I wear a head scarf. When I read the story about Sen. Barack Obama’s volunteers telling two Muslim women they couldn’t sit where they would be on camera (“A little trouble with the image,” Pruden on Politics, Nation, Friday), I was not surprised at all. As I sat examining the news in a coffee shop in Harvard Square, I thought to myself, “How many times have I been the object of discrimination as a woman in a headscarf in the post-Sept. 11 United States?”
Here is a tough pill to swallow: Religious and ethnic discrimination continues to exist in the United States and is often ignored. Addressing it should be consistent and necessary, not just when it is politically useful.
My community of Muslim Americans suffers all sorts of stereotypes. Anti-Muslim comments have become as commonplace as ever for many Muslims of America – the conflation of radicals and fundamentalists with many of us mosque-goers, the oppression of women who wear headscarves, the inherent violence of observers of Islam. And these are to name a few.
Mr. Obama’s volunteers were only acting on the hard reality we Muslim Americans often experience.
In all honesty, despite all of Mr. Obama’s talk of being above color, class, and his platform of embracing difference and uniting our country, I did not anticipate that he would apologize. I was pleasantly surprised when he did. Many of us in the Muslim community have become so immune to public statements against us and our faith, often wrapped in euphemistic garb or in the name of “political realities” that we don’t expect apologies. We just desperately hope that the incident or comment will not increase.
The truth is that discrimination, racial and religious, is a reality. Let us admit it and use the incident to assess our own psyche and how we view some of our own citizens. The decision of the volunteers does not reflect anything about what Mr. Obama thinks about Muslims, but sadly more about how the American voting public reads the headscarf image.
Still, I’m wholeheartedly inspired by this incident. Mr. Obama’s swift apology gives me inspiration and energy in this country, my country. An incredible sigh of relief befalls many of the millions of us Muslims in America -that his talk against bigotry and, by extension, our nation’s ostensible stance in favor of protecting all people against such hatred, applies to us as well.