama in his re-election this November. Their arguments rest mainly on foreign policy and national security issues - especially as they relate to the Muslim world.

That's why I found an article by Zaheer Ali in the Islamic Monthly to be so compelling. He agrees with the purists on their critique of President Obama when it comes to national security issues. And yet he makes a case for why Muslim Americans should still support the President.
But foreign and national security policies do not tell the whole story of Obama’s presidency, nor do they account for the totality of the Muslim-American electorate’s priorities. Muslim-Americans are one of the most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse religious communities in America, and their complex and competing political interests cannot, and should not, be simply boxed up and outsourced to concerns about foreign policy or national security. Like all Americans, Muslim-Americans must also concern themselves with the full range of domestic policies that affect the material conditions of their everyday lives. A closer look at Obama’s first term reveals major legislative accomplishments and policy implementations from which all Americans, including Muslim-Americans, benefit. When compared with his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, Obama’s performance and proposals for the country – while not perfect – offer Muslim-Americans their greatest chances for economic security and growth, social mobility, health and well-being and political advancement.

Is Obama the perfect candidate? No. Most elections present imperfect choices, and this one is no different. The higher the office, the larger the majority needed to win, the less likely any single candidate will offer everything that the voters want. People seeking to vote on the basis of single issues, ideological puritanism or even principle, will most likely find neither of the two major party candidates appealing...

...the case for Obama is predicated on politics, pragmatism and realism, and rests on the following premises: First, though the Democratic and Republican parties are beholden to special interests, there are notable and critical differences in policy between the two parties and their standard bearers; and in these areas of difference, Muslim-Americans’ interests are better served by an Obama presidency. Second, where significant policy differences do not exist (especially in the area of foreign relations and the national security state), significant discursive differences do; and a Romney defeat is necessary to repudiate the discourse of Islamophobia (along with rampant xenophobia) running through the veins of the Republican Party. Third, the White House is not a site for radical change: Obama’s presidency has exposed the limited transformative power of the office, while offering instead incremental, liberal reforms. Because of the limitations on presidential powers, voting is only one, although necessary, aspect of electoral politics (beyond Election Day, lobbying and constituent services are just important); and electoral politics is only one of several important kinds of political activity.
Zaheer Ali then goes on to expound on those three points he outlined in the last paragraph. In the end, he demonstrates a more keen awareness of something that the history of our forbearers should have taught us, but we so often forget...the idea that the struggle continues and voting is simply one method by which we engage.
A vote for Obama is a vote for president, not messiah or mahdi. It is not overly concerned with personality and (un)likability. It is a strategy that recognizes the need for continued struggle by those with principles, ideologies and idealism seeking to create a better America for all its people. It is based on acknowledging that within the whole that is political activity, an Obama presidency is a crucial piece that still necessitates other kinds of electoral activity beyond Election Day, including voter education, mobilization, constituency development and lobbying.

So on Nov. 6, 2012, vote Obama. And agitate, organize, educate and mobilize, because the struggle will continue.
I don't share this to suggest that I agree with Zaheer Ali on his analysis of all of President Obama's positions. I do so because this is one Muslim American who has a lot to teach the rest of us about citizenship and democracy.


  1. "We've seen purists like Glenn Greenwald and Conor Friedersdorf attempt to make the case about why they will not support President Barack Obama in his re-election this November."

    You're an absolute liar. I did no such thing -

    Glenn Greenwald

    1. I'm really glad to see you here. I was hoping you'd read this article by Zaheer Ali. Perhaps you'll even respond. That would be very interesting to read!

      On me being a "liar" - perhaps I just misunderstood when you wrote about there being an illusion of choice in this election.

    2. Ummmm...SM....there was no misunderstanding...he could barely conceal his animosity towards the President...ohhh wasn't concealed at all..

  2. "The higher the office, the larger the majority needed to win, the less likely any single candidate will offer everything that the voters want."

    This kind of clarity, simultaneously simple and absolutely correct, is the kind of writing that guarantees that Ali will remain at the margins of our political discourse for the time being.

    To be sure, any Muslim writing as a Muslim guarantees himself or herself an outsider position. One of the consist concerns I have is that our system is becoming more elitist while the quality of our elites is diminishing. Ali's writing is fantasic, but you only get that kind of incisive thinking on the margins. The "intellectuals" or media types at the center only serve to obfuscate.

    Thanks, SP!

    1. My first instinct was to want to challenge your assumptions about the marginalization of someone like Ali. But sadly, I suspect you are all too right about that.

    2. 'Fraid so.

      Jeez, the clarity of his writing is beautiful. Made his bones under Manning Marable. No wonder.

      Here's his bio:

  3. Thank you for posting the article, and thank your commenters for their replies as well. I'm honored.