The resignation of the Muslim-outreach coordinator for the presidential campaign of senator Barack Obama, Chicago attorney Mazen Asbahi, powerfully reflects two of the biggest obstacles hindering the political integration and empowerment of Arab and Muslim Americans.

This affair demonstrates the external pressures of unfair guilt by association, while at the same time suggesting the internal need for better judgment regarding political and religious actors within the community.

Asbahi resigned on Monday, after just 10 days on the job, because in 2000 he served for a few weeks on the board of an Islamic investment fund with Jamal Said. Said has been allegedly linked to accused fundraisers for Hamas whose recent trial did not result in any convictions, but who remain under a cloud of suspicion.

This reflects an unreasonable and unfair climate of guilt by association. It is part of a familiar pattern that is one of the main forces hindering the political integration of these communities into American civic life.

Asbahi himself is not accused of any misconduct. Rather the issue is his fairly distant association with Said, who himself is disparaged because of the alleged activities of his own associates.

The problem is that almost anyone who has been engaged in Arab or Muslim political affairs can probably be somehow connected in some manner to someone else somewhere whose views, activities or associations can be called into question in the post-9/11 environment.

Call it two or three degrees of separation.

These distant, usually third-party connections are then magnified out of all proportion and used to unfairly impugn or misrepresent the views and character of the person under attack.

Arab and Muslim Americans naturally come into contact with numerous Arabs and Muslims both here at home and overseas. They cannot be reasonably held responsible for views and actions of others of which they were not aware.

Some hostile commentators have perfected the art of seeking out the most distant of such ties to unfairly tarnish the reputations of almost everyone from these communities who has found a political role or voice in our society, including numerous Bush administration officials.

If these are the standards by which Arab and Muslim Americans are to be judged, then only individuals who have been resolutely distant from Middle East and even community-related political activity can survive such judgments. A valuable and significant group of Americans would thereby be frozen out of public life to the grave detriment of our country. (MORE)


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